Before departing to Vienna/Budapest/Janossmorja last week I had a late night meeting with the HSV management and we both agreed things weren't really working out as originally intended or planned. From transportation around Hamburg, to the lack of daily meals promised in my contract, to the umpiring deficiencies and rubber balls that my smallish hands couldn't grip properly - I knew that my season with HSV was very much on the line for our double-header in Dortmund the 5th place team sitting one game behind us for the last playoff spot in the Northern Bundesliga, on Saturday.
After we barely squeaked out a 2 run victory in Game 1 behind some Dortmund miscues and strong pitching performance from our former German national team left-handed Pitcher Rene, I was facing Matt Kemp, arguably the top pitcher in the league the past three years. With an E.R.A. of under 1 run per game, I knew that if I gave up more than 2 runs I would probably lose. We proceeded to begin Game 2 by loading the bases against Dortmund's foreign ace but were stymied from scoring, and so I took the mound. I plunked the first batter on the first pitch, mostly on purpose as I wanted to send a message to not crowd the plate as they began to in the previous game, getting comfortable as our lefty pitcher used a moderate fastball and tons of off-speed away from right handed hitters to induce some bad swings that helped lead us to victory. In the 1st, Dortmund scored 4 on a few walks, infield single, then a pop-up to 1b line hit the chalk-line and went under the gate down the line for a ground rule double. I could feel my season slowly unraveling, but of course, I didn't give up. We had a 30 min sun delay as it began to set beyond the CF fence, and I used this time to sit out the dugout behind the RF line and reflect on my season and baseball career at large. I knew I was fortunate for being able to play for a living over the past 4 years, and with my season and possibly career winding down, I was determined to go out firing. I came back out doing the same, as before firing - hitting my targets, but as I have been accustomed to in this German baseball league, the umps were brutal again, blowing calls on the bases, and most importantly to me, not judging my pitches correctly. I have always played in higher leagues than my talent would suggest and therefore became accusomted to relying on deception, strategy, movement on my pitches, and pin-point location to induce ground balls and miss barrels of the hitter's bats. My pitches tend to cross the plate, whether it be a change-up or 2-seam fastball, and then disappear out of the strike zone. This style has provided me with a successful template since I was 16 years old, and to counter this approach I would then throw sliders that start out of the zone and end up in the strike one. However, this type of approach is wholly contingent on batters swinging or umpires calling strikes. If this is not happening, as it hasn't been, trouble will ensue. I walked the first guy in the 2nd inning, but felt that my pitches hit my intended target as my catcher wouldn't even move his glove from where he was set-up, in most leagues this examplifies a strike. I gather by now that it's quite different in this German Bundesliga. An infield single, grounder between SS and 3B, got a double play ball but the runner was called safe at 2B. Then a fly ball to shallow RF dropped on the exchange for a SAC FLY, followed by another infield single made the score 6-0. The next inning, I changed nothing other than my pace, and got 2 strikeouts on 6 pitches, before getting a groundout on 3 pitches, getting their lead-off batter to swing at an 0-2 slider out of zone, I felt like I was back at it again. Our offense continued to struggle against Kemp, and the next inning, after striking out the first batter again, I swear I struck out the next batter was the #3 hitter in the lineup i threw him 3 sliders all the same, started inside and ended corner-in, one was called a strike, two were balls, didn't make any sense. The same pitch 3 times. I almost flipped out on the umpire, maybe I should have since no one else was making a fuss about it, but I remained composed. The batter ended up walking, and then their Australian import hitter comes up i had him 0-2, threw him a high 2-seam on the hands, he fisted to SS, but he got the ball towards 3B and didn't have a play. next guy was a lefty, had him 1-2 he sticks his bat out on a ball and hits to SS that bloops right beyond his glove, i mean this was all day. Unlucky. So I give up like 8 runs or something in 4 innings but i hit my spots, i made my pitches, i had good movement, i made them look silly at some points, finally in the 5th inning on pitch 1,000 one of their guys hit a ground rule double to the wall, it was their first hit out of 9 that didn't touch the infield. I really dont know how to judge that performance, other than im probably done here.Both Kemp and I gave up 5 hits after the first two innings, however we scored zero runs and they scored 6. Maybe it's just a few games of bad luck, these things happen over the course of a season, however, when youre season consists of 28 games, there's not much time for error, and 3 bad games feels like half a season because it really is. Always a European baseball adventure, and always staying true to the Vagabond lifestyle - I'm out of Hamburg.