Just moments after Alfonso Soriano drove a ball into the left-field stands at Wrigley Field on Friday to cut the Pittsburgh Pirates' lead in half in the ninth inning, Joel Hanrahan was summoned to the mound.
There was no strutting from Hanrahan between pitches, no preening, no wasted emotion; he went about the business of attacking the strike zone in the way that a postal worker sorts mail. Fastball here, breaking ball there, another fastball. Minimal drama, maximum efficiency.
Hanrahan has pitched this way all season, after spending the offseason focusing on precision. He played catch with LaTroy Hawkins in his offseason workouts and his goal, from day to day, was to hit the same target: Low and away for right-handed hitters. Glove side for a right-handed pitcher like Hanrahan.
He has been told repeatedly, he said on Friday evening, "that I need to control that pitch -- down and away."
Yep. A lot of successful closers have worked that way -- such as Giants reliever Brian Wilson, who became a champion while being devoted to that edge of the strike zone. In Hanrahan's first year in the majors, in 2007, he walked 38 in 51 innings, and year by year, his command has improved. Last year, he walked 26 and struck out 100 in 69⅔ innings.
As he has improved, Hanrahan has become more intent on pitching to contact and resolving at-bats quickly. The Cubs' Tony Campana was the first to get a taste of that, taking a strike on the first pitch that Hanrahan threw, and three pitches later, he was walking back to the dugout after taking a third strike.
Koyie Hill saw four pitches, and swung at the last two; Hanrahan's fastball was crackling, in the mid-90s, and he just kept pounding the strike zone with it. With two outs and nobody on base, Blake DeWitt was next, and after taking a strike, he swung and missed, twice. Hanrahan calmly walked off the mound, shook hands.
Nine of the 12 pitches he had thrown had been strikes, and he had lowered his ERA to 1.52. Hanrahan has allowed only five walks in 23⅔ innings this season, while racking up 14 saves. "He's one of the best relievers in baseball right now," said an NL evaluator.
There has been speculation on the Web that the Pirates might look to trade Hanrahan, but some rival executives have a completely different take. Pittsburgh is trying to make progress, trying to get back to .500. And Hanrahan, one GM said this week, "is a big part of that."
• Tony La Russa thinks catchers need more protection in the rules, writes Derrick Goold.
In the days ahead, there will be catchers who will be instructed to avoid collisions at the plate. Some teams already have had internal discussions about the matter, weighed the risk/reward against the aftermath of the Buster Posey injury and decided that asking their catchers to put themselves in harm's way is not worth the risk. Said one high-ranked executive: "I know [our team's catcher] is tough, but it's more important to us to keep him on the field."
It's clear from conversations with club officials that change is coming, one way or another; for them, it's a financial decision. The only question is whether change comes team by team, or whether Major League Baseball gets ahead of this and institutes the protection.
Posey told the beat reporters who cover the Giants that it's highly likely he'll be out all year. He said he'd like Major League Baseball and the Players Association to look at change, Andrew Baggarly writes.
No deal for a catcher is in the works for the Giants, says Brian Sabean.
Yankees GM Brian Cashman is in favor of rule changes in spring training.
The sale of a minority share of the Mets should stabilize the team through next year, writes Ken Belson and Richard Sandomir. The Mets' new minority owner was critical of carelessness among Madoff investors.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. It would only make sense for the San Diego Padres to trade All-Star closer Heath Bell, who is 33 years old and would absorb about 20 percent of San Diego's payroll even if he took a major discount to stay. And it would make a lot of sense for the St. Louis Cardinals to work hard on a Bell deal. It would be interesting to see if St. Louis would expand the talks with San Diego in an effort to land a shortstop -- Jason Bartlett, who the Cardinals tried to land in the offseason. Bartlett is in the first year of a two-year, $11 million deal that includes an option for 2013. The Cardinals tried to trade during the winter for the 31-year-old Bartlett, who is hitting .258 with a homer for the Padres.
