Baseball’s record books are under constant assault by unholy measures and practices. For the most part, that means PEDs, which have helped turned the league’s list of all-time home run and RBI leaders into a clown show. But believe it or not, there are other ways for a player to leave a sneaky mark on history.
Take Shane Victorino.
The Sox outfielder’s currently the Barry Bonds of HBP. He’s forcing us to re-think the ways, methods and frequency by which one player can get drilled by a baseball. So far in these playoffs, only six games, Victorino's already set a new record for most HBPs in one postseason (5), is now tied with Alex Rodriguez for most HBP’s in a postseason career (9) and with the way things have gone, it shouldn’t be long into tonight’s Game 3 before Victorino sets a new HBP standard. (I wonder if they’ll stop the game. Maybe let him keep the baseball? Take a photo of the bruise for display at Cooperstown?)
It's also important to note that this historic postseason comes on the heels of a regular season in which Victorino led the league in HBP with 18, with 15 of those coming over the last 44 games after he officially ditched switch-hitting and started batting righty against righties.
Anyway, Justin Verlander, tonight’s Game 3 starter, believes he’s uncovered the secret to Victorino’s maniacal HBP plan: He’s getting hit on purpose.
“I've seen some pitches that he got hit on that were strikes,” Verlander said Monday. “So, I mean, I don't think you can worry about that. I think just whoever is the home plate umpire needs to be aware that he's up there. Anything on the inner half occasionally he's looking to get hit. He's up there, he's right on top of the plate. And his arms are over the batter's box and over part of the plate. If he doesn't get out of the way, there could be an occasion that it could be a strike and it actually hits him.”
Wow! That blew the cover off it, huh? Shane Victorino’s trying to get hit? What’s next on Verlander’s scouting report . . . Mike Napoli is prone to strikeouts? Stephen Drew struggles with lefties? Jonny Gomes has a beard?
Of course Victorino’s getting hit on purpose. That’s been clear for a while now. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a player so willing to extend himself out over the plate while simultaneously being so disinterested in avoiding a 96 MPH fastball to the arm. It’s unreal.
And here’s the best part: Not only is Victorino getting on base, but he’s also clearly getting inside opposing pitchers’ heads.
Verlander says that he’s not worried about it, but his whole quote is an indication that he’s at least thinking about it. When Victorino steps into the box tonight, his proximity to the plate will no doubt be on Verlander’s mind. And in the event that Victorino manages to draw yet another HBP? Verlander will be angry. He’ll be annoyed with Victorino. He’ll be frustrated with the home plate ump. Of course, he won’t unravel. This is Justin Verlander. But even if he’s just a little preoccupied, the Sox will take it. Especially with Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz waiting in the wings.
As for Victorino, he’ll be fine. What’s Verlander going to do, get even in the next at-bat by NOT throwing at him?
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