Ducksnorts Book Excerpt: 2006 Game of the Year: Barfield Homers into the Night

Ducksnorts Book Project 2007 The following excerpt is taken from the upcoming Ducksnorts book, tentatively scheduled for February 2007 publication. This is part of a chapter that focuses on the Padres’ 7-5 victory over the Rockies on September 4, 2006, at Petco Park, courtesy of a three-run homer off the bat of rookie second baseman Josh Barfield with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.

It’s a warm September evening in San Diego and the Padres are fighting for their second straight trip to the playoffs. At 76 degrees, with an 11-mph wind blowing across the Petco Park field from left to right, it’s hard to imagine more ideal conditions for a baseball game.

The Padres will play 25 more games this season, including tonight’s against the Colorado Rockies, who are out of contention but who feature a collection of good young hitters that makes them dangerous on any given night. The Padres are 3 games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West and 1 1/2 games ahead of the Philadelphia Phillies in the wild card race entering Monday night’s contest. Although the Padres have won three straight and five out of six, they haven’t been able to gain ground on the Dodgers, who have made several late-season acquisitions and who appear to be on the verge of pulling away from the rest of the division.

On the bright side for the Padres, this recent six-game stretch has pushed them into the wild card lead. As recently as August 28, they had found themselves looking up in that race as well (1/2 game behind the Cincinnati Reds).

Tonight, veteran Woody Williams takes the mound for the home team. After Williams finishes his warm-up tosses, plate umpire Bob Davidson calls for the stadium lights to be turned on. It’s a bit puzzling since the sky is still light and the sun won’t set for a few more minutes, but Davidson is a veteran umpire (he worked the 1998 NLCS between the Padres and the Atlanta Braves), so presumably he has a good reason. Unfortunately, because he waits until after Williams has finished his warm-ups, the start of the game is delayed several minutes while the lights are fired up. Padres television commentators Matt Vasgersian and Tony Gwynn note that Williams likes to get the ball and throw it, and express concern that the delay might disrupt his rhythm.

Once the lights finally come on, Rockies leadoff batter Jamey Carroll steps up to the plate. Carroll, a journeyman utility infielder, is enjoying unprecedented success at age 32 and has played his way into the everyday second base job. He is a pesky hitter who takes pitches, fouls them off, gets on base, and generally makes the opposing pitcher work hard. Tonight is no exception, as he draws a six-pitch leadoff walk from Williams.

Next up is first baseman Todd Helton. Predecessor to Peyton Manning as quarterback at the University of Tennessee, successor to Andres “The Big Cat” Galarraga as the Rockies’ first baseman, and former Padres draft pick (2nd round, 1992, didn’t sign), Helton once was one of the most feared power hitters in the National League, pounding 30 or more home runs in each season from 1999 through 2004. It wasn’t just the power, though, as Helton had a .320 or better batting average in each of those seasons, clearing the .340 mark in three of them. In 2000 and 2001, he actually collected more than 100 extra base hits in consecutive seasons.

Helton has enjoyed a brilliant career, and yet for all his accomplishments, he’s never finished higher than fifth in the MVP voting. This could be due to the fact that he plays half his games at Coors Field in Denver, which inflates offensive performance; that he plays first base, an “easy” position; or that MVP voters don’t always know what they’re doing (plenty of examples of this exist throughout history — Joe DiMaggio over Ted Williams in 1941, Dick Groat over Willie Mays in 1960, Ichiro Suzuki over any number of people in 2001). In Helton’s case, the reason was far less insidious — although he always was among the best players in the league, he never was the best in any particular season.

That said, Helton was a great hitter in his prime and still is a very good hitter as he steps to the plate now, at age 32 and entering the decline phase of his career. He still does everything well, just not as well as he did five years ago. Helton is not a batter to be taken lightly, and on the first offering from Williams, he demonstrates exactly why.

The pitch is an 87-mph fastball out over the plate, just above the belt. Padres catcher Josh Bard is set up down and away but Williams leaves the ball way up and Helton hammers it into the first row of seats behind and just to the right of the auxiliary scoreboard in left-center field. Helton has spent much of his career batting in the heart of the order because of his power; now he is in the #2 hole to take advantage of his strong on-base skills. On this swing, however, he looks like the Helton of old, driving a tough pitch (replays show that it may not have been a strike) out of the park to the opposite field.

