“Beanball,” the third episode of “Pitch,” is the first written by show runner Kevin Falls and the first that really shines.
Falls manages a neat trick in Ep. 3: he deepens the personal conflicts/off-the-field narratives built in the first two episodes without depriving us of baseball. It was the most successful balance between the soapy side-stories and on-the-field action that “Pitch” has pulled off yet — and, as the title indicates, Falls introduces some unwritten rules, codes and a straight-up brawl in to “Beanball.” The impressive part is how the narrative investments Falls makes earlier in the episode pay off during the on-field climax; throughout “Beanball,” the on-field action informs the off-field, and vice versa.
Falls starts the episode off in media res: Ginny is striding to the plate to bat, assistant coach (batting? pitching? it’s unclear) Buck Garland is managing, we are in “a beanball war” and the announcers are wondering whether Garland will let Ginny hit.
The score chyron in the bottom right does provide some useful context for our big moment: if Ginny’s not batting, it’s likely not for tactical reasons — she appears to be pitching well and should stay in, unless she’s thrown like 134 pitches through five or something — but because Buck is concerned with Ginny’s safety.
I honestly hadn’t paid much mind to the particular team Ginny was on until this week, when I realized that putting her on a National League team adds so many potential storylines and prompts so many more questions about Ginny’s ability to (literally, in this case) hack it. She may have a trick pitch to deceive pitchers, but there’s not much deception you can deploy at the plate, short of a perfectly executed bunt. And what of her safety? What if a dude smoked her with his fastball? Is that a real concern or a patronizing, paternalistic projection?
What will happen when she goes to the plate?
LET’S FIND OUT.
But first, the screen tells us we’re leaping back seven hours. Oh, Falls, you cheeky suspense-builder.
Unfortunately, the thing that we leap seven hours back into is Mike Lawson’s bed. Yes, Ginny’s childhood hero/current captain and her agent, Amelia, are boning. I’m already tired of this plot line and it’s just started.
One bright spot: Amelia is concerned about Ginny’s reaction, and Mike calmly responds, “We’re both single and consenting.”
Sure, I’m grasping for straws because I hate this development, but the fact that Mike Lawson, a star professional athlete, understands the concept of consent is heartening in light of recent (super fucking depressing) developments.
I really hate the show hooking these two up. The only conceivable postcoital narrative options here are: 1) They fall in love, stay in love, tell Ginny about it and she approves (definitely not fucking happening). 2) They sneak around for like seven episodes before finally getting discovered by Ginny, who’s irate and hates them both and there’s a shitload of drama for like the rest of this season and into the next, etc. 3) They flame out amicably without Ginny ever discovering their tryst, which ALWAYS happens on TV. So, yeah, I hate really the show hooking these two up because 2) is the only possible reason you would have them bone to begin with, and this show is plenty interesting with plenty of potential plot lines and compelling side characters to dip into trite, shallow-end “holy crap, this bone sesh is super scandalous” fare. But here we are.
The only semi-acceptable defense of the hook-up is that it does underline the episode’s primary theme: how these folks navigate the codes they set and the rules they (try and) follow. Mike and Amelia boning is shady and violates a couple implicit but fairly obvious codes: don’t bang your battery mate’s agent and don’t bang your client’s battery mate/childhood hero. Throughout the episode, we see Ginny grapple with her self-enforced rule of not dating ballplayers and her fervent embrace of baseball’s unwritten rules. “Beanball” shows how Baker’s two sets of codes — the on-field and the boudoir — collide through the newly introduced character of Trevor.
We meet Trevor during the episode’s first proper flashback (not counting the “seven hours earlier” bit at the beginning), and again we’re back in San Antonio in 2014. Trevor is a good-looking catcher for another team who wants to date Ginny, who, again, makes her rules very explicit. “You know my code: I don’t date ballplayers.” BUT WE KNOW BETTER.
The show jumps back to present day to pick up the other big storyline in “Beanball”: the future of Al Luongo as Padres manager. In what may be his last game as skipper, Luongo gets off to a bad start: Al is ejected while exchanging lineup cards for insinuating that the ump has poor eyesight, which is like telling Tom DeLonge that aliens don’t exist. You just don’t go there, sonny.
After Al’s ignominious end to what could be his final game, we jump back in time to Texas where, again, Trevor is wooing Ginny — this time more successfully, as she agrees to go out for “just one drink,” which of course turns in to canoodling against a truck in front of an establishment called El Adobe, because Texas?
I’ve never been to Texas, so far be it from me to say that it seems like no one involved in this scene has ever actually visited the state. Maybe that’s just what Texas looks like! (Dear TV prop/set designers: I know it seems more “authentic” to have everyone drive a ’70s pickup in the country, but there’s a reason the Ford 150 has been the best-selling vehicle in this country for more than 30 years. People buy new trucks — especially in the sticks.)
