Episode 4 of “Pitch,” titled “The Break,” begins in Major League Baseball’s New York offices with a group of marketing professional-looking types sitting around a conference table watching a video campaign to propel young Ginny Baker into the 2016 All-Star game at Petco Park, her home field.
The video features the requisite adorable kids, mostly inspired girls, holding signs that read #putherinthegame.
I mean, c’mon! I abhor hashtags as much as the next discerning adult, be even I thought about unleashing this unwieldy beast of a 15-letter monstrosity for the sake of this ray of sunshine:
The montage of Mickey Mouse Club-level rugrats is interspersed with a Ginny Baker highlight package. So, you’re compiling a set of Baker’s best possible moments on the hill. What would you go with? An overmatched batter fanning at her vaunted screwball? Maybe Baker blowing a mid-80s fastball by an All-Star? A fine fielding play?
If you said a backward-K on an 80-mph fastball, congrats.
And, once again with the flames. Not much to do other than shrug and accept the Flames Chyron and its brazen inaccuracy.
The point of the meeting is this: more than 36 million people have signed a petition to get Ginny into the All-Star game, and these corporate bigwigs want to #putherinthegame.
Well, good news: Mike Lawson’s back is killing him, so Ginny gets the call that she will be replacing the aging catcher as the Padres’ all-star representative — a problem for Blip Sanders, who was banking on he being the one to take Lawson’s spot. (Don’t worry: another player falls to injury, giving Blip his chance, which puts knowledgeable baseball in a funny spot — rooting for the watered-down, near-50-man All-Star rosters where half these fools are inactive.)
Amid all the All-Star weekend hubbub, Padres GM Oscar Arguella must leave San Diego for Amsterdam, telling his assistant nothing more than “Livan’s 26.” Then we see this sitting on his desk, which, combined with Oscar’s cryptic explanation and hasty departure, makes it seem like “Pitch” has decided to turn Oscar into some type of murderous sociopath with his very own “Dark Passenger.”
It’s pretty clear we’re dealing with Chekhov’s Doll Head here: you don’t introduce a creepy-ass, hairless doll head with carved-out eye sockets in the first act if we’re not seeing that monstrosity again in Act III.
The only catch to Ginny’s inclusion in the 2016 Midsummer Classic is that her mother Janet is visiting, and now the young phenom will be busy with media engagements, the derby, the game and all the other festivities that go along with it.
We haven’t seen much of Mrs. Baker thus far, but the show lets us know pretty quickly through Ginny’s trepidation about the visit that their relationship is fraught; on some level, Ginny chose her father — and baseball — over her mother, and once again baseball is winning out.
As a consolation prize, Amelia and Ginny inform Janet that she will be able to spend a couple days seeing the San Diego sights — Lego Land and the San Diego Zoo, namely — with Elliot, Ginny’s social media manager. Elliot seems pumped and when he speaks up, he gets this withering mother-daughter look.
Stink-eye alert! I now kinda feel bad for Elliott, a two-dimensional character we have been given literally no information about except (1) Oscar thinks he might speak Korean because he’s Asian (2) he’s always on his cell phone because he’s a millennial and (3) he exists solely to elicit reactions from other characters like the one above. Moving on.
Now on to Ginny’s battery mate: Mike Lawson’s mangled back has him thinking about his future, and, like most aging athletes, he’s hoping to hop on to the gravy train that is “Men with Garish Pocket Squares Shouting At One Another,” a.k.a. sports commentary. Lawson believes he has what it takes to simultaneously wear an obnoxiously large tie knot and talk shit about young players ruining the game.
Amelia agrees, and she sets up an audition for her paramour with the FOX broadcasting team of Chris Myers, C.J. Nitkowski and Dontrelle Willis.
After a brief getting-to-know you and a patented C.J. Nitkowski hot-take about a Corey Seager snub, Myers throws it over to Lawson with a tee-up about the catcher’s thoughts on this year’s NL team, and the eight-time All-Star goes hard in the motherfucking paint.
LAWSON: This year’s squad, oh man, they’re crazy good, even without Kersh. Cueto’s slide/cut combo is lethal. Scherzer has the most legit 1-through-4 in the bigs. Lester’s a beast. Among hitters, obviously Kris Bryant is the man. His ISO is at .292, his weighted-runs-created-plus of 153 last year is redonkulous and his WOBA of .412 is off the charts!
I may get “his weighted-runs-created-plus of 153 last year is redonkulous” tattooed on my back. It’s something Rob Gronkowski would say if you could teach him math.
After Lawson’s delightfully sabermetric diatribe, Myers gives him the ol’ “whoa whoa whoa, hold your horses” line before the rest of the crew comes in all ex-player-like, guns a blazin’.
