Tyler Flowers aspires to be more than a backup, and if he can put together more games like his performance in Saturday's 5-1 victory over the Detroit Tigers, he'll have built himself a compelling case.
I'm not even talking about the stuff that shows up next to his name in the box score: the towering home run, the HBP, the two runs scored, and even his first career stolen base. Sure, his production certainly drew attention, but his work at the plate was overshadowed by the job he did behind it. Flowers had an outstanding day defensively, and it might have made the difference in the game.
First, he completed the second half of the strike-him-out-throw-him-out, gunning down Brennan Boesch after Gavin Floyd froze Miguel Cabrera with a curveball to end the third. That's not a common occurrence for the Sox -- they average about two of them a season.
(As you might be able to guess, the Sox run into double plays far more often. They took it to absurd lengths in 2011, getting caught stealing eight times after strikeouts.)
It's encouraging to see a runner cut down on Floyd's watch. Baserunners were 23-for-25 against him when attempting to steal last year, which basically undid all the significant progress he made slowing down the running game over the prior two seasons. Although A.J. Pierzynski tried to pin the blame on him, I found it hard to believe that Floyd fell that far out of his good habits. This year, opponents are 0-for-1 against Floyd. That's a nice start, and hopefully it will continue to show up in the numbers.
Beyond that steal attempt, the Sox clamped the boot on the Detroit running game. The Tigers put 11 guys on base, but they couldn't figure out ways to move them. Delmon Young was the only Tiger to advance one base without being forced ahead, but it came on a groundout. Meanwhile, the Sox doubled them up three times, so the Tigers operated at a sizable deficit on the basepaths. I repeat: Floyd was pitching.
Of course, had Flowers not played his ass off behind the plate, it could have been a different story.
Floyd, while immensely effective, was far from precise on Saturday. He missed big numerous times, although most of them were "good" misses. He might have gone the entire game without hanging a breaking ball.
But that means that when he was off, it was the other way -- curves and cutters coming up a couple inches or feet short of their targets. That put Flowers to the test. Watching the game again, eight of Floyd's pitches forced Flowers to make a play, and he had a success rate of 100 percent.
If you have the means to rewatch the game, check out the sixth inning again. The White Sox led 2-0, and Floyd loaded the bases on a double and two walks before striking out Alex Avila to kill the Tigers' last real threat. That's when the game swung, and Flowers played a crucial role in keeping momentum on the White Sox's side.
In that inning alone, Floyd put four in the dirt for Flowers. One was routine, but the other three required lateral movement, and two were so outside that he needed to get the mitt on the other side of his body in a hurry. Flowers handled all of them, picking two pitches clean and executing a textbook block on the other, a down-and-in curve to Prince Fielder.
Had any of those pitches gotten away from Flowers, it would have changed the complexion of the inning. Whiffing on two of them would have made it a one-run game. Instead, Flowers' glovework allowed Floyd to be as aggressive as possible with his location, and the result was six scoreless innings.
It's also worth noting Floyd's pitch selection changed considerably from one game to another.
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With Flowers behind the plate, Floyd went to his four-seam fastball much more often. It's hard to tell if this is because Flowers called a completely different game, or just because Floyd had more confidence in his heat. His fastballs definitely had more zip compared to his first start, so maybe he would have thrown a similar mix even if Pierzynski were catching him.