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Anatomy of a Meltdown
by Derek Smart
Here's the sequence of yesterday's edition of Big Z Freakout Theatre, as I think it happened:
He starts the third walking David Ross on five pitches. He's been adamant about trying to reduce his walks this year, as he sees it as the final piece to the puzzle of his greatness, so this is likely a bit galling. Not enough to make him completely nuts, but it's the first push on a boulder sitting at the cliff's edge.
Eric Milton lays down a bad bunt, and Carlos pounces on it, throwing Ross out at second. Now, here's where I think things start to unravel for Carlos: his throw, while good enough to get the lead runner, is high, and while it's a reach to say the play could have resulted in two outs with a better toss to Cedeno at the bag, I'd be willing to bet that Zambrano thought he could have gotten the DP if he hadn't rushed his throw, and now he wants to erase the runner from the paths at all costs, which brings us to....
The inexplicable decision to attempt a pickoff throw to first with the pitcher, Eric Milton (aka: Portside Lightning), standing at the sack. Not only was Lee not covering the bag, leading to Z's eventual throw being called a balk, but even if Derrek was there, Milton is barely a threat to go to second on a homer, let alone steal a base. I have to believe that making that throw was a manifestation of the frustration that had begun to mount as early as the walk to Ross - an impairment of both judgment and concentration due to the overwhelming power of his emotions.
From here, it's nothing but downhill, as Carlos has gone from having his emotional state make him stupid, to having it undermine the physical nature of his work, resulting in the immediate plunking of Ryan Freel, and culminating in the horrible pitch on a 3-1 count that Felipe Lopez rightly banished from the yard.
And there's the ballgame. Certainly, other mistakes were made - Bob Howry didn't help matters with the bomb he gave up to Austin Kearns in the eighth - but this contest boiled down to Zambrano's inability to retain his focus, and his tendency to let little things snowball into gigantic issues through the sheer force of his emotional immaturity.
Z talks a lot about wanting to reduce his walks and sharpen his concentration to reach the next level of pitching excellence, but more and more I get the feeling that what he really needs to do is simply grow the hell up.