If you think baseball is boring, you're not watching it right. I'm sure you understand the basics on some level. And to be fair, it's been called a simple game before: "You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball."
However, that concise summary describes only the physical actions the game requires. Like the bored casual fan, it overlooks the mental strategy that occur throughout.
The mental sharpness the sport requires is staggering.
One pitch changes the count. One out dramatically alters the situation on the field. Batters change their approach based on the count, number of outs, runners on base, and even defensive positioning. Pitchers and catchers have a specific game plan for every hitter they face in a lineup. Fielders position themselves and make throws based on outs and base runners. The current situation dictates how a base runner runs the bases, and even the type of lead he takes. Every pitch is a chess move.
On Tuesday night, Texas Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish gave a glimpse of why the team funneled so much money in the off-season towards him, with his dominating performance against the New York Yankees.
I'll look at two of the biggest at-bats of the game, and what they tell us about Darvish:
From the third inning:
After giving up a leadoff single and walking the second hitter, Darvish misplayed a Jeter bunt and found himself in a bases-loaded, no out jam with Curtis Granderson, Alex Rodriguez, and Mark Teixeira coming up.
With the power hitting lefty at the plate, Darvish needs to get an out, even if it means giving up a run. A strikeout, of course, would be ideal.
A first pitch strike is the best pitch in baseball, which Darvish gets with a tailing fastball low and away.
Now ahead in the count 0-1, he can throw any pitch in his arsenal. Granderson knows this and therefore cannot afford to be quite as aggressive.
The next pitch, a curveball low and away misses for a ball. But that's not the worst thing. A swing would have likely missed, or at worst, been a ground ball or weak pop-up.
With the count now 1-1, Napoli calls for a cutter down and in, a great pitch against lefties because it breaks in toward their hands and is tough to put a good swing on. Granderson can only fight it off for a foul ball. One ball, two strikes.
The 1-2 pitch is another curveball low and outside. His curve has a sharp late break on it and Granderson barely fights it off for a foul ball.
Still 1-2, Darvish breaks off another cutter inside under Granderson's hands. It just misses for a ball inside, but it's a pitch that would have made many major league hitters look foolish. You could argue that the no swing on a pitch that close means Granderson was fooled, but we can give him the benefit of the doubt.
Now 2-2, Darvish needs to stay close to the strike zone. He throws a sinker on the outside corner that he leaves a tad high, so it doesn't quite get the desired effect that it normally would if thrown lower. When a sinker is low, it's drop and tailing action are much more pronounced. When left too high, a good hitter can mash it. Granderson slices it foul down the left field line.
His next pitch is a majestic curveball that starts off high and outside, and then drops into the strike zone for strike three. Granderson can do nothing but stare at the ball's flight path with his bat on his shoulder as the ump rings him up.
After that one pitch, the inning's complexion has changed entirely. Now, with one out, a double-play ends the inning. Alex Rodriguez is a good candidate for that, and Darvish pitches him accordingly.
His first pitch, a tailing fastball at the knees, is good for strike one. Advantage, Darvish.
With the count now 0-1, Darvish throws another hard-tailing fastball down and in. A-Rod can't get his bat head around in time and drives it straight into the ground down the third base line (killing a few worms no doubt). Beltre gobbles the candy-hop over third base, steps on the bag and fires a strike to first base for the inning-ending double-play.
That is how great pitchers get out of a jam. You really can't draw it up any better.