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Soup of This Day #344: Out To Get You Running

October 18, 2013

La Quebrada Cliff Diver
A La Quebrada Cliff Diver doing his thing in Acapulco. This is about the easiest way to chase a good splitter pitch. Plus there’s tequila – Photo: DonVick, 1975. DonVick is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

This season I’ve been enjoying watching Koji Uehara pitch for the Boston Red Sox. Partly because he just seems to be having so much damn fun out there, but also because he’s got some beguiling pitches in his arsenal.

This has been a revelation, the 38 year old wasn’t the 1st choice closer for the Sox. He wasn’t even the 2nd choice. Instead he’d been acquired as a set-up man, but when Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey got injured, up stepped the excitable Uehara.

That was in July and since then his pitching has been so unplayable you’d swear that something supernatural was going on. For instance Koji has a fastball that barely tops 90mph yet laying some wood on it would seem impossible even with the proverbial barn door to hand.

And then there’s his splitter.

Man, that splitter – As all good pitches of that type do, Koji’s gets close to the plate and then just drops off the table like it’s cliff-diving in Fun in Acapulco. And just like Elvis in that film, Koji’s splitters sing their way through the show too, mostly a sort of low hum with the airy swish of the bat for accompaniment.

There was a great example in Game 3 of the current American League Championship Series (ALCS) – Boston went to the bottom of the 8th in the Detroit Tiger’s Comerica Park home with a sheen of a lead, 1-0. They had 2 outs recorded when, with Prince Fielder at the plate, John Farrell summoned Koji from the pen for a potential 4-out save. What followed was a Koji masterclass as Fielder fouled off the 1st pitch and then consecutive splitters had the Detroit slugger going down swinging.

It was a critical out and it set Koji up for the next 3, which he duly got, and giving the Sox a precious victory off of just 4 hits, 1 of which was a Mike Napoli blast. Which is nice and all but afterwards I couldn’t get that splitter out of my mind. I even made an effort to understand the mechanics behind the pitch, using Wikipedia as a starting point.

And there I got sidetracked, my eyes on a curve I didn’t see coming.

For there are multiple splitters in Wikipedia. There’s the type of pitch and then there is a superhero who has been sometimes known as Splitter. Although he is most commonly known as Arm Fall Off Boy.

Yeah.

Arm Fall Off Boy (Alter ego: Floyd Belkin) is who it says he is on the box – A superhero whose big super thing is that he has the ability to detach an arm which he can then hit people with. This might seem like not much of an advantage – Muhammad Ali for instance made a career out of hitting people via his arms, only he thought to keep them handily attached. All Arm Fall Off Boy is getting is extra reach.

That added span though can be critical, and not just for crude practical jokes involving Wonder Woman. Twice as long a reach means that you can get to things that much further away.

Like bloop pop-ups.

In Game 5 of the ALCS former Red Sox short stop, José Iglesias, demonstrated that he might just have that ability. His former team-mate Big Papi popped up a ball in the 3rd that was set to land a good distance the other side of 2nd from where Iggy was standing. Even with a sprint the Flash would have been proud of the now-Detroit Tigers man was still out of range.

Or at least he would have been if he’d not been super about it. Because as the ball looked set to crash to earth from over his shoulder, Iggy whipped his glove around and under for an extraordinary catch.

Even the out Big Papi was clapping as he resignedly peeled off for the dugout.

Not all of the super action went Iggy’s way though – In the 5th he was on the receiving end of a play that Arm Fall Out Boy would have been proud to have called his own. It started with a bunt by Iglesias that went to pitcher Jon Lester’s left. Lester went to pick it up but bobbled the take, only succeeding in knocking the ball towards 1st base. By then José was bearing down on 1st baseman Mike Napoli and so Lester seemingly had no time to pick the ball up for a throw.

So he didn’t.

Instead he shovelled the ball with an outstretched glove acting like an extension of his arm. The ball was scooped low to Napoli, getting to the latter’s glove with Iglesias’s foot still inches above the bag.

Unlike Big Papi, José Iglesias didn’t seem of a mind to applaud that out. He briefly argued and his manager, Jim Leyland, came out to have a chat about it but the replay clearly showed the call had been good and Lester’s quick improv had been better.

To his credit, Jose did pull things together fairly quickly, as did his team. At that point the deficit was 0-4 in favour of the Red Sox, but by the bottom of the 8th and with 1 out it was 3-4. With the Tigers closing fast John Farrell went to Boston’s own superhero Splitter and called on Koji Uehara for the 5-out save. This time there was no Prince Fielder to befuddle, but the 5th and final out was a familiar 1 anyway.

José Iglesias popped out to 2nd baseman Dustin Pedroia, a man that the Detroit tyro used to team up with for super double plays.

So Koji was the super master, passing a big test with all of his limbs attached. Which is more than can be said for Arm Fall Out Boy who has never quite managed to earn entry to the Legion of Superheroes.

He has tried, but sadly in his last attempt he kind of lost his cool and went to pieces. Quite literally as it happens.

Awkward.

Out To Get You Running*

*Video contains super moves. Really super. It was the 1980’s.

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