It’s the thing that the people who we call “nerds” in baseball still cannot quantify. All the plays that happen, all the balls and strikes, all the minutiae that goes into a baseball game can seemingly be put into some kind of supercomputer to be studied, analyzed and be used in application elsewhere, but momentum? That’s the elusive part of baseball that we still cannot put a number on.
Yet for those who have watched the game for many, many moons, momentum is pretty clearly defined.
It’s in the way that pitchers are able to dot the corners of the strikezone with relative ease.
It’s in the way that batters can work a count in their favor, then wave the bat as though it were a magic wand, placing the baseball somewhere where it ain’t.
It’s in the way the fielder is able to dive those extra three inches to spear a ball that looks surely headed for a corner of the stadium.
Or in the case of the wild card game between the Marlins and the Phillies, it’s the use of good scouting, intuition and perfect timing to end a threat before it rears its ugly head.
Phillies take advantage of some awful baserunning by Jon Berti pic.twitter.com/5WapCTwFnX— Talkin’ Baseball (@TalkinBaseball_) October 5, 2023
I was curious about something when this play happened. The way Aaron Nola picks him off lends itself to laurels being given for his awareness of what he was seeing Jon Berti doing as he stared him down. He saw the dancing, the twitchiness and guessed (correctly) that Berti was trying to make something happen, to light a fire under his team. Leg up, slight turn towards second and Berti was out by the proverbial mile.
Back to the curiosity, I was also wondering if this was also a result of good scouting, of the team realizing Berti was susceptible to this play or was eyeing something up earlier in the season. I wondered if Berti was a challenger of pitchers when he got to second base. It meant heading to the Stathead, to check the leaderboards for stolen bases of third base and found him toward the top, but not at the tippy top.
Whatever the reason, once that play happened, it was plainly clear that a shift had been created. The crowd had been silenced slightly by Braxton Garrett coming out and shoving in his playoff debut and needed a reason to get back involved. When Berti’s double glanced off of Cristian Pache’s glove on a play that he maybe should have made but was still difficult, there was the tiniest bit of “here we go again” with Nola. Far too often in 2023, we’ve seen him cruising along nicely only to become unraveled at the first sign of a baserunner. Berti was standing on second base with one out and the nine hole hitter up and Luis Arraez, hobbled as he was, was looming on deck. There was a chance to strike first for Miami, to gather some momentum for themselves.
It was not to be.
Once that play was over and Jacob Stallings grounded out, the shift in momentum was palpable. You could see it all over the field, in the body language of the Marlins - sullen, despondent. In the body language of the Phillies - energized. The inevitability that the Phillies were going to score that bottom half of the inning was overwhelming. It was almost at that moment, when Bohm laid the tag on Berti for the second out of the inning, one could easily say, “This game is over.”
It’s something the Phillies will need once they open in Atlanta. There will have to be some kind of momentum shifting occurrence that happens. Maybe it’s a clutch hit off of Spencer Strider that breaks a scoreless tie. Maybe it’s whoever is on the mound for the Phillies striking out one of the Braves’ assortment of power bats with men on base and two outs. We see it all the time and just witnessed one of the more obvious examples in Phillies playoff history with the pickoff of Jon Berti.
However it happens, to beat the behemoth that is the Braves roster and take the fanbase right on out of the game, something has to happen. It will be something to watch once the games begin.