Mets Game 107: Loss to Padres
Padres 3 Mets 1
So much for momentum.
Mets Game Notes
R.A. Dickey truly deserved better. He had that really good knuckleball going – the one that seems unhittable. And indeed, it WAS unhittable until the fifth frame, when Yonder Alonso squeaked a single to left. The knuckler was dancing all over the strike zone, and sometimes out of it. The only Padre who was able to track it and square it up was Chase Headley, who hit two line drive outs and a sharp groundout, as well as a few well-struck foul balls. If anyone was going to crack the Mighty Dickey, I guessed it would be Headley.
Somehow, San Diego manufactured a run in the sixth to tie the ballgame. At the time, it didn’t seem like a big deal, because the run seemed like a fluke and Dickey still looked unhittable. Even though the Mets had trouble reaching Padres pitcher Clayton Richard, Richard was clearly a mere mortal. And if the Mets couldn’t score one against Richard, they’d surely hammer the Padres ‘pen — wouldn’t they?
But then the seventh inning happened, which seemed to take the wind out of the Mets’ sails. It was only two runs but it felt like eleven.
The bottom of the seventh began innocuously – the sharp groundout by Headley. I breathed a sigh of relief; if Headley wasn’t downing Dickey, no one would (hmm, there’s a crass joke in there somewhere, isn’t there?). Carlos Quentin followed with a hard-fought at-bat that resulted in a clean single up the middle. No big deal; Quentin had seen fifteen pitches from R.A. on the night and it was a matter of time before he finally connected with one. Alonso — the man who originally broke up the potential no-hitter — took two pitches and then bashed a long drive to deep right-center. Where the heck did that come from? I saw Quentin chugging around third, knowing full well that he’d be out by a mile, and also knowing that this was going to be the feeble Padres’ offense only chance to win.
Quentin rambled toward home plate with a full head of steam, aiming at Josh Thole, who was waiting for him with the ball. Instead of holding his ground and tagging out Quentin, Thole turned left, shying away from contact, and kinda, sorta, tried to swipe tag the runner while simultaneously spinning himself backward and rolling away. The ball squirted out of Thole’s glove, Quentin scored, and that was the ballgame. (John Baker followed with an RBI single, but it was anticlimactic.)
Thole had the ball in plenty of time to tag Quentin, catching it cleanly when Quentin was at least ten to fifteen feet from home plate. What Thole should have done was: first, hold the ball in the bare hand, cover it with the glove. Second, set up in front of the plate, low (feet wide, knees bent, butt down, body in a strong position), fully facing the runner with the left knee in particular facing the oncoming runner. Third, move the glove toward the runner’s FACE; this should in most cases surprise the runner and create a natural reaction of avoiding the glove, reducing aggression and putting the runner on the defensive. Fourth, if by chance the runner doesn’t move out of the way as a result of having something in his face, hold tightly on to the ball with the right hand (still covered with the glove), apply the tag as close to the body as possible, be prepared to “give” with the collision, and fall backward, relaxing the entire body as much as possible after contact. It’s rare that a catcher has the time to do all this, but Thole did, and he chose to do a feeble and dangerous swipe and twist, looking more like a square dancer than a Major League catcher. He’s lucky he didn’t suffer an ankle, knee, or hip injury.
I don’t necessarily fault Thole, as I’m guessing he was never taught / trained proper and safe mechanics for such situations. Prior to joining the Mets organization, Thole caught a bit in high school, where the rules insist that a runner slide into home. Thole’s minor league training during his conversion from first baseman to catcher was woefully incomplete, as we saw in his rookie campaign. This wasn’t the first poor execution of a tag by Thole; the last one resulted in his concussion. And that brings up another point — was Thole shying away from contact in part due to head injury? If so, he probably shouldn’t be catching — it’s too dangerous. Of course a catcher should protect his head as much as possible during a collision, but if that becomes the primary motive, then the rest of the body becomes vulnerable.