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Baseball's Postseason Sees Masterful Pitching

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Baseball's Postseason Sees Masterful Pitching

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Baseball's Postseason Sees Masterful Pitching

Baseball's Postseason Sees Masterful Pitching

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Mary Louise Kelly talks with NPR's Mike Pesca about the remarkable pitching performances in this year's baseball playoffs. This week, Roy Halliday of the Philadelphia Phillies threw a no-hitter, and San Francisco Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum two-hit the Atlanta Braves.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

We're talking baseball now. The postseason is only three days old and we've already seen some masterful pitching performances. Take the Texas Rangers: Cliff Lee struck out 10 Tampa Bay Rays in the first game of that series. Or take the Phillies: Roy Halladay threw just the second postseason no-hitter in baseball history, against Cincinnati. Last night, it was San Francisco Giants ace Tim Lincecum facing the Atlanta Braves.

(Soundbite of a crowd)

(Soundbite of ball hitting a glove)

Unidentified Man: They love the strikeout king here is San Francisco. Nine set down by Tim Lincecum.

KELLY: That was the call on TBS. By the time the game was over, Lincecum had struck out 14 Braves and the Giants were victorious, one to nothing.

NPR's Mike Pesca is with us for some more on these great pitching performances.

Hey, Mike.

MIKE PESCA: Hi.

KELLY: So impressive stuff there from Lincecum, 14 strikeouts. How'd he do it?

PESCA: Well, it wasnt - and thats what so interesting. It wasnt just the sheer number of strikeouts, and he's one of 12 pitchers ever to have 14 or more strikeouts in the postseason. It was the nature of the strikeouts, namely swinging strikes.

Now, when we think about a strike, if I were to ask a very casual baseball fan whats a strike in baseball. He or she would probably say, well, it's a swing and a miss. But of course there are other ways to get a strike. There's a foul ball or a called strike. And in fact, most strikes aren't swing-and-miss strikes. In fact, the best pitchers who can induce swings and misses will average around 12 or 13 swing-and-misses a game. Last night, Tim Lincecum got the Braves to swing and miss 28 times.

KELLY: Twenty-eight times. Is that some sort of a record?

PESCA: Well, it's very hard to tell, but we did research it. First, we looked at this...

KELLY: Aha.

PESCA: ...yes, first, we looked at this season. I talked to Trent McCotter of the Society for American Baseball Research. He confirmed that the 28 swings and misses were the most from any pitcher this year. So we went back into the past, and I talked to Dave Smith, he's the founder of Retrosheet, and they take play-by-play information of Major League games, and they put it up for free on the Web.

Now, the very detailed information only goes back to 1988. Before then, they recorded strikes, but they didn't record exactly how they were achieved. So since 1988, this seems to be the greatest performance in the postseason in terms of swing-and-miss strikes.

And then we noticed something really pretty cool. In the second inning of that game, Lincecum got the Braves to swing and miss on all nine strikes he threw. That's right. He was nine for nine on swing-and-miss strikes.

KELLY: Wow. Okay. That's got to be some kind of a record.

PESCA: It's got to be, you'd think, because, you know, you only get the chance to strikeout three guys an inning, unless there's a pass ball, but let's not get into that.

But we do know this. In the last 22 years, since this guy Dave Smith has been keeping his stats, that's only happened three times. Three times has a pitcher gotten a strike by swinging on every single pitch. And the reason this is so important - I don't know if it's important. It's just kind of cool because strikes - swing-and-miss strikes, they're just a bit more primal.

I mean, if you think about any depiction of a strikeout or baseball in a movie, it's usually - if they want to show the pitcher as the hero, he gets the opponent to swing and miss. If you think of "The Natural," when Roy Hobbs is striking out The Whammer, that first pitch is a called strike. But then there is a swing-and-miss strike. And then by the last pitch, it's slow motion, and it brings to mind "Casey at the Bat" where the air is shattered by the force of Casey's blow. It's pretty dramatic stuff.

KELLY: Absolutely. Well, it's always fun to compare. How would you rate that kind of accomplishment against, say, the no-hitter we mentioned that came this Wednesday?

PESCA: Right. So Halladay's was a no-hitter. In fact, he was only one walk away from a perfect game, and Lincecum did give up two hits, and they were both doubles. So both performances were exquisite. Lincecum more bombastic, I would say. It was like Halliday crafted a Brahms symphony that was subtle and complex. And then Lincecum comes with the "1812 Overture," and the cannons are blaring, and the bells are ringing, and it's that much more dramatic because it's a one-to-nothing game. Pretty amazing.

KELLY: All right. NPR's Mike Pesca, who clearly is not excited at all...

(Soundbite of laughter)

KELLY: ...about the pitching performances so far.

PESCA: I like it.

KELLY: Thanks very much, Mike.

PESCA: You're welcome.

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