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Shohei Ohtani is good, Kevin Pillar is ruthless, and John Sterling should travel through time

It’s Monday! Help yourself to a new column of assorted baseball thoughts and images.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim  v Oakland Athletics Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

There are seven days in the week, but only one of them that regularly comes with a free existential crisis. If you had too much fun over the weekend, Monday reminds you that fun will never last. If you didn’t have any fun over the weekend, Monday will taunt you brutally and without regrets.

Friends, I would like you to look forward to Mondays as much as you look forward to lasagna. This is the start of a new Monday column that’s something between a recap and a scratch pad, a place for dumb ideas, for Zapruder-level attention paid to screenshots and GIFs, for important baseball thoughts, and for incredibly unimportant baseball thoughts. Nothing will prevent a true case of the Mondays, but I want to do my part.

Welcome to Monday. I’d like to start this new weekly column with a simple premise:

Baseball is good, actually

In which we find a moment that encapsulates our love of this stupid, beautiful sport. The week started off with someone named Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. hitting a walk-off home run in Montreal. I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about it. How do you top that? There was not going to be a way to top that.

Apparently Canada is hoarding all the great moments, because look at this masterpiece:

Kevin Pillar singled, stole second, stole third, and stole home with two outs in the eighth inning of a one-run game. That isn’t just taking an opponent’s queen with a bishop. That’s taking an opponent’s queen, making unflinching eye contact, and swallowing it whole without saying a word. What do they do after that? Just crawl under the table and die, give or take.

Because Dellin Betances is a talented professional who has already been tested at several levels of baseball, he probably won’t think about this every time a speedy runner gets on base. He’s not owned, he’s not owned, he continues to insist, and he’s probably right. He’s still the same pitcher, just one who was metaphorically mooned by an opponent all the way around the bases.

There’s at least a one-percent chance, though, that this breaks Betances. That’s how violently disrespectful this inning was. That’s how forcefully Pillar disregarded Betances’ existence. It’s the kind of humiliation that could stick with a pitcher, even if it probably won’t.


At the very least, it reminds us that baseball is good, actually.

What Shohei Did

Shohei Ohtani is almost guaranteed to disappoint us. This is not because of how he baseballs. This is not because of anything he’s done wrong (yet). And it’s certainly not an overreaction to a poor spring. This is because the version of Ohtani that most of us built in our mind is the best possible version. That Ohtani was half Max Scherzer and half Bryce Harper. Even as the scouts warned us that the arm was ahead of the bat, we couldn’t help ourselves.

Half Scherzer, half Harper. Just imagine.

Except this was always, always, always unfair. Ohtani doesn’t have to be an actual baseball minotaur to be valuable. If he’s half Mike Leake and half Matt Stairs with Dee Gordon’s speed, that’s really valuable! He would give the Angels two solid players in one roster spot, and he would be doing it cheaply for years. What a head start for a team that already had the best head start in baseball.

If he’s half Leake and half Stairs But Fast, he will disappoint us. Because we’re dumb.

The good news is that he’s probably not Leake:

There were triple digits. There were nasty splitters. And there were the kinds of location mistakes a 23-year-old pitcher should be expected to make. Ohtani’s first start was a quality start, and it was fun to watch.

He’s 1-for-5 as a hitter, and I’m sorry, but I was promised half of a Harper? Preferably the half without the faux-hawk, but let’s not be picky. One appearance at DH just won’t do, even if it was always the plan to let him rest before his start.

So on the Ohtani-meter, we’ll have to adjust from half-Scherzer/half-Harper to something else:

Shohei-o-meter: half-Luis Castillo, half-Gregor Blanco

Still pretty good! Still extraordinarily valuable. If not for one impressive home run, we would have been hopping around here like a bunch of idiots, unable to talk about anything else.

As is, I would like one player who was half Castillo (electric stuff, undeniable potential) and half Blanco (speedy guy with access to a bat) on my team, and I would not be disappointed if this is how his entire season goes.

You would be disappointed, but I’m a better baseball fan than you.

What if he’s half Noah Syndergaard and half Lucas Duda? That would be weird, right? I’m not ready for this.

Excuse For a Simpsons Reference

Baseball Picture of the Week

Rick Yeatts/Getty Images
  1. Because it’s an excellent baseball picture.
  2. Because the Altuve’s body contorting like this somehow makes him look more compact, which is awesome.
  3. Because he’s saying “Mrrrrrllllllllaaaaawlllllll,” which is his very famous catch phrase.

This week in McGwire/Sosa

It’s the 20th anniversary of the 1998 Home Run Chase that saved baseball and made sure your parents meet each other. If we’re going to look at baseball every week, we need to follow along and see what Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were doing at this point in the season. My goal is to define some milestones for the chase. When did we start noticing McGwire was doing something special? When did we notice Sosa at all? When did people who absolutely didn’t care about baseball notice? When was baseball allowed to leave the hospital and return home?

Through one week of the 1998 season, here’s what both of them did:

McGwire: 20 AB, 4 HR (4 total), .400/.538/1.050
Sosa: 27 AB, 1 HR (1 total), .259/.286/.407

McGwire was going bonkers. Sosa wasn’t doing anything of note. This seems like a good time to explain that in the cocksure days of post-James OBP fetishism and strident sabermetrics, the latter player was known as Sammy So-So. He had trouble cracking a .330 OBP in an era when that was about league average, and he was the kind of player who could have a 99 OPS+ and hit 36 homers in the same season. Cubs fans weren’t even paying attention to him at this point.