Helton’s blast gives the Rockies an early 2-0 lead. It is his 14th home run of the year, and the first Williams has allowed in the first inning of a game all season. The Padres pitcher has thrown seven pitches and recorded zero outs. Concerns about his rhythm appear to have been well founded.

Third baseman Garrett Atkins is up next for Colorado. Atkins is following a strong rookie campaign with an even better sophomore season. He hits for average, hits for power, and understands the strike zone. In other words, he’s not the kind of batter you want to fall behind in the count to, which is exactly what Williams does.

With the count 3-1, a hitter can afford to look for a particular pitch, most likely a fastball because that is generally the easiest to throw for a strike (which the pitcher wants to do because issuing walks is bad — if the batter is going to reach base at least make him hit your pitch). Unfortunately, when your fastball barely touches 90 mph, as Williams’ does, it’s hard to sneak the pitch past a hitter, especially one as skilled as Atkins.

Williams winds up and proceeds to make probably his worst pitch of the young evening, delivering an 88-mph fastball down the middle, belt high. Again, Bard is set up at the knees, and again, Williams misses up in the zone with a pitch that Atkins should punish. Fortunately for Williams and the Padres, Atkins pulls off the ball and pops up to first baseman Todd Walker, who makes the catch just steps in front of the home dugout. Finally, Williams has his first out of the game.

41 Responses »

  1. Don’t know if anyone else has seen it yet or not, but the Padres website says the Rangers have chosen Washington as their manager. That means the Padres have to be the favorite for Hillman (assuming they make an offer to him).


  2. Did anyone notice the top 4 pitchers in ERA over the past 3 years?

    Clemens, HOU 2.40
    Santana, MIN 2.75
    Carpenter, STL 3.10
    Peavy, SDG 3.13

  3. Re #1. I thought the Pads were looking at Black as the favorite?

  4. Re 1: That is excellent news. I don’t know a lot about Hillman, but I do know that he’s not Dusty Baker.

  5. I woke up with baseball on the brain and thought I would share some of what I have found out and or thought…

    Still not convinced that Adam Eaton won’t get a 2 year deal in SD.
    Mike Cameron’s OPS over the past 3 years:

    2004 .798
    2005 .819
    2006 .837

    Lock that boy up…
    Now that Boch is gone, does X Nady fit in over in LF? His OPS:

    2004 .717
    2005 .760
    2006 .790
    I have gone on record thinking that Aramis Ramirez may be a good fit for our hot corner, but his OPS:

    2004 .951
    2005 .926
    2006 .913

    Still a very good hitter, but scary trend line. Sign him anyway. 
    Are the Pads crazy for discussing a trade for Sheffield? I mean the guy can flat out hit. Too bad Boch is gone (not really), it would be tough to saddle a new manager with an attitude like Sheff’s. But man he can hit. Did I say that already?
    Rocky Mountain News reports that Bud Black is the leading contender for the Pads Manager opening. Still think that the second interview for Hillman is very telling.
    Read today that the Mets are talking to Mark Lorretta about manning 2B for them.
    Does anyone wonder if Daisuke Matsuzaka may be a lot like Hideki Irabu (remember him?) KT, thanks for dropping out of the posting process and saving your bullets for the 3 bagger Iwamura.
    Speaking of Iwamura, has anyone seen any figures on what it will take to get him off the Post, signed to a deal, and manning 3B for the Pads. It is a little worrisome that teams like the Indians want him to play 2B for them.
    Does Aubrey Huff really have the numbers we want for a man to anchor 3B? I have always been a fan, but don’t know if he is anything more than a consolation prize for the Pads at this point. If they can’t get Ensberg from HOU, Beltre from SEA, or Iwamura from JPN, then Huff may be the fall back.

    Sorry for the rants, but I have pent-up baseball thoughts…there are so many more, but since this is not my blog, I will try to keep them to a minimum.

  6. By the way, hope no one takes personally my comments on Giles (previous thread)…though I’m sure BG would if he read this blog! I passionately believe that he is the perfect example of where numbers lie, and they can’t get him out of our starting lineup fast enough for me.

    However, don’t want to pi$$ anyone off, so will tone it down a bit.

    Stupid orange skin…

  7. #3 Hillman is my favorite. I have read in the past that Black is the Pad’s favorite (not so much lately), but that may have been because they were unsure what the Rangers would do regarding Hillman. I think the second interview with Hillman may not be as telling as it looks. It may be that since Moores and SA are over there anyway for the All-Star game, they kind of get a second interview for free.

