How Buehrle carved up Tampa Bay with just one 90-m.p.h. pitch

How Buehrle carved up Tampa Bay with just one 90-m.p.h. pitch

Posted by Lindsey on Thu, 07/23/2009 - 21:36
So it’s 7 p.m. and I’m tuning in to Comcast’s replay of Mark Buehrle’s perfect game because I missed the first 7 innings earlier today. But since I’m a curious sort who enjoys watching pitchers think their way through a start, I wanted to know how Buehrle approached the various Tampa Bay hitters each time through the order. Did he use the same progressions or, as I suspect, switch sequences each time? Between Comcast’s rebroadcast and MLB.com Pitch Tracker, let’s take a look at Buehrle's masterpiece. (If you're wondering, the numbers next to each hitter’s name are his batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage entering the game): CF B.J. UPTON (.240/.323/.372) First: Buehrle fires a first-pitch fastball on outside edge. Upton grounds it to Jayson Nix at second. Fourth: Buehrle starts with a low/inside changeup that looks like a strike according to Pitch Tracker, but umpire Eric Cooper deems it a ball. (I’d like to corroborate Pitch Tracker, but the Comcast broadcast opens with a stupid artsy shot of fans walking down one of the 100 Section aisles and you can’t see the pitch’s location). Buehrle gets behind 2-0 and eventually runs the court full as he works every part of the zone. With his sixth pitch, though, he goes back to the outside corner with a changeup and gets Upton to chase a borderline pitch for the whiff. Seventh: Buehrle again starts Upton again with a low changeup that he doesn’t chase. Upton then turns on an inside pitch and rips it down the left-field line that lands about a foot foul and about 20 feet short of the fence (I’d like to see the actual pitch, but Comcast is wasting our time reliving a long Frank Thomas home run from 2002. Do these people not know how quickly Buehrle works and what’s at stake?). After wasting a 1-1 change outside, Buehrle gets a groundout to Ramirez with a nice pitch on the outside edge. LF CARL CRAWFORD (.313/.374/.444) First: Buehrle pounds the outside with all five of his pitches. He starts with three fastballs and a curve, then uses a slider to get a comebacker. Fourth: After throwing everything outside the first time, Buehrle starts Crawford with an inside curve that he fouls back. Then he wastes a fastball outside before firing a slider in the same spot as the first at-bat to get an easy flyout to left. Seventh: Buehrle reverts to his first-inning pattern. He guns a fastball outside, gets a strike on the outside corner with a changeup, throws a slider outside and then gets a comebacker on a change that’s in the low/outside part of the zone. 3B EVAN LONGORIA (.275/.357/.527) First: Working swiftly, Buehrle gets a called first strike with a fastball on the outside corner and then fires a curveball for strike two. After a waste pitch high, Longoria chases a changeup way outside for a strikeout. Fourth: Buehrle starts him with a curveball that grabs the outside of the low-outside corner for a called strike, then follows with a fastball over the plate that Longoria lines directly to shortstop Alexei Ramirez. Seventh: Longoria flies out to right on a first-pitch changeup that would’ve painted the low outside corner. This is intriguing: Buehrle hit the same first-pitch location each at-bat, but did it with a different pitch each time. 1B CARLOS PENA (.224/.360/.506) Second: Buehrle hangs a first-pitch cutter, but Pena fouls it back. Keeping everything waist-high or above, Buehrle gets ahead 0-2 before Pena runs the count full. On the seventh pitch, Pena fouls out to first on what appears to be a slider he should handle. Fifth: Buehrle gets his first break from plate umpire Eric Cooper as his first-pitch fastball appears outside, but he gets a called strike. Since every pitch to Pena has been high to this point, Buehrle wastes two outside curves in the dirt before dangling a changeup on the inside corner at the knees. That nets a grounder to Josh Fields at first as Buehrle jogs over to take the feed. Eighth: With Buehrle just six outs from perfection, Cooper asserts himself to Pena’s detriment. Buehrle’s first-pitch cutter looks outside, but he gets the call. After Pena fouls off an inside changeup, Cooper rings him up on an 88-m.p.h. fastball that’s just as outside as strike one. Pena says a word or two about the call. Buehrle probably just says, “Thank you.” 2B BEN ZOBRIST (.304/.417/.589) Second: Buehrle gets ahead 0-2 with a high changeup on the outside corner and a low fastball on the inside corner. On a 2-2 pitch, Buehrle gets Zobrist to chase a fastball up in his eyes. He tries to check his swing to no avail. Comcast analyst Steve Stone mentions how Buehrle’s trying to change eye level. Sure enough, Buehrle goes high/out, low/in, low/in, medium/out, low/in and high/out to whiff Zobrist. Fifth: Buehrle again starts with a high changeup on the outside part of the part. Zobrist chases it for a groundout to Ramirez, who makes a solid backhand stop and plants his foot to retire the hustling Zobrist. Eighth: This time, Buehrle starts with a curve that gets fouled off. Zobrist works the count full as Buehrle keeps trying to get him to chase high stuff. After trying three straight fastballs that all were at least waist-high, Buehrle spots a perfect changeup at the bottom of the zone and Zobrist fouls out to Beckham near the coach’s box. Nice of Beckham to wave his arms after he camps under the ball to ensure nobody comes out of the stands or dugout to make the play. DH PAT BURRELL (.232/.343/.370) Second: For the sixth straight batter, Buehrle gets ahead. He tosses an inside changeup for Strike One and a low curve that Burrell dribbles toward the Sox dugout. After failing to get Burrell to chase a high fastball and inside fastball, Burrell flies out to the right-field