But McGwire was definitely a thing. He spent the previous season hitting 58 home runs and receiving several polite ovations from his new home crowd in St. Louis.

Something had sure gotten into him, alright.

He probably had a new launch angle.

This Week in Even More Disrespectful Than a Bat Flip

I don’t know how many of these sections I’ll get to use on a weekly basis. Some of them might be rare creatures that will only appear once every couple months, and this might be one of them. I hope not, though, because look at how disrespectful Harper is when he tries to be respectful.

If Harper were to flip his bat into space, where it transitioned into the next section of 2001: A Space Odyssey, there’s a chance he would have gotten plunked in his next at-bat. It definitely would have upset your dad, who would have yelled at him to act like he’d been there before.

Instead, here’s Harper calmly acting like he’s been there before, and it’s somehow even more disrespectful. He just lays the bat down like it’s no big deal.

“‘We are such stuff
As dreams are made on,
and our little life is rounded with a sleep.’

Good night, my beloved wooden companion. You have served me well.”

Bryce Harper after laying that bat down, probably

This is much worse than a bat flip, I promise! Sure, the six steps he takes to admire his home run is also against the unwritten rules, but he really did hit the snot out of it.

Anyway, my point is that bat flips are good, and the absence of them doesn’t make pitchers feel better at all. They’re too worried about the baseball that’s 450 feet away from them.

Writing the unwritten rules

This won’t replace the full unwritten rules column, should there be anything that warrants a full 1,000-word look. But when there’s something that’s interesting enough to note, but not interesting enough to expand upon at length, this shall be the place for it.

Because, truly, what in the crap is this? When a team is down by six runs, they need to reach base any way they can. If it means bunting against the shift, fine. If it means sticking the elbow out a little, fine. If it means going to a judge and hoping for a little judicial intervention, fine.

But, really, if it means bunting against the shift, that’s absolutely fine! The Twins had options. They could ...

  1. Field the bunt and throw Chance Sisco out at first
  2. Not shift on the opposing hitter for the express purpose of making it harder for him to reach base

Pick one! Because you were the ones who were specifically aligning your defense to prevent a hit, dummies. It was apparently important enough for you to do that. So it was important enough for Sisco to counteract that with a baseball play.

If I had to speculate on what Sisco was thinking, it was that he was ATTEMPTING NOT TO LOSE THE BASEBALL GAME, WHICH IS HIS LITERAL JOB DESCRIPTION.

Ah, yes, because Sisco grounding out to second and losing by six runs is much better for the game of baseball than a potential six-run comeback in the bottom of the ninth that people would remember for decades. I get it now.

Definitely throw a baseball at his butt the next time you see him, IMO.

John Sterling calls a famous home run in baseball history

It is high! It is far! It is gone! The World Series is over!

The pitch was yucko, so he won a World Series! For the Buccos!

Pay your Bill, and let’s scram! World Series over! The Pirates win!

Theuhyuhuhuhuhuhuh Pirates win!

I’m not sure how many of these sections are worth doing every week, but I’m pretty sure I want to do this one until I’m arrested for it.

We need to study this baseball thing

Ideally, this will be a play or a moment to break down. Something baseball-like that happens during a baseball game.

Instead, this week it is necessary to watch Alex Rodriguez open up a water bottle.

I have questions.

First, Rodriguez approaches a water bottle as if he’s from Lorax country, where water squirts out of truffula trees on command. Instead, here in this world, the water is ... imprisoned ... in some sort of strange plastic cage.

Hrrrrrmmmmmmm, says the person who has literally been a millionaire since he was 18 and has, to this, point apparently sucked all of his water out of truffula melons that were flown directly to him every morning. I remember this from the minor leagues. This plastic water cage is inhumane, but it is no match for me, the former MVP.

WHAT IS THIS MOVE? What is the end game, here? What sort of martian pistachio is he trying to crack? At first, I wanted to assume that he was used to Voss or Pellegrino or Evian or La Croix ... but there’s absolutely no water in the world that is opened with this kind of effort. This is some Zoolander stuff right here, and I can’t get enough.

Wait, we forgot about champagne. Yes, this has to be it. Rodriguez absolutely has to drink three bottles of champagne every day, and he’s not used to any other liquid. He’s trying to pop a cork because that’s the only way to obtain fluids in his world.

But while the forensic evidence makes sense, we have literally zero anecdotal evidence that Rodriguez likes to drink at all, much less that he drinks so much champagne that he’s forgotten how to open a regular water bottle. The theory is disproved almost immediately.

Are there bottled water companies that deliver a product so pure and pretentious that it comes with a cork? Sadly, no. Not yet. I looked for a long, long time. Missed a lot of actual baseball looking for it, too.

But my search did lead me to an alternate theory: Rodriguez bottles his own water. At the source. And he brings it to the ballpark in these.

Rodriguez doesn’t pay the $27.59 shipping. He pays $47.59 because he needs it the next day. Except this time he forgot his small round glass bottles at home. He had nothing. He’s out there like an idiot without an apothecary’s water bottle clipped onto his knapsack, so he had to use the working man’s bottle, and, well ...


On Sunday morning, I woke up unwilling to pay $50 to watch A-Rod open one can of Pringles. And here we are. I really hope “A-Rod opens things” becomes a running feature of this column.

Open more things, A-Rod. Please.

ESPN PRODUCER: Huh. Alex has a package from SB Nation.


ESPN PRODUCER: A coconut, a hammer, and a flat-head screwdriver? What in the world ...