|Photo by USA Today|
By Michael Huberman
Sometimes one pitch makes all the difference between winning and losing. For Robin Ventura and his starting pitcher Dylan Axelrod, one pitch in the fourth inning was the beginning of the end for the White Sox Thursday night against the Nationals.
In the bottom of the fourth inning, with the game tied at three and Bryce Harper at the plate, Axelrod uncorked a wild pitch. Nationals’ starter Dan Haren, who had doubled to deep right, easily scampered home to put the Nationals up 4-3 while Jayson Werth took second base.
White Sox manager Robin Ventura immediately came out to protest, claiming Axelrod’s pitch had hit Bryce Harper in the foot. For Axelrod, it was tough to tell if his pitch had hit Harper.
“It was hard for me to tell from my angle,” he said. “The ball bounced kind of funny, that’s why we thought it might have hit him. It was hard to tell, nobody really knew for sure.”
Unfortunately for Ventura and the White Sox, home plate umpire Tom Hallion was having nothing of it. Harper afterwards denied being hit by the ball as well.
With Werth at second, first base open and Ryan Zimmerman coming up, Ventura then had Axelrod intentionally walk Harper, the first intentional walk of the young slugger’s career. Nationals’ manager Davey Johnson wasn’t envious of his counterpart’s situation.
“Well that’s their decision. Harp’s swinging pretty good. I’m glad I don’t have to make those decisions.”
For a struggling pitcher, facing either Harper or Zimmerman is a tough task. But Ventura thought facing Harper, who came in to the game hitting .440 against right-handers, would be too risky.
“You know, Harper’s hot. With the swings he was having earlier off of Axe, you’re rolling the dice either way. You just take your chance,” Ventura said.
It was a decision Ventura would come to regret. On Axelrod’s 103rd and final pitch of the game, Ryan Zimmerman laced a 3-2 changeup past right fielder Alex Rios, as both Werth and Harper scored to put the Nationals up 6-3.
Zimmerman came into his at-bat knowing Axelrod would try and get creative.
“Axelrod's one of those guys who will throw anything at any time. Sometimes those are the toughest pitchers to face,” he said.
“All night he was mixing it up, keeping it, offspeed, heaters in, offspeed away, all over the place. You just kind of look fastball away and adjust.”
After the game, Axelrod talked about his mistake against Zimmerman.
“I just didn’t want to give in, you know we got to 3-2 and went with a changeup, I hadn’t thrown a changeup to a right-hander all game, and it seemed like a good idea at the time,” Axelrod said.
“But you know that’s his approach going the other way, so he sits back and goes the other way well, so in retrospect he might have been sitting soft in that situation.”
Zimmerman on the other hand, couldn’t really blame Ventura for intentionally walking Harper.
“If I'm the manager I'd rather pitch a righty against a righty instead of a lefty but obviously with Bryce, you don't want to pitch to Bryce right now,” he said.
“I think it was just more of a match-up thing. I wouldn't pitch a righty against Bryce right now either.”