The truck canoodling pays off, as Ginny decides to make an exception to her stringent rules and sleeps with Trevor the Catcher. Ginny is going to break her code just this once, she tells herself, and because this is a television drama, we know that ain’t happening. Probably why, two years later, she’s so hung up on rules and regulations.
Back in present day, Al is treating himself to a fine-ass dinner of lobster and white wine — no champagne, he tells the aging clubhouse attendant, because it’s bad luck to pop champagne when you’re not clinching shit. Again with the codes! I half-expected Harry to appear and tell Dexter some weird-ass shit.
Initially, it appears Al has asked for a finely appointed dinner setup to enjoy his last meal — surely he’ll be sacked after such a sad pre-game display — but the old skipper’s smarter than he lets on: he’s actually looking to wine and dine Maxine Armstrong (Wendie Malick of “Just Shoot Me”), another Padres owner who appears to out-clout Bob Balaban’s Frank Reid. Al appeals to Maxine with a pretty good argument: if you fire me now, it will appear Ginny demanded my ouster and she’ll develop a reputation as a “coach killer”. It’s a bold and effective move for Al: Maxine eventually agrees and straightens out Reid. Al will ride out the rest of the season.
Al’s full of surprises in this episode: with Tommy coming off the disabled list, a Padre needs to get sent down. It’s looking like that player will be the Korean-born Woo-jin Kim, who doesn’t speak any English. Padres GM Oscar Arguella spends the bulk of the episode trying to find someone who speaks Korean before Al just strides up to Woo-jin and informs him of the bad news in Kim’s native language. Oscar is gobsmacked, staring at Al like he’s got antlers. And then Dan Lauria drops the mic.
And a deuce, apparently. Yucky.
Back to the aforementioned “beanball war,” which is a term I hate but also made me recognize that I can’t think of a better name for it. When you’re in the dugout and each team is hurling baseballs at the other, you’re not really calling it anything — mostly just calling the other guys shitbirds or whatever. Anyway.
The Cardinals’ Leo Falcone fires the opening salvo (Luongo called Falcone “crazy,” before the game, saying that “he would throw at Malala”), a shot across the bow of Padres centerfielder Blip Sanders. It’s actually a pretty realistic brushback pitch in the sense that it’s not very inside and Sanders totally Jeters the hell out of it, leaning in first and then doing the limbo real hard, backpedaling and acting like he almost took one in the chin.
Ginny, she of the rigid codes that must be abided, gets all bloodthirsty and gun-slingery, telling Lawson that she’s obligated to drill the guy. Lawson informs her that the 80-something mile-per-hour slop she’s flinging at the plate won’t hurt anybody and that she’ll have to face the firing squad herself when she hits, but Ginny takes a stand: “You’re no different,” she tells Lawson. By wanting to protect Ginny, he’s just as bad as those trying to knock her on her ass.
This is the richest material that Falls brings to “Beanball”: by setting Ginny up as the Neanderthal out for blood, the show runner subverts our preconceptions on how a soft-throwing female pitcher would react during a “beanball war.” (Ugh.) And Lawson’s paternalist, protective response introduces a dynamic that is an oft-overlooked stumbling block to some of history’s most vital struggles. (Yes, I just linked to MLK’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” in a “Pitch” recap. I am also surprised.) Paternalism is often much more insidious and detrimental to progress than outright anger or hostility, because it disguises itself as concern. Ginny’s got a great point, and I’m impressed with Falls’ ability to take what could be a pretty one-dimensional premise — can Ginny take a beanball without getting an owie? — and expand it to reveal the fissures between her and even her well-meaning teammates, like Lawson.
Back to the baseball: Lawson tells Ginny that there are better ways to respond to beanballs than more beanballs, and proceeds to blast a home run to left field (more on that later). But it doesn’t matter to young Baker, who promptly plunks a Cardinals batter when she’s back on the hill. The war is on, and Ginny knows it. “They get to hit me,” she tells her teammates. “I know the code.” Lawson is pissed, because benches have been warned and Ginny’s pitching well and she just dragged him into this whole mess. But you know who’s not mad? This guy.
That’s right, Tommy, who looks like the third or fourth guy in a crew of surf-bro locals who want to throw down with the bougie tourists in the direct-to-video Blue Crush 3: Surf Up, Party Down. He’s got Ginny’s back.
When this sketchy bro is your only ally, you know you’re on the right side of a fight.
By now we’re back to where the episode started: bottom of the fifth, Padres up 4-1 and Ginny striding to the plate with nobody on, nobody out. The tension only heightens when the Cardinals’ manager elects to pull a double switch and bring a pitcher named Greg Mount, a.k.a. “The Mountain.” He’s a former closer now relegated to mop-up duty who throws super-hard and leads the league in hit batspeople. (Ginny’s even changing stat names!)
In other words: shots fired.
