Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Fired Up

Today's games featured two situations where it seemed that extra motivation led to better performance.

In Minnesota, A.J. Pierzynski may or may not have spiked Justin Morneau at first base after grounding into a double play to end the top of the sixth inning. The incident prompted Twins manager Ron Gardenhire to come out and scream at all four umps. In the bottom half of the frame, the Twins pushed across five runs and took control of the game.

In Tampa, Edwin Jackson took a ball to the side of the head when Carl Crawford's throw airmailed the catcher. Jackson responded by striking out the next three batters to strand two men in scoring position, which helped Tampa to a 6-5 win.

Naturally, the media is all over how the incidents fired up the Twins and Jackson, leading them to victory. In the sports world, where every effect needs a cause, this seems to make sense, right?

Wrong. In the middle of the Twins rally, Justin Morneau hit into a forceout with the bases loaded. If the spike (or non-spike) was the motivation for the big inning, why did they get no contribution from the only Twin involved in the incident? In typical ESPN fashion, tonight's SportsCenter featured plenty of coverage of the "spiking," but didn't even show Mike Redmond's three-run double that busted the game open, because Mike Redmond is neither famous nor controversial. He'll have to settle for outhitting Pierzynski every year from 2005-07.

The real story, of course, was Gardenhire's tirade. Regular ESPN viewers are all-too-familiar with the network's propensity to recap any non-Yankees game with ten seconds of run-scoring plays, followed by thirty seconds of a player or manager arguing a call and getting tossed. Is this really what viewers want to see? Don't they ever wonder why the score suddenly changes from 1-0 to 7-5 on the display?

Over in Tampa, Edwin Jackson struck out nine total batters in six innings, so three in a row was not out of line with his stuff last night. He also picked up the strikeouts against Brandon Inge, Curtis Granderson, and Craig Monroe, a combination that gives Nolan Ryan wet dreams. In this case, I understand why no highlights were shown of Tampa Bay's hitters, since they scored runs on a sac fly, a passed ball, two groundouts and a grounder that bounced over the head of the third baseman. (As an aside, has any team ever scored six runs and gotten a walkoff win in a more boring fashion? Even Elijah Dukes was falling asleep by the end, but apparently someone told him to picture his wife's face on the ball as he batted.)

So what really happened on Memorial Day? A couple of teams recorded comeback wins, and the media searched in vain for an explanation involving some kind of manager outburst. They found it, and a TV audience was once again misled about where good performances really come from.


Jordan said...

I agree with you completely regarding the twins incident. In my eyes unless you're making lazy swings, motivation isn't going to help much. I'm not convinced of your Edwin Jackson case. Why is it that a pitcher couldn't get kind of a wake up call and pitch with more intensity and or focus? if externalities don't affect a pitcher's ability, why do we see so many pitching coaching trips to the mound? Jackson hadn't struck out a single batter in 8 batters faced before the incident, and he looked like pedro in his prime after he got hit in the jaw, even hitting 99mph on the gun.

Lorinda said...

Given that the home team in baseball 'only' wins 54% of the time (far lower than many other sports), it's annoyingly obvious that motivation plays a lesser part in accurately swinging a bat at a ball.

It may add 1 mph onto a pitcher's speed (although I have no idea), and someone might just manage once in a while to beat a throw by using an adrenelin fired burst of speed, but in a game where there's a perfectly good reason for home advantage (batting second) helping anyway, it's clear that motivation makes very very little difference.