track. Fifth: Buehrle doesn’t get the call on his first-pitch cutter that appears to bite off the inside corner, but he rallies to get the strikeout. Cooper gives him the benefit of the doubt on a 1-1 cutter that appeared to be further inside than the first pitch – and Burrell turns back in surprise when he hears the called strike. He winds up chasing a 2-2 fastball that’s way high and outside for a strikeout. Eighth: Now comes Buehrle’s biggest pre-Kapler scare. This time, Buehrle starts him with an outside changeup for strike one. With the count 1-2, Buehrle tries to fire another high fastball. This time, Burrell catches up to it and kills it down the left-field line. It nearly drills third-base umpire Laz Diaz in the shoes, but the ball lands inches foul. Eventually, Burrell reaches for a low and outside pitch and hits a soft liner directly to Beckham. RF GABE KAPLER (.256/.341/.487) Third: Kapler, a known lefty killer, spits on Buehrle’s first four pitches. Two are off-speed pitches that dive too low and two others paint the outside corner. Kapler then fouls off two off-speed pitches on the inside corner before lobbing an outside changeup that Carlos Quentin chases down in the left-center gap. Sixth: Kapler lets two changeups go outside the zone, then jumps on an inside fastball at the top of the zone and bounces it to Beckham at third. He charges and grabs the ball just before it takes the short hop that could’ve spelled disaster. Ninth: Everyone will remember this at-bat for Dewayne Wise’s amazing catch that saved the perfect game, no-hitter and shutout with his giant leap for Buehrle-kind. But everyone also ought to note how Buehrle tried to work over Kapler. It epitomizes his day and his pitching style. First pitch: Change, high and outside (taken for a ball). Second: Fastball, low and inside (swing and a miss). Third: Changeup, high and outside (fouled off). Fourth: Fastball, way high (taken for ball). Fifth: Fastball, high and inside corner (pulled well foul). Sixth: Changeup, relatively low and outside that Wise rescues by leaping into Billy Pierce’s face on the wall, raising his glove about the center-field wall and making the juggling grab. C MICHEL HERNANDEZ (.256/.291/.329) Third: Buehrle starts the Rays’ backup catcher with a high fastball for a strike, then lobs a curveball that bites the inside corner. Hernandez then chases an outside changeup. Alexei Ramirez roams toward the middle for the softly hit bouncer and fires to first for the easy out. Sixth: Once again, Buehrle starts Hernandez with a high fastball for a called strike and then lobs an inside curve that generates a foul ball. Faced with 0-2 again, Hernandez chases two consecutive high fastballs. The second one goes to Beckham, who moves nicely to his left to make a solid play on a short hop. Ninth: The book on Hernandez must be to work him high. He fouls off a first-pitch changeup at the top of the zone, but Buehrle then puts the perfecto in jeopardy with three straight pitches that miss the zone. He recovers nicely with a fastball on the outside half that Hernandez takes, then follows with a perfect changeup on the outside edge that Hernandez can’t handle. SS JASON BARTLETT (.342/.392/.520) Third: The all-star shortstop attacks Buehrle’s first pitch, an inside fastball at the top of the zone, and jams himself for a “can of corn” to Quentin. Sixth: In the first big threat to The Perfecto, Buehrle falls behind 3-0 as Bartlett refuses to chase off-speed stuff that’s high and/or outside. Buehrle gets back to a full count with two fastballs that Bartlett takes near the top of the zone. On the seventh pitch, Buehrle gets Bartlett to chase an outside changeup that would’ve ball four. Ramirez fields the slow bouncer and fires to make it 18 in a row. (NOTE: I just watched Cooper call out Ramon Castro on a similarly placed changeup in the bottom of the sixth, so there’s a chance Cooper would’ve punched out Bartlett as well). Ninth: Buehrle starts with what appears to be another changeup for a called strike. This one’s relatively low in the zone, which is different than the first two at-bats when he aimed high. Clearly pumped, Buehrle fires a fastball inside that registers at 90 m.p.h. on Pitch Tracker and 91 on the Comcast broadcast. Either way, it’s his first 90-plus pitch of the afternoon. Finally, with the count 2-1, Buehrle offers an 81 m.p.h. changeup that would’ve been called a high and outside strike. Bartlett bounces it to Ramirez, who makes a clean pick and throw to send Hawk Harrelson into hysterics and Buehrle into the history books. Conclusions: 1. Buehrle threw first-pitch strikes to 19 of the 27 batters (including the guys who put the first pitch into play). He almost always changed his location and pitch each time he faced a particular guy, though he stayed up high with Hernandez. 2. Buehrle reached a three-ball count just four times. On two occasions, you could say the Rays hitter chased ball four (Upton in the fourth and Bartlett in the sixth). Almost every time he got behind, Buehrle relied on his stellar changeup to save him. 3. You don’t need to throw hard to be a star. Prior to his ninth-inning 90-m.p.h. fastball to Bartlett, when Buehrle admitted the adrenalin was racing through his veins, he hit the 89 mark just three times: Burrell in the second inning, Zobrist in the eighth and Kapler in the ninth. 4. For you mathematicians out there, if you multiply all of these guys’ pre-game on-base percentages together, there was a .00000705 percent chance that Buehrle would throw a perfect game. And, really, the odds were longer than that because we're not taking into account the chance for fielding errors. No wonder there’ve only been 18 of these suckers in the last 110 years. 5. Hey, was Buehrle's four-month-old daughter wearing a red Cardinals' outfit? I kid, I kid. LW
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