  8. Anybody but an old rethread for a manager would be fine by me.
    Good read, Geoff.

    BTW, Mike Cameron won a gold glove. Congratulations, Mike!

  9. Thanks, Didi. Glad you enjoyed it…

  10. Mulder is offically a free agent.
    And an interesing read on the rest of the Cardinals pitchers.

  11. From Baseball Prospectus, the list of the top NL relievers ranked by WXRL has Trevor Hoffman at 1, Scott Linebrink at number 5, and Cla Meredith at number 8. No other team had more than 1 in the top 8, and Pittsburgh, of all teams, was the only other one with more than 1 in the top 10.

  12. U-T is reporting that there’s been a snag in talks with Balsley. Hopefully they’ll get that all worked out before too long; we need him.

  13. Am I the only one that is turned off by Hillman cause of his religious views? I have no problem with people practicing their own religion but I worry about him trying to rub his beliefs onto the team.

  14. JetAlone…no issues…certainly not any more that teams should have when signing Shawn Green (he did sit out some games b/c of religious holidays) or Woody Williams (He has been known to invite people to Bible studies).
    In case anyone else is watching, the Yakult Swallows on Monday began the process of giving infielder Akinori Iwamura an opportunity to sign with a major league team under the so-called posting system.

  15. #13 I am not turned off by people with convictions and stick to them. I admire that he has principles, ethics, and integrity. That he happens to be a Christian in no ways detracts from his ability to manage a baseball team.

  16. JetAlone, I don’t see why that would be the case.
    I don’t know anything about his Japanese team, but it’s probably very hard for him to have been successful in Japan had that been the case.
    Besides, plenty of players attributed their success to their belief. What of it? They shouldn’t play for the Padres?
    Plus, the Colorado Rockies is doing alright, it being a very Christian organization.

    I think your concern is unfounded.

  17. #13 This story might be a better account of Hillman’s religious convictions. Not my bag, baby, but certainly wouldn’t faze me in a baseball clubhouse. I don’t think there’s any shortage of individuals in baseball who wish to share their faith, nor any shortage of those who have learned to turn a deaf ear. ;)

    #10 Speaking of Mulder, I apologize if this has been linked to before, but Baseball Think Factory did a really nice piece breaking down his mechanics a few weeks back. (Actually, I find the whole Bullpen Mechanics section over there just fascinating.)

  18. 13: I could see that if he had some sort of belief system that would be a negative for it to rub off on the team.

  19. I guess it doesn’t really matter if the team is winning. I’m just turned off by people that feel its their duty to spread their beliefs.

  20. 18: What if those beliefs aren’t religious in nature? jooc

  21. JA, does not seem like he is doing anything inappropriate. It does not seem like he is doing anything that is forcing his beliefs on anyone. If he were handing out candy canes to raise awareness for the homeless or breast cancer or AIDS, would that bother you?

    Curt Schilling pushes hard in his belief that a lot of money should be raised to combat breast cancer. He invites teammates to fund raisers, asks for cash, and makes it no secret how he feels. Would having him on our team turn you off?

  22. I’d be turned off by having Curt on the team cause he’s a douchebag

  23. I agree wholeheartedly with 21.

  24. Having dealt with Schill personally on a couple of charity initiatives, I couldn’t disagree more with #21. ^_^

  25. I am a Schill fan…

    How about a different example…

    Trevor Hoffman is activly involved in raising money and awareness for the National Kidney Foundation (…he asks teamates for money, spends his freetime making appearances, and even pursues other people to join him. Any complaints there?

    I guess the basis of the question is the same as Richard’s in post #19…is this really a concern b/c it is religious in nature?

  26. By the way, am I the last one to notice that Trevor won the Rolaids Relief Fireman of the Year award late last week?

    Congrats Trevor…belated or otherwise.

  27. Am I the last one to notice they still have the Rolaids Relief Fireman of the Year award? I thought they retired it with Rollie Fingers’ moustache.

  28. NEW YORK (AP) – Third baseman Akinori Iwamura was put up for bid Monday by the Yakult Swallow of Japan’s Central League.

    Major league teams have until Friday to submit bids for the 27-year-old Iwamura, a five-time Gold Glove winner in Japan who played for his nation’s team that won the inaugural World Baseball Classic in March.

