Baseball From Mount Everest

Today marked Game 3 of the 2007 World Series. For the first time in the history of Major League Baseball it was being played a mile above sea level. This was indeed a “high point” for this World Series. (I’m sorry; I just could not resist that.) Playing at altitude is not without its challenges. First, the air is much thinner. That has positive and negative implications. For those players who have not had the opportunity of experiencing that, there are times when you just don’t seem to be able to catch your breath. The thinner air also is much drier than at sea level making it much easier for players to become dehydrated. From a pitching perspective, the thinner air means less resistance to pitches which in turn equates to less break. This is especially troublesome to those pitchers whose primary pitch is a breaking ball. I’ve seen enough hanging breaking balls in my time to know that Coors Field is definitely not a pitching friendly park. It has become more neutral since the installation and usage of the humidor for baseball storage.

A humidor was installed at Coors Field to attempt to regulate the amount of moisture contained within a baseball. Prior to the use of a humidor the baseballs were merely stored in a room within the stadium. The drier altitude air tended to harden the baseballs. This had the result of reducing their mass but also concentrating their energy when hit. In laymen’s terms it was sort of like hitting a cue ball with a baseball bat. The balls flew out of Coors Field like dollar Coors beers at a Saturday night game. By maintaining consistent humidity on the baseball the Colorado Rockies have counteracted the effects of altitude and hence brought the runs per game average way down. This of course only works to a certain point. If a pitcher cannot get their breaking ball to break it doesn’t matter how hard or soft the ball is, hitters are going to connect.

That happened to be the case at tonight’s Game 3. The game started well enough and through the first couple of innings it appeared as though this would be a pitching duel. That was before the dreadful third inning. The inning started with Boston rookie Jacoby Ellsbury doubling to left field. The inning ended with rookie Dustin Pedroia grounding out to third baseman Garrett Atkins. Looking at the Red Sox batting order you should note that Pedroia follows Ellsbury in the line-up. That would mean that the Red Sox sent 11 batters to the plate scoring 6 runs driving Rockies starter Josh Fogg out of the game. Most nights a 6-0 lead in the third would have meant the night was over. No lead is ever safe when you play a mile above sea level. The Rockies came storming back scoring 2 runs in the sixth and 3 runs in the seventh to make it a 6-5 game. Momentum seem to be swinging back towards the Rockies. All-star closer Brian Fuentes came in and immediately gave up 3 runs to the Red Sox to make it a 4 run lead. Boston tacked on another run in the ninth to give them a 10-5 lead. That is how the contest ended and the first World Series game ever played at this altitude was anything but a pitcher’s paradise. The home team was hoping for a Rocky Mountain high but instead looked like they just got hit with a Boston bean ball. This series and this baseball season is looking like it is all but over.

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