“You sound like a stathead,” Nitkowski says. “Sound like a ballplayer,” as if these things must be mutually exclusive. This sucks. It’s also entirely on-brand for Nitkowski, who’s a consultant on the show and a hacky hot-take artist. Yes, Lawson goes a little heavy on the advanced stats, but can you imagine a 36-year-old current catcher — not to mention eight-time all-star — adding this kind of nerdery to a baseball broadcast? It’d be incredible! Give us some Brandon McCarthy or Glen Perkins, FOX broadcast bookers. We need an injection of cold-hard facts to offset the hot-takery to which we’re consistently subjected. (I was going to say Zack Greinke, but he would never do it and, if he did, the potential for soul-crushing awkwardness would be too much for my gentle constitution.)
Willis — who, I feel obligated to mention, has a permanent spot on the Louie Opatz All-Time Favorite Players 25-Man Roster — shows his distaste for Lawson’s SABR-y take much more directly.
Mike is discouraged; after all, commentating is his best bet to keep earning (easy) money once he starts paying that alimony.
After Mike’s ignominious commentary debut (personally, I think the others thought he flopped because he didn’t have a pocket square and big-ass tie), we’re back at Petco Park, where the other general managers are getting wined and dined by the Padres’ brass — but conspicuously not Oscar, who’s nowhere to be found. His assistant does her best to obfuscate and keep two rival GM’s off his trail, but they’re not buying her delivery.
“That was a bold-faced lie,” one says to the other, defying all grammatical decorum. Perhaps the show meant to have this baseball-bro not know the difference between bald-faced (a real thing) and bold-faced (not a real thing, unless you’re talking typefaces), but it bothered this pedant. (Please don’t spam me with all my grammatical errors!)
But it appears this anonymous GM is part of a dying breed: “bald-faced” is gaining steam against the scourge of the incorrect “bold-faced.”
“The above chart justifies my pedantry,” he said as he scanned the room and wondered where everyone went.
But we finally have a little more information about Oscar’s sojourn, courtesy of the nosy rival GM’s: Oscar’s cryptic “Livan’s 26” declaration earlier was in reference to a Cuban defector, Livan Duerte, a 26-year-old catcher who jetted from his squad while at a tournament in the Netherlands and is now a free agent.
The fancy-shmancy shindig at Petco leads to another fancy-shmancy shindig: Ginny’s dinner with her mother, which Ginny complicated by inviting both Amelia and Lawson to help diffuse the awkwardness between Janet and Ginny. (I really wish Ginny would just find out so we can kill this stupid storyline.) But Janet has a plus-one of her own, a handsome gentleman named Kevin (Darius McCrary a.k.a. EDDIE FUCKING WINSLOW!!!) who means well but is clearly a bit uncomfortable with the situation.
Kevin compliments Ginny on what a tremendous young woman and baseball player she’s become, and makes the mistake of invoking her father’s name in said compliment.
“CAN WE PLEASE STOP TALKING ABOUT MY DEAD FATHER,” Ginny shouts in a super crowded fancy San Diego restaurant. This moment stuck with me, because it beggared belief: here we have an eight-time all-star catcher (in his home city, no less), a famed super-agent and the FIRST FEMALE BASEBALL PLAYER EVER all sitting at a table eating dinner and not only does no one snap a photo or Facebook-Live Ginny’s meltdown, no one ever approaches the table at any point. What kind of restaurant is this?! Thirty-six million people apparently signed a petition to put Ginny in the All-Star game in this exact city but nobody will try and get a selfie with her at dinner! Somebody rudely interrupt someone else’s dinner, please and thank you.
We thankfully leave this train wreck of a night out to catch up with Oscar, who has now doubled down on the doll heads and decided to film his “Dexter” villain audition tape in his hotel bathroom.
I told you Chekhov’s Doll Head was a thing!
The show again moves on, leaving us with only Oscar’s creepy, sadistic smile and a lingering suspicion that Interpol is gonna be on his ass tout suite.
And finally, the All-Star game has begun. “Pitch” has done something really canny with its “broadcast” of Ginny’s Midsummer Classic debut: the show has intercut actual all-star footage with its own to create a slightly discomfiting experience for those of us who watched the game — but that also, again, shows the huge advantage that MLB’s imprimatur and access to FOX’s broadcast doodads provides.
Fictional Blip Sanders has been Photoshopped into the frame with I’m Assuming Fictional NL All-Star Aledmys Diaz. (You can tell how well I know Mr. Diaz by my spelling of his name in the above clip…) It’s nice to have this video evidence of Diaz’s All-Star appearance for posterity, when we’ll all be compiling our lists of most insane all-star selections. He’s no Ken Harvey or Ron Coomer, and he’ll probably make five more just to make me look stupid, but there’s nothing like a Hot-First-Half All-Star to make one question the whole stinkin’ enterprise.
