The Unlucky 13: Reliving Andrew Vasquez's Nightmare, Pitch By Pitch
The Minnesota Twins’ fifth inning was an excellent display of any pitcher’s worst nightmare. Starter Jake Odorizzi lost his command, walking three consecutive hitters at the bottom of the order, including the pitcher, to load the bases before he was yanked. Reliever Trevor Hildenberger began his outing by walking in a run and, well, how much does it matter what he did after that? (Hildenberger allowed a single, which scored another run.) And between them was the most nightmarish performance of all: Andrew Vasquez, in his first appearance of the year.
When he entered, the bases were loaded with two outs. When he exited, the bases were loaded with two outs. It almost looked like he hadn’t pitched at all—almost, because all of the baserunners were different, as he’d allowed each of the original three to score and replaced each one in turn.
Vasquez threw 13 pitchers to three batters. Here they are, annotated:
1. 0-0, 78 mph curveball, in the dirt: It’s hard to be entirely practical about a pitcher’s first pitch of the season. Eventually, it will be a single data point in a set full of them, too many to reasonably assess individually. Right now, though, it is the only data point. In a few months, it might seem like a pale dot, but for this one moment, it is the entire world.
Vasquez’s first pitch doesn’t make it to the plate. It lands in the dirt before it has a chance. Frustration Index: 6, or about the same as tripping over your feet in front of everyone on the first day of school.
2. 1-0, 84 mph changeup, inside: Okay, so the first one wasn’t what he wanted. For the second one, he goes with something different—instead of the breaking ball, which is his bread and butter, he pulls out the changeup. And it’s close! It’s close enough to be almost a close call. But it isn’t. It’s clear, if only by a tad. It’s inside, Brandon Nimmo doesn’t fall for it, and it’s just another ball. Frustration Index: 2, or about the same as remembering that you forgot to buy more toothpaste, again.
3. 2-0, 84 mph changeup, hit batter: He tries the same pitch again. The last one was almost there, right? He’ll get it this time.
Plunk. Vasquez watches a run stroll across home plate. Frustration Index: 8, or about the same as stepping on multiple Legos.
4. 0-0, 77 mph curveball, low: A new batter does not provide a clean slate, exactly, because the game is tied and the bases are still loaded. If you need it to, though, it can provide the illusion of one.
But Vasquez’s first pitch here is just like his first pitch of the year. Frustration Index: 5, or about the same as tripping over your feet in front of everyone on the second day of school.
5. 1-0, 86 mph changeup, fouled off: All he’s looking for is a strike. Just one. And, finally, he gets it—Peter Alonso swings at the changeup, just above the outside corner, and the contact is flimsy and foul. The count is even. Frustration Index: -3, equivalent to 3 on the Joy Index, or about the same as discovering a bonus french fry in the bottom of the bag just as you’d thought you’d finished.
6. 1-1, 79 mph curveball, called strike: Here’s what he really wants. Here’s his first good pitch. The breaking ball breaks just like it does in his dreams; Alonso can do nothing but stare at it. Frustration Index: -8, equivalent to 8 on the Joy Index, or about the same as drinking a beer on a patio on the first warm afternoon of the year.
7. 1-2, 78 mph curveball, in the dirt: Maybe this isn’t a nightmare. Maybe this is fine. Sure, he’d have preferred not to allow a run to score on a hit batter. Maybe the damage stops here, though. He’s ahead in the count for the first time. There are two outs. He still has a chance to be okay.
Maybe. Again, the curve swoops too low, spiking in the dirt. Ball. Vasquez doesn’t know it yet, but he’s thrown his last strike of the night. Frustration Index: 7, or about the same as realizing you’ve been disconnected from customer service after being on hold for an hour.
8. 2-2, 79 mph curveball, way outside: Variety is the spice of nightmares, as they say. This time, Vasquez misses up and away, instead of down and in.
Frustration Index: 7.5, about the same as realizing that you only have four days left to do your taxes.
9. 3-2, 78 mph curveball, bounces in front of the plate: Okay, no, this is a nightmare.
Another run walks in. Frustration Index: 9, or about the same as realizing that you’re being broken up with in a public place and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.
10. 0-0, 87 mph changeup, way up and in: New batter! It’s Robinson Canó! Absolutely nothing will stay over the plate! Frustration Index: 8.5, or about the same as realizing you have contracted pink-eye.
11. 1-0, 78 mph curveball, way down and away: Everything is still wrong, just in a different way, which is maybe the worst way to realize that everything is still wrong. Frustration Index: 9, or about the same as watching the contents of a water bottle overtake both your laptop and your phone.
12. 2-0, 86 mph changeup, way up and in: Truly, will it ever end? Will it? How? Frustration Index: 9.5, or about the same as giving up and crying on the sidewalk at the end of a very, very, very long day.
13. 3-0, 85 mph changeup, just a little up and in: It’s close. Finally, for the first time in what feels like eons, the pitch is over the plate. It just isn’t quite over the plate enough, and another run walks in. Frustration Index: 10. Just 10. There is no comparison. There is only the knowledge that it will not get any worse—because it is this bad, and because the manager is coming out to get you.