Alright, so we’ve got an HBP-leading flame-thrower named “The Mountain.” He’s probably chill, right?
Ruh roh. Turns out he’s snorting mucus in front of the eye of Sauron. Good luck, Ginny!
As Mount prepares to enter the game, we’re treated to another flashback. This time, Trevor and Ginny are playing golf together, adorably, and are in love. Trevor is bad at baseball and wants to get out of the game: he’s ready to be a civilian, like one of us shmucks, and that means that he and Ginny can be legit — no code-breaking, see, because he won’t be a ballplayer. So, in the meantime, because he’s definitely not going to ever play in the majors, he and Ginny can just be a couple now. Sweet! Glad this is going to work out perfectly.
Back in present-day Petco, “The Mountain” is struggling to bean Ginny, though he does nearly decapitate her once. But he’s all over the place and down 3-0, and Ginny begins wondering whether Mount and his catcher are trying to avoid hitting her. She says something to said catcher, who has only been spoken of thus far by surname, and he removes his mask and looks at her and —
Oh my God! Is that Trevor’s entrance music?! Oh my God!
That’s right, people: it’s Trevor. Turns out he didn’t give up baseball for Ginny. But why? CUE FLASHBACK.
Two years ago we see Ginny checking out some Double-A action as Trevor bleeds a single to right and she cheers on from the stands. He’s hanging ’em up, so she can be out there, in the open, as his main squeeze. Trevor is pinch-ran for, which I thought nothing of because he’s a crummy catcher.
But, after the game, Trevor explains that he was pulled because he got traded to St. Louis and they’re promoting him to Triple-A Memphis. His big-league dreams are back on! Forget all that mess about cleat hanging! Ginny’s rightfully pissed, he tells her to “nut up” (it’s a callback to something she said previously, but still, man) and then they break up.
After this reveal (“Pitch” effin’ loves reveals), Trevor sets up and Mount delivers the 3-0 pitch — another wild ball. Ball four. Ginny does not take this well. “What’s a girl gotta do to get beaned?!” she hollers at Mount. Then this ensues:
Way to go, Tommy! We’ve got ourselves a good ol’ fashioned brawl.
All snark/cynicism/derision aside, the Trevor reveal and the brawl do a satisfying job of tying together Ginny’s on-field and off-field codes in one brief moment: we see how essential they are to Ginny’s sanity and survival and what can go wrong when someone breaks them. This entire episode balanced romance and baseball, and this scene manages to pay off in both ledgers.
Trevor swings by after the game to break some bad news: his phone got hacked and now there are some (presumably scandalous) photos of Ginny and/or Trevor out in the world somewhere. Can’t say I’m super optimistic about this plot twist — like the Amelia-Mike hook-up, it augurs poorly for the show down the road in an otherwise-excellent episode — but we’ll see where it goes. Trevor mentions that Ginny may need a friend to play some golf with — it was kind of their thing, remember — but she blows him off.
But wait: she may have found that golf-partner in ol’ Mike Lawson, who admits that he’s been impressed with Ginny’s strength, courage and ability thus far.
“You kinda blew me away,” Lawson says.
“You look like a cousin from ‘Duck Dynasty,'” Ginny says.
She’s not wrong!
Ginny leaves Mike alone to ponder life’s purpose and practice his golf swing, and Ep. 3 of “Pitch” closes on this scrumptious image.
What kind of “Pitch” was this?
A brushback 0-2 pitch against a batter in the middle of a “beanball war” that sets up your 1-2 changeup away to strike his candy-ass out.
What with the War of the Beaned Balls and all the unwritten rules, there was plenty of virtual reality to dissect this week — and I thought most of it was handled pretty well by the “Pitch” staff. In this week’s “Reality Check,” we’re going to leave the greater war alone to take a look at one specific battle, if you will: Mike Lawson’s key three-run homer in the third inning.
In case you missed it, here it is:
OK, first thing: just watching the way Mark-Paul swings and the way his head moves, that ball 100% was fouled into the left-field stands. No chance that thing’s fair. He’s out in front and staring off to the left to make sure he didn’t murder a fan. That’s not a homer, “Pitch.”
But more glaringly, check out the chyron in the bottom right when Falcone delivers the pitch.
Here are a couple of close-ups to drive the point home.
That’s right: Falcone must have a relative in the FOX production truck, because that motherfucker got FLAMES for an 89-mph pitch! Ha! If that’s Falcone’s average fastball, here’s where he’d rank this season, per Baseball Prospectus via PITCH F/X:
Eleventh-worst in the league, right between Kyle Hendricks and Old Jake Peavy. Falcone is 400-odd pitchers away from deserving the flame graphic — there are fewer Flames down here than a Bruins-Canucks game!
Sorry, I don’t watch hockey.
Next post: An NL Central Podcast, Episode 14
Previous post: BttP Podcast 63: 2016 Wild Card Games and More