  29. As long as he’s not shoving his jesus candy down everyone’s throat who freaking cares. I can’t even remember how many times I’ve seen that “One on One” with Flannery on channel 4 where he and Peavy are singing Jesus tunes on their guitars and looking like the happiest hillbillies ever. I have also noticed Barfield and Linebrink interviews or quotes that have lead me to believe they are “church-ies” too so maybe he would fit right in. I don’t know whatever dudes maybe that’s actually KT’s strategy at this point, spend money on lots of pitching let a little devine intervention address the offensive department. I’m not into religion in the slightest but if spiking the Gatorade with holy water or singing the praises of Jeezzy Creezy, Budah, Zuess, RA, Allah, Alaniss Morisette or whoever can help these bastards knock down a clutch hit once in a while then cont me in!

  30. The election has me distracted from baseball. Without urging my political (or religious, or lack thereof) beliefs on anyone, please make sure you all get to the polls tomorrow. If need be, write in Alfonso Soriano for the office of your choice, but please vote.

    OTOH, anyone think it is a coincidence that Moores and Alderson are in Japan when they’re interviewing new managers and the posting of Iwamura happens? Do you think it’s just to watch Bochy manage in a SF uniform? (Well, despite the election, I can’t escape baseball completely.)

  31. “jesus candy” – KRS1, please respect those of us who are Christians. Personally, I find that phrase offensive.

  32. 30: You must not have noticed friarfan’s comment in the Elias thread.

  33. Matsuzaka is no Irabu. His only issues are his size and how much he has been worked by his Jap. manager. Many Japanese managers prefer the Dusty Baker style of handling their pitchers, i.e. pitch until it hurts. The again, if you have a star pitcher in the Japanese leagues nowadays, you may as well pitch him as much as you can before he goes to the U.S. Matsuzaka has had arm problems, but his work ethic, ability on the mound, and desire to win are beyond compare. He also has a great change-up, so that doesn’t hurt.

    Iwamura is the more likely of the two to be an “Irabu.” His attitude is fine. Most Japanese players not named Irabu have a superb work ethic and great fundamentals. But Iwamura’s Ks are very high, and average and HRs don’t always translate to majors. Japanese pitchers get away with many mistake pitches that major leaguers would crush, so if you have any power or bat control in Japan, you’re going to hit 20 HRs and hit .290, easily. Tuffy Rhodes, Roberto Petagine, Andy Sheets — they’re stars here, so don’t put too much faith into hitting numbers. Iwamura is nowhere near the caliber of a Hideki Matsui or Ichiro — the best players the Jap. leagues have seen in decades. Still, Jojima had a great year in Seattle, so you never know what you are going to get when a player makes the jump. If the price is right — like with Otsuka — things could work out. It is interesting how many posters are expecting Iwamura to be the answer at 3B when they’ve never seen him play. Perhaps it is just the Bellhorn Effect. Iwamura does sound like a perfect acquisition for KT and the Pads, though.

  34. #32: Petagine also won at least one Gold Glove in Japan, which gives me some pause about their caliber of defense as well.

  35. Oops–make that #33. I don’t mean to impugn Petagine’s good name and/or religious affiliations, just (perhaps) his defense! ^_~

  36. Sorry Peter I didn’t mean to offend you or anyone else.

  37. Great discussion, folks. I don’t have a problem with Hillman’s beliefs or the way he expresses them — this hardly seems like a cause that will disrupt a clubhouse, especially in light of events such as Christian Fellowship Day.

    Disclaimer: I’m not affiliated with any particular church or religion, but I know people of many different faiths. As long as they’re not causing harm, I’m pretty much okay with any of them. Thanks for keeping the discussion respectful.

  38. KRS1, thanks for apology – accepted – the funny part is, I actually agree COMPLETELY with the sentiment. If Hillman comes in and preaches more than he manages then we’ll have problems. If he gets the job done, fantastic (all the more so because he can paint his – and my – belief system in a positive light ;-) ).

    Again, KRS1, thanks for manning-up and owning that one; it increases the respect I have for you.


    Now, I could almost care less if we go after Hillman, I want us to get the best guy for the job.

  39. 38: By best guy for the job you mean, “anyone not named Dusty Baker,” right?

  40. Re 5 &33: I saw Matsuzaka a couple of times in the WBC, and he doesn’t strike me as an Irabu at all. Size-wise he looked pretty buffed out to me; BigKT, did you mean his height? Barring injury problems, I would be surprised if he wasn’t pretty successful in MLB.

  41. Peter, wanted to drop you an email, but did not see it on your site…where can I do that?