The ensuing game is pretty incredible in its real-life synergy: the action hews closely to the IRL game, save the small addition of, yanno, the first female baseball player in the game’s history. But much of it is still here: the Kris Bryant — he of the redonkulous wRC+ — home run, Johnny Cueto letting his ‘locks fly and a reminder that Aledmys Diaz was a thing.
Unfortunately for Ginny, Salvador Perez blasting a dinger is also still a thing — but in this alternate reality, Ginny is the poor pitcher conceding said dinger.
This moment — where a fictional (female) San Diego Padre is surrendering a real-life All-Star homer to a real-life Sal Perez and it really doesn’t look that wonky— honestly feels like the peak that fictional baseball had been unable to summit until now. I kept re-watching to find the cracks and seams, and they just weren’t there. This is good “Pitch.”
After Ginny’s all-star let-down, we’re treated to one of the show’s patented flashbacks, this time to a young Ginny returning home only to find her mom in the arms of that bastard Kevin. Now we know why Ginny reacted with such hostility at the dinner: she’s known about Janet and Kevin boning down for years, while her parents were together, and it becoming a seemingly real thing can only infuriate Ginny.
Back to Oscar, where we’re finally getting an answer to why this poor sap has been dismembering dolls for pleasure. Because, growing up in Mexico, hairless decapitated doll heads were their baseballs. We find this out when Oscar throws his newly shorn, decapitated doll head at Livan Duerte, knowing that the young Cuban surely also played with dolls (but in a super manly way!) as a child. Duerte reaches across his body to catch the “ball” with his right hand, meaning he’s either a lefty catcher, which would be amazing, or he doesn’t like catching with his glove hand, which would be weird. Anyway, the ploy works: Oscar steals Duerte away from the Yankees, who had offered more bonus money, by appealing to Duerte’s upbringing and playing up his similarly humble beginnings.
But Duerte plays catcher! And that’s what Mike Lawson plays! Drama!
Duerte wastes no time telling Oscar what’s what. “I’m not sitting behind Mike Lawson,” he tells his new GM, immediately adding a ton of conflict to a team that seems like it could use a conflict-reprieve, Mary J. style.
Speaking of catchers, Lawson is getting his second chance at broadcasting, though this time it’s for real — live, on-air after the NL lost to the AL and Ginny gave up a donger to Sal P. Mike starts with “analysis” (he says that “Salvy Perez swings at the first pitch 74 percent of the time,” which is lunacy) before stuttering, pausing, and breaking into the kind of gag-worthy bromides that should be banished, never to return again, from baseball analysis: “The best hitters in the game get out seven out of 10 times” (ya don’t say!), and calling Ginny a “gamer,” which, etymologically speaking, I think just means you played in a game. I know, I know: 80 percent of success is just showing up. But you still need 30 more percents to get to 110!
Of course, Myers, Nitkowski and Willis eat this shit up like Smeagoal gnoshing on some primo lake trout. The forces that be have already molded Lawson into the exact kind of cookie-cutter analyst that drives me up the wall. Hell, even his outfit screams, “I’m working for the man!” despite the protestations emanating from his neck beard.
The episode ends with a return to its emotional center: Ginny and Janet’s fraught relationship and how they got here. Janet’s pretty blunt with where the blame lies — “Baseball killed my marriage and took my daughter away from me,” she tells her daughter — but she doesn’t understand where Ginny’s coldness comes from. She asks her daughter, point-blank: “Why did you shut me out?”
The viewer is then transported to a flashback that we literally saw only a few minutes prior — it’s as if episode director Regina King (Regina King??!!) doesn’t trust us to remember any of the emotional beats of the show, which said lack of trust befuddled and frustrated this viewer. Before I had the time to even think It’s because you were balling Kevin rather indiscreetly, we jump back to a truncated version of the same exact moment we just saw.
Flashbacks are a tricky beast; when it became apparent in the “Pitch” pilot that the show would lean so heavily on the conceit, I was incredulous. But thus far, the show has navigated them well: they’ve accented and accentuated the present-day plot, adding depth without losing narrative steam.
But this is an example of the downside of flashbacks — of when they begin to feel too much like hand-holding. I know Janet and Kevin were touching on each other; I just saw it happen. But sending us back to the same moment again, as if we had had our minds erased “Men in Black”-style, is insulting to us as viewers and kills the show’s momentum at a vital part of the episode.
To Ginny’s credit, she responds to her mother’s question (“Why did you shut me out?”) not with the obvious “Because you were Urkling Eddie Winslow behind Dad’s back,” but with a far more measured answer: “Because I was young,” Ginny says in present day. “I didn’t realize how hard it was for you.”
