SAN FRANCISCO -- The insults flowed from Bronson Arroyo's teammates as they savored the goofy hazards that came off his right arm Sunday night. Brandon Phillips used the word "funky." Todd Frazier referred to him "throwing Frisbees.” Arroyo's catcher, Ryan Hanigan, said he "will throw a lot of what we call 'BP-speed' pitches."
The Reds made carnage sound like comedy.
Their 9-0 win over the Giants gave them a 2-0 series lead, which no team has ever lost in an NLDS. Their offense has been rejuvenated in a ballpark that usually swallows up bats. But the Picasso stylings of Arroyo made the most tantalizing promise, threatening further suffocation for postseason opponents.
Arroyo hit 90 miles per hour twice on Sunday, and both times, it was 90 flat, not a fraction more. The Giants got one hit and one walk off him in seven innings. They looked helpless and overeager. Arroyo ran his patented con on them, kicking his right leg straight out to the side in what appears to be an ill-advised yoga pose, throwing from different angles and with varied breaks on the pitches. All the while, the ball looked irresistibly fat and slow.
A team can be more vulnerable to that temptation in the playoffs. In October, hitters tend to anticipate facing some of the most overpowering pitchers in the game. In every lineup, one or two of them will press to make big things happen. They lose their patience more easily.
Arroyo, 35, understands the emotional drain from a pitcher's point of view. "You want to get deep in the ballgame, but [in] a playoff atmosphere, it's impossible to control everything that's going on,” he said. “… If you look around at both leagues, you will see a lot of starting pitchers that have to bow out after 5 2/3 or 5 1/3. You're burning more energy; there is so much going on.”
Through most of the middle innings, the Giants couldn't restrain themselves, and they couldn't get the ball out of the infield. It probably wouldn't console them to know that some of the Reds empathized.
“I was telling somebody: 'You want to slow your feet down. Next thing you know, it's by you at 86,’” Frazier said. "Then you rush a little bit quicker and then he's throwing 78 and you're leaning. … It's truly remarkable to see. Watching on the bench, you're sitting there: 'How's he doing it?’”
Frazier has faced Arroyo just once, as a minor-leaguer in spring training. He says he homered off him on the first pitch. When Arroyo fails to fleece hitters, he gives up a lot of deep shots. In an abysmal 2011, he led the majors in homers allowed with 46. The runner-up surrendered 35. He got the number down to 26 this season.
Frazier said he will enjoy the bragging rights of that moment and be glad he doesn't have to repeat the experience. "You really can't think when you're facing him,” he said, heading toward a punch line. "You either sit on the slow pitch, or you sit on the slow pitch. What are you gonna do?”
Second baseman Brandon Phillips also faced Arroyo once as a minor-leaguer. He doesn't remember the exact result. "It wasn't good,” he said. Told that Frazier had homered, he said: "Well, Todd got that funky little swing and so he can hit funky pitches like Bronson's. And that's what it's all about: Funky hits funky.”
Arroyo has made 11 other postseason appearances, mostly with the Red Sox more than seven years ago, and never won a game or properly stifled a team as he did Sunday.
It's possible the Giants simply made the perfect opponent for him. They're relatively inexperienced and very sporadically conscientious about making pitchers work for an out. In a hint of why he is his team's leader at age 25, Buster Posey earned a seventh-inning walk after his predecessors had used a total of four pitches to make the first two outs.
Reds manager Dusty Baker cited AT&T Park's forgiving nature toward pitchers as a reason he tapped Arroyo for Game 2 there. His tendency to serve homers was less likely to hurt him. When Baker managed the Giants, he said, Barry Bonds would counsel pitcher Jason Schmidt to let go of any inhibitions and "trust the park.” Schmidt, however, had a classic delivery and scorching fastball. He didn't have Arroyo's quirks or his capacity to make teammates smirk in awe or strike a pose of condescension.
"God bless his heart,” Frazier said of a player nine years his senior.
It's easy to imagine that this is all staged, and Arroyo's teammates are accomplices in his grand scheme.