With the hundreds of millions of dollars at stake with professional sports salaries, advertising sponsorship deals, and TV contracts, sometimes we need a reminder that we are watching people play a game. This is not war, medical science, or space exploration. There is nothing that provides us that reminder more than some unforeseen comic relief. This is often caused by an athlete doing something we are not accustomed to seeing them do. Perhaps the goon in hockey scores a natural hat trick. Maybe a punt return touchdown is cut short by a tremendous tackle by the punter himself. Maybe 7’7 center Manute Bol decides to start draining three-pointers. Or maybe a 42-year old pitcher who did not wield a bat for most of his career helps his own cause with a surprise RBI double.
Such was the case in today’s Mets game for Bartolo Colón, who backed up 7 strong innings with an RBI double en route to his NL-leading 8th victory. Mets fans are used to seeing Colón sink and cut fastballs in the upper 80s while rarely walking anyone. It’s been a good formula for the hefty veteran, now 23-16 in a season plus pitching in Flushing.
In 2014, Big Bart’s at-bats became a source of attention because he would lose his batting helmet at least once a game, and if he did make contact, he often forgot to drop his bat as he ran up the first base line. He would finish the season 2-for-62 (.032 BA) with 32 strikeouts. The offensive highlight of Colón’s 2014 was his first career extra-base hit, a double versus the Cardinals that also delivered his first RBI since the 2005 season.
But in 2015, Colón already has surpassed his offensive output of last season. While no one will confuse him with rotation mates Jacob deGrom or Noah Syndergaard, both very talented hitting pitchers, Colón’s at bats continue to be must-see TV. There is still the chance that the batting helmet will fall off, or that he will corkscrew himself into the ground swinging at an outside curveball. But there is also that 1 in 13 chance that he will hit the ball somewhere and end up on base.
That’s where the real fun begins, and if you’ve never watched a 283* pound man (his listed weight) aged 42 run the bases, you’re missing out. In Colón’s previous start at home, he had to tag up from second to third on a ball hit deep to the outfield. The home crowd erupted with applause when the big fella chugged in to third, as they did again today with his RBI double. SNY color commentator Ron Darling contemplated if Bartolo didn’t go for the triple (he could’ve easily made it standing up) because he didn’t want to have to beat a throw home from third base in the event of a sacrifice fly. Announcer Gary Cohen added that if Colón had gone for the inside the park home run, he could be relaxing in the dugout instead of standing on second base. “We haven’t seen his top speed yet”, Cohen joked. Injured Mets reliever Jerry Blevins tweeted that Bartolo Colón is his favorite player in baseball.
Bartolo Colón is not Babe Ruth. He’s not Don Drysdale, Rick Rhoden, or Carlos Zambrano with the bat, nor will he ever be. But that’s just the point: for every decent hitting pitcher, there are 3 that can’t hit a lick. Those are the pitchers who opponents will walk the 8-hitter to go after with two outs. Those are the pitchers who mound opponents count on as automatic outs in the lineup. When those pitchers throw a wrench in the plan by getting a surprise hit, it’s not only a shot in the arm for his team, but it often adds an amusing element to the game that is absent with the designated hitter. It’s like in little league when the indifferent kid who’s only playing because his Dad forces him to smacks a line drive over the outfielder’s head. His teammates are surprised, the opponents are surprised, he may even be surprised himself and wait a second in stunned disbelief before running out of the batter’s box. Proponents of the DH often ask me, “Why would anyone want to watch an .080 hitter?” They are of course clearly missing the point on the beauty of the 9-on-9 model of baseball. But hold on…what is more satisfying than watching a guy with seemingly no chance of success actually succeed? I was hysterically laughing at my TV watching Colòn’s double. The fans in the ballpark were entertained. The players in the Mets dugout were going crazy. The announcers were having a field day charting the ball’s exit velocity. There isn’t enough comic relief in professional sports. As much as rookie Noah Syndergaard hitting a 430-foot bomb illustrates the beauty of the National League game, in an entirely different way so does big Bartolo surprising everyone with a double.