If you spend too much time arguing about the macro, you miss out on the micro. And it is in the micro that the real enjoyment can be found in any sport. Whether it’s a silky drive to the hoop and layup, a cross-seam pass to set up a one-timer, a perfectly-timed tackle, the sort of things top-tier athletes do in an instant that we can’t really fathom.
It has not been a great year for Juan Soto. While he was the main cog in one of baseball’s biggest trades in years, he didn’t really immediately convert the Padres into a powerhouse upon arrival. Much like the start of his season in Washington, he walked a ton, but his power seemingly went away, and his value was really tied up in his ability to get on base while not doing the heavy damage we were used to. He was also, quite simply, woeful with a glove on his hand, to the point where he probably shouldn’t have bothered having that glove on his hand. But his defense isn’t why the Padres harvested a good portion of their system to bring him to town.
We saw some of that defense early in Game 2 on Wednesday, when he lost a ball in the sun in the top of the second to allow a run on what should have been a sac fly and gotten Blake Snell closer to an escape of the inning. That’s OK because when you’re Juan Soto, you’re always likely to make amends when you come to the plate.
He did that in the Padres’ raucous and chaotic fifth inning, where they put up five runs to take the lead they would never give back and allowed them to tie the NLCS with the Phillies, 1-1. Soto came up with runners on first and third and one out, and the Padres down one. Aaron Nola got Soto down to 0-2, and threw a really good pitch to end the at-bat, or so he thought:
That’s a really good pitch! Look at it!
That’s a 95 MPH fastball barely scraping the inside corner and supposed to be right on Soto’s hands. While Soto does crack pitches in that part of the zone (.315 average and .648 slugging according to baseball savant, very few of those pitches in that zone that are measured are slicing a facial hair off the inside corner. That’s where Nola wants that pitch.
To be able to pull one’s hands in and through to get the barrel to that ball, and keep it fair, is the exact kind of skill that landed Soto numbers that compare to Ted Williams through the same age. It’s what made every team try and set the axis of the planet askew in an effort to get him (or at least teams that are actually run well and by an adult). You are not supposed to get to this pitch, and even if you get to it, it’s supposed to break your bat and leave your hands feeling like they were being attacked by bees from the inside. The bat speed on this swing is simply mean.
I am guilty as anyone else of spending too much time worrying about playoff formats and what the regular season and postseason should mean and how it’s viewed and rules changes. The reason we get so worked up is that we soak in moments like this. This is unique and wonderful, and a reminder of what should actually matter in this sport.
Though speaking of things that really matter, it’s more than awkward and actually sickening that during MLB playoff games, FS1 is only too happy to air anti-immigrant ads that sink into some of the vilest misconceptions and hate that the right can produce. I know it’s hardly a surprise, given that FS1 is a Fox station after all.
But it’s certainly an insulting juxtaposition for an ad to be declaring all immigrants tools of the demon during the broadcast of a sport where a third of the participants are immigrants themselves. And yes, MLB absolutely has the right to veto what ads are shown during its broadcasts. They just haven’t here, no matter how it looks.
But I guess MLB not caring about optics isn’t much of a surprise either.