Again, “Pitch” has done inspiring work as it slowly reveals Ginny’s personality and outlook: unlike other characters (Mike and Amelia, primarily), Ginny isn’t as easy to put in a box and label. She recognizes that her father was a hyper-competitive monster hellbent on seeing Ginny make it to the pros, regardless of whether that was Ginny’s dream. Sure, he wanted her to want it. But, first and foremost, Bill Baker wanted a kid in the Show and didn’t particularly care what damage he wrought en route. Ginny understands that, though she may resent Janet for it, her mother was trapped in a loveless marriage with a monster who calls baseball gloves “mitts,” which is heinous. (Unless it’s a catcher’s mitt, of course.)
“The Curve” leavens all the family drama with a delightful episode-closing conversation between Blip and his wife Evelyn, who have reunited on a family vacation after Blip’s all-star turn. I don’t really know what to say about this exchange except that it makes me feel feelings in ways for which I was not prepared.
Presented without comment.
What kind of “Pitch” was this?
A screwball that you’ve relied on in tight situations that gets clobbered over the fence by an elite hitter despite it being well located. You can’t feel too bad, it’s your best pitch and you executed it well, but there are warning signs ahead.
In this week’s installment of “Reality Check,” we’ll look at two very baseball-centric components of “The Curve”‘s storyline: the international free-agent market and the All-Star voting process.
First off, “Pitch” should be commended for handling the (pretty tricky) international free-agent signing process well; Livan Duerte actually being 26, not 22, means that he’s not restricted by MLB’s under-23 international signing rules and is open to sign with anyone for any price, a nice detail to know and include.
But Duerte being 26 also means that any team signing him is not using up their international bonus pool money and potentially paying a fine for going over the limit, which would be basically a perfect way for a small-market team like the Padres to compete with a big-market spender like the Yankees. Oscar tells Duerte and his agent that, hey, they’re just the Padres, and they can’t match the Yankees’ reported $8 million signing bonus. Just for a “Cuban defector signing bonus” frame of reference, Yoan Moncada got a reported $31.5 million to sign with Boston; Yasmany Tomas got a reported $14 million from the D-Backs; Jose Abreu signed a $10 million bonus with the White Sox; and Yasiel Puig inked a $12 million bonus with the Dodgers. So, $8 million isn’t outrageous — in fact kind of low, seems to me — and not exactly the type of number that would in theory make a small-market team like the Padres balk. But maybe the Padres’ limit is $1 million, which is what they paid for righty Odrisamer Despaigne in 2014.
(Coincidentally — or not, I suppose, depending on your view of the universe — the Padres became interested in Despaigne after seeing him work out with … Aledmys Diaz! Kinda creepy, right? Time is a flat circle and all that.)
All in all, “Pitch” did pretty well handling the international-market stuff. Good job, television show.
Now, on to a less good job by this television show.
Much is made of the social media campaign and petition that spurred Ginny Baker’s All-Star Game nod. The woman got 36 million people to sign a petition, for chrissakes! That’s like 11% of the U.S. That’s hard to do.
“Here, literally by popular demand, is Ginny Baker,” Joe Buck says as she warms up. He then continues, as the show attempts to raise the stakes a bit — and fails miserably.
“If that wasn’t enough drama for you, she’s being brought in to face Salvador Perez, who’s actually the leading vote-getter in the game,” Buck says. “But his numbers paled in comparison to the onslaught Ginny garnered on the Internet.”
OK. Couple things. First, I’m not sure one can “garner an onslaught.” I’m pretty sure onslaughts just either happen to you (on you?) or don’t. Second, let’s take a look and see how close the two were.
In case you can’t see that (you probably can’t; it’s tiny), Salvador Perez indeed was the leading ASG vote-getter, with a grand total of 3.75 million votes. That’s, hmm let’s see, 32 MILLION+ FEWER THAN GINNY. So, yeah, I’d say that pales in comparison. I’m thinking that maybe 36 million was perhaps aiming just a bit too high, “Pitch.”
OK, back to the broadcast. To (re)set the scene, Buck has just told us that this Perez-Baker match-up is especially dramatic because Ginny received 32 million more “votes” than Perez.
“You gotta figure that’s sticking in his craw a little bit,” John Smoltz replies.
No it’s not! That’s fucking insane! This is an exhibition game with a dude from the Royals, who were mediocre, hitting against the Padres, who sucked, to see which actually good team gets home-field advantage in five months. He definitely doesn’t care how many people signed an online (I’m assuming it’s online, because 36 million would be tough to get in like a week with just people walking around with clipboards) petition to get the first female MLB pitcher in the game! Why would he care?! Sure, I bet Sal Perez knows that he was the leading vote-getter, and perhaps he and Hosmer give each other shit about who got more votes or whatever. But there is a 0% chance that if Sal Perez has something “stuck in his craw,” it’s that his All-Star Game vote total was a smaller number than the number of people who signed an online petition to get a different player in her first game.
Whew! Glad I got that off my chest.
Time to go look at Ken Harvey’s B-Ref page some more.
Huh. The year he was an all-star, he hit his only career triple!
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