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September 28th, 2016

Max’s View

Fastball
***1/2
The Boston Red Sox are not going to win the World Series this year.

This is not a criticism of the team’s offense. There is nothing to criticize.

Dustin Pedroia looks like himself again. Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, and Jackie Bradley Jr are the best trio of young hitters in the league. David Ortiz is having an almost unbelievable final season. He’s going to walk off into the sunset as the most beloved sports figure in Boston history (sorry Tom. sorry Larry).

But pitching wins championships. And Boston doesn’t have it.

Clay Buchholz appears to be washed up. David Price has been astoundingly mediocre and way too prone to giving up the home run ball. The only question at this point is whether his 7 year, $217 million contract was merely too much to pay or whether it will be a franchise-crippling disaster.

Trading for Drew Pomeranz was a smart move. But it’s not nearly enough to make Boston’s rotation competitive with Cleveland or Texas – never mind San Francisco or Washington.

Boston’s best starter has been Stephen Wright. But the knuckleball doesn’t win titles; the fastball does.

In the middle of the 19th century, the founders of baseball placed home plate exactly 60 feet, 6 inches away from the pitcher’s mound. A pretty random-sounding figure.

According to the guys who made the documentary “Fastball,” the baseball gods were smiling upon them on that warm Antebellum day. Sixty feet, 6 inches is perfect. At that distance, only a world class hitter can catch up to a world class fastball.

“Fastball” introduces us to the men who captured the public imagination and dominated their eras with their super-fast pitches. Walter Johnson (1907-27) struck out 3,500 batters, a record that lasted fifty years. Bob Feller (1936-56) was so proud of his fastball that he brought in an army ballistics machine to calculate its speed. The film claims that Feller’s fastest recorded pitch was 107 MPH.

The filmmakers were lucky to get a frank, funny interview with Bob Gibson: the most feared pitcher in MLB history. Gibson was known for staring down hitters before he threw. He was so dominant in 1968 (22-9 with a 1.12 ERA) that he inspired the league to lower the pitcher’s mounds the following year to give hitters a chance.

Gibson explains that he didn’t stare in before every pitch to intimidate the other team; he was simply nearsighted and had trouble reading the catcher’s signs. However, Gibson admits that he was really angry: half because he was a black guy in the 60s and half because his team never gave him any run support. He’s right, though. Nine losses with a 1.12 ERA – can you imagine?

The funniest portion of “Fastball” is when they discuss the concept of a ‘rising fastball.’

First they interview pitchers and scientists. They agree with Isaac Newton: a rising fastball is physically impossible. Then they interview hitters. The batters argue – to a man – that a hard fastball does rise. And that anyone who says otherwise never stood in a major league batter’s box.

One thing they all agree on is this: The Sox aren’t going to win it all this year. Sorry. Just not enough good fastballs.

(If – by the time you read this – Boston has successfully traded for Chris Sale, then all bets are off. Big Papi can get his pinkie finger ready for ring #4)

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