If you miss one here or there, even while in attendance, you are anything but alone. The sport generally allows us to take our time settling into our seats or casually conversing with our nearby neighbors or strolling the concourse in search of food. The pace and plot of the game are such that, while any pitch can conceivably change the course of a given game, the vast majority of them are cast into the void, and many of us like to assume -- even if we're wrong -- that we have a pretty good radar for the "big moments" when the pitches have more prominence. You know, full counts and late innings and such.
Every now and again, however, comes a lesson that hammers home the value of a single pitch at any point. And boy, did we get one such lesson this weekend.
It happened Saturday night in Miami. First pitch of the game, the Marlins' Tom Koehler throws a 94-mph fastball over the inside part of the plate and a little up in the zone for the D-backs' Gerardo Parra, who swings and connects, sending the ball hurtling into the Marlins bullpen.
One pitch, 1-0. And that's the way it would remain for the rest of the 236 total pitches thrown.
Parra would explain later that he heeded the advice of D-backs hitting coach Don Baylor, who had told him, "Just swing first pitch," increasingly rare advice in a patient era in which hitters are actually taking more first pitches than ever. It's not that Baylor had noticed specific tendencies in the Koehler videos and scouting reports (this was, after all, only his third Major League start), but he saw value in sending the hot-hitting Parra to the plate with an aggressive mindset.
"The pitcher wants to get ahead and you can make them pay," Baylor said. "Not all the time, but there are certain times where the guy has to think about it or maybe their scouts have to think about it."
Think about this: What Parra did was 50 years in the making.
D-backs starter Brandon McCarthy's three-hit shutout of the Fish -- a shutout aided by Parra's outfield assist to nab Derek Dietrich at the plate in the bottom of the first -- was a great story in and of itself, for it was McCarthy's first victory since that scary moment last September when he was struck in the head by a batted ball, fracturing his skull and necessitating emergency brain surgery. It was easy, then, to focus on McCarthy and not necessarily understand how strange Parra's feat was.
The last time a game was essentially decided by a first-pitch home run? You have to go all the way back to Sept. 2, 1963.
Jay Hook, who you've probably never heard of, was the Mets' pitcher that day, and he was victimized on the first pitch of the second game of a doubleheader with the Reds by an energetic rookie second baseman named Pete Rose, who you might have heard of.
Rose, in fact, was en route to National League Rookie of the Year honors, and that home run was just the 145th hit of his eventual all-time record of 4,256. To add further perspective on how long ago this was, the game was one of the last played at the Polo Grounds, which gave way in '64 to the since-dismantled Shea Stadium. Furthermore, this was two and a half months prior to the JFK assassination.
So, yeah, a game of this particular outcome was a long time coming. And it demonstrated, efficiently and effectively, that the first pitch matters just as much as the last or any that come in-between.