Pitch To The Man: A Story Of A Player Unafraid To Fail

The lack of intestinal fortitude by opposing pitchers makes Aaron Judge’s quest for 61 an exercise in watching pitches go by.

Do you challenge the best of the best? Or do you cower in a corner hoping no one sees you? For nine innings in Boston Thursday night, all of the corners were full.

Sure, Aaron Judge is leading the chase for the triple crown. He is one home run away from 61, which it can be argued is still the modern day record. Absolutely he is a pitcher’s nightmare because he can hit any pitch that would strike out anyone else who isn’t 6’7”. He is likely this year’s most valuable player.

And against a team in a pennant chase he could absolutely expect to see pitchers nibbling on the edges and trying to make him chase. One problem. Boston hasn’t been in the pennant or even the wild card chase for weeks.

So to start their Thursday night game, the Sox’ Michael Wacha absolutely did the right thing for a pitcher on a losing team facing a man trying to make history: he threw four-straight balls to Judge to lead off the Yankee bottom of the first. It would be the first of three base on balls. Never did pride in self, Mano-a-Mano machismo, or competitive fire ever threaten to make Red Sox pitcher throw a strike. Yankees fans did their part to encourage the Sox hurlers. But not even them chanting “a__hole” did anything to persuade Boston pitchers to challenge the man.

That is, until Matt Barnes and his 4.80 earned run average entered the game. Barnes is now my new favorite professional ball player named Matt Barnes. Granted, the bar was low considering the other Barnes is a flagrant-fouling NBA player with more neck tattoos than brains and arrests for assaulting his girlfriend, choking a woman at a night club, and threatening a police officer in Manhattan Beach, California. He’s also on video shouting a homophobic slur at the officer.

Forget about him. Focus instead on the new Matt Barnes: Barnes the heroic, Barnes 2.0, Barnes the Brave…whatever you wish to call him, for he did what the others would not. He looked in at the imposing Yankee slugger and…pitched to him. First pitch: curve outside. Boos rained down from the stands. Second fouled back. Third pitch just missed. Fourth one: driven high and deep to the wall… where it’s caught by Kike Hernandez.

Barnes won the battle. But more importantly, he wins the respect of his team and of his opponent, which is what competition is supposed to be about. Imagine the conversation in the dugout had there been another walk.

“Great job, Barnsey. We’ve never seen a pitch that far outside. Yeah, and that third one! (Sox catcher Connor) Wong needed a stepladder to catch that one. Classic Barnes.”

Inspiring, no doubt, it would have been.

But, it was not to be. Because Matt the Magnificent did what the others on this would not as Aaron Judge tried to tie one of the great marks in the game. Matt Barnes competed. He challenged Aaron Judge…and won the battle. And he gave us a memory along the way to 61. This was the night Judge almost hit 61…but fell just short.

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