One of the loveliest parts of baseball is that on any single play, you might see a dozen different and unrelated skills on display. Take the final wild play at the end of the Braves-Phillies Division Series Game 2 on Monday night. Atlanta led 5-4, having come back from a four-run deficit thanks to a couple of timely home runs. Philadelphia had the tying run on first base in Bryce Harper, and they had a player with 342 doubles and 210 home runs over his career at the plate in Nick Castellanos.
There was one out.
Braves relief pitcher Raisel Iglesias was on the mound, and the count was 2-2, and you might have expected Iglesias to unleash his devastating changeup. It is, for good reasons, Iglesias’ favorite pitch. The league hit just .182 against that nasty changeup, and the main reason is that hitters, mostly, can’t lay off of it as it dives out of the strike zone. It looks so hittable. And then it’s gone.
It made even more sense to throw a changeup there because the man at the plate, Castellanos, is one of baseball’s most avid chasers. He swings at 43% of pitches outside of the strike zone; only a handful of players in the game chase more often. Back in June, Iglesias and Castellanos faced off in the ninth inning of a scoreless game, and when Iglesias got two strikes, he unleashed that changeup that looked like a strike until it wasn’t, and Castellanos dutifully swung over it for strike three.
Yes, a changeup was called for in this situation.
But was it? Think about the calculations that Iglesias and catcher Travis d’Arnaud were quickly making. Iglesias had just thrown two changeups to Castellanos. The first did, indeed, lead to a swinging strike, but the second dropped out of the zone, and Castellanos was not tempted. So now what? Was Castellanos simply not going to offer at any more changeups? The guy’s been around; he has faced two-strike pitches more than THREE THOUSAND TIMES in his career. Would he just let another changeup fall harmlessly out of the zone and make the count full? Did the Braves really want to face a full count there, especially as it opened up the possibility of Harper at first base running with the pitch?
Iglesias and d’Arnaud decided: no. That’s not what they wanted. And so, instead, Iglesias unleashed his best four-seam fastball, 97 mph, a little bit up, but just on the outside corner.
Now, go inside Castellanos’ head.
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