3. The Athletics showed some foresight with the trade they made.
Dings and dents
9. The Mariners shut down a reliever.
10. Some Jays are dinged up.
1. Watched a lot of the Rays-Indians game and plate umpire Larry Vanover was hearing it from both teams because of his inconsistent strike zone. David Price worked through that and had a 12-strikeout game, Marc Topkin writes. From Stats & Info, how Price dominated:
A) Swinging strikes: The Indians swung at and missed 17 pitches against Price (most for Price in 18 starts). Fifteen of those swings and misses were against the fastball, including seven strikeouts (most in past 20 starts).
B) Worked out of the middle: Of Price's 110 pitches, 81 were either inside or outside (74 percent). The Indians went 1-for-13 with eight strikeouts in at-bats ending with a pitch inside or outside. Cleveland also missed 46 percent and chased 39 percent of bad balls (both season highs for Price).
C) Mixed in slider: Price threw 14 sliders, the lefty's second-highest total this season (16 on April 23). Price averaged 88 mph with the slider, down an average of 7 mph from his fastball. The Indians went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts in at-bats ending with the slider.
After striking out 10 of 12 Indians hitters with his fastball, Price is tied for the MLB lead with 47 strikeouts in at-bats ending with the fastball. The man he's tied with also pitched Friday. What may be surprising is that pitcher is not named Lincecum or Jimenez, but Scott Baker.
The difference between the two besides record and name recognition is how they're gaining the strikeouts (see table at right). Both are increasing their velocity from where it is in non-two-strike counts, as Price goes from 94.3 mph to 95.6 and Baker jumps from 90.7 to 92.1.
League's top five:
1. Price, Baker -- 47
3. Cliff Lee -- 39
4. Daniel Hudson -- 38
5. Michael Pineda -- 35
5. C.J. Wilson -- 35
The 12 K's for Price was a career high (previous was 11, done twice).
2. The Giants' Brandon Crawford had a really big day, hitting a grand slam in his debut.
Players who have hit grand slams in their debuts, MLB history (from Elias)
May 27, 2011 -- Brandon Crawford, SF
June 12, 2010 -- Daniel Nava, BOS
Sept. 2, 2006 -- Kevin Kouzmanoff, CLE
Aug. 31, 2005 -- Jeremy Hermida, FLA
June 25, 1968 -- Bobby Bonds, SF
Apr 21, 1898 -- Bill Duggleby, PHI
In three-plus seasons in the minors (20 HR combined), Brandon Crawford never hit a grand slam.
Friday's longest home runs:
Jhonny Peralta -- 437 feet
Eric Hosmer -- 426 feet
Alex Gordon -- 423 feet
Rickie Weeks -- 422 feet
David Murphy -- 420 feet
Brayan Pena -- 420 feet
5. For the Twins, everything is going from bad to worse: They blew a lead, and they've got a bunch of injured guys, including Francisco Liriano. Ron Gardenhire was furious, but not for the reasons you think, writes Joe Christensen.
7. Eric Hosmer and the Royals mashed a bunch of homers in the 14th inning, Bob Dutton writes.
9. The Brewers' home winning streak came to an end, Todd Rosiak writes.
10. You can't stop the D-backs, you can only hope to contain them; they came back from a 6-0 deficit to beat the Astros, Nick Piecoro writes. That's 12 wins in the past 14 games for the D-backs.
12. The Braves continue to struggle for runs, writes David O'Brien.
15. The Dodgers got a big hit late.
17. The Padres got shut down again, Don Norcross writes.
18. The Mariners rallied from three runs down, and they're back to .500, writes Bud Withers.
20. The Jays had a grind-it-out victory, Mark Zwolinski writes.
22. The Indians were shut down.
25. The Cubs had a really ugly inning.
• There is very sad news about Gary Carter.
• Bob Castellini is still upbeat.
• The Brewers are pleased with their attendance. I'll write it again: No team markets momentum better than Milwaukee.
• The Rays aren't thrilled with the makeup date for a rainout.
• Kirk Gibson continues to push the Diamondbacks.
And today will be better than yesterday.