Before tonight's game against the Giants on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball, we caught up with Aaron Boone, who will be calling the game with Dan Shulman and Buster Olney (Jessica Mendoza will be away on assignment covering the Women's College World Series).
Viva El Birdos: This is the first time this season you all have done From the Seats is that correct?
Aaron Boone: Yes.
VEB: And when did ESPN first start doing this again?
AB: You know, I don't know. With this being my first year on Sunday Night, I actually filled in last year one of the nights in the seats at Citi Field so I do have experience with it, but I don't remember when it started on Sunday Night, if it was two years ago or not.
VEB: Are you all planning to do a From the Seats in Boston this year and, if so, what sort of reception are you expecting [in light of his walk-off home run to the beat the Red Sox in the '03 ALCS]?
AB: I've been back so many times obviously, we've done a lot of games over the years in Boston. You know what, I've found the reaction pretty good, believe it or not. At least the way I perceive it. I get a lot of pretty good natured ribbing. I've found the fans to be really pretty good to me up there, frankly. A lot of that has to do with the fact that, since that point their franchise has won three world championships so it's [the home run] a little more part of the story that led into what's really been a great run for them.
VEB: Absolutely. Carlos Martinez is on the mound tonight. Last time out he had possibly his best start of the season but overall he had a pretty rough May. Anything that you've see that could speak to the struggles he was having?
AB: Well, yeah, I thought he made a really nice adjustment in his last start and we actually spotted it on video a little bit. He's really slowed down and become much more deliberate in his windup. As a result I think that helps him slow things down so he doesn't get too fiery out there which causes him to lose control of his delivery and lends itself to mistakes.
We're talking about it tonight but I think he's so important to the St. Louis Cardinals because I think he's that one guy when you look around the NL, the best teams, Washington, the Mets, the Giants, the Cubs, Dodgers, they all have, in most cases two or three ace pitchers. And the Cardinals while their rotation is certainly solid, do they have that one guy who can match up with the Kershaws, Bumgarners Cuetos, and Scherzers of the world, and I think Martinez is the one guy in this rotation who has that capability, has that arsenal, that ceiling to really go into a series and be that guy. But while he's been a good pitcher so far in his career he hasn't moved into that elite echelon yet and I think a lot of it has to do with repeating his delivery and staying within himself to hit that next level.
VEB: That sort of answered my follow-up question which is since 2013, Cardinals fans have been so excited about his stuff and believe he can be one of the best pitchers in the NL, so I assume based on what you just said you feel the same way?
AB: Yeah. Can he get to that next level? That's the question mark. I think at worst he's going to be a really good pitcher, and has been, but yeah, his ceiling remains high. Can he reach it remains to be seen. I really think if this team has a chance to get to the playoffs or go deep in the playoffs I think it would coincide with him being a dominant starter.
VEB: He's not the only one who has struggled this year and I think the biggest surprise or disappointment is the rotation. Going into the season I didn't think the Cardinals had a Jake Arrieta-type pitcher but felt they had one of the deeper rotations in baseball. How surprised have you been by the struggles of their pitching?
AB: Yeah, no question. It does look like Adam Wainwright is kind of settling in now. But are his days of being a number one starter like the guys we were just talking about past him? I think they are. I think he'll go out and have a good year but probably as more of that middle of the rotation guy. Michael Wacha is really struggling right now with his command. He looks like he's struggling to find his mechanics but certainly he's capable. And Jaime Garcia, I think the biggest thing with him is keeping him healthy and able to go out there 30 times a year and if that happens you're going to get a very reliable starter. And then Carlos, who's been good overall but him going to the next level is the real key.
VEB: Question about Mike Matheny. He gets criticized a lot by fans and bloggers - and I share this criticism - for a lot of his in-game management. But the narrative around him has always been that he's great behind clubhouse walls, and I've read several people who claim that's more important over the course of a 162-game season. I was curious as a former player who played in this league for a very long time, what's your take on that?
AB: Yeah, I definitely think behind closed doors is probably the most important thing. The manager can go a long way to help set the culture and the Cardinals have as good as culture as there is in baseball and it starts with the veteran players they've had over the years and how they continue to pass the torch and mold their younger players. You think about guys like Wainwright, and Yadier Molina, and Matt Holliday, even Matt Carpenter now, there's just this winning, workmanlike, blue-collar culture they have created. Matheny at the top I think helps foster that and it shows up. We were looking at a graphic today and I think the Cardinals have like 20 or 22 straight winning months under Matheny and I think a lot of that has to do with who he is, who he is behind closed doors, and the culture of consistency that he's created.
VEB: What sort of advanced statistics do you look at to prepare for a game?
AB: I mean, I look at so many things. Spin rates have become a real interesting one for pitchers. The one this year I've started to look at which I think are interesting and tell a very good story, you know, obviously with sinkerballers, change-ups, and so on, you obviously want a low spin rate. And obviously with four-seam fastballs and breaking balls you want that high spin rate and I think sometimes those things help explain, because I've been talking for years that the radar gun is a gauge but doesn't always tell the story. There are so many guys that I faced over my career that are 94-95, that I'll tell you is a good hitting fastball. If it's in the middle of the plate it's meat. But there are guys you face who are at 90-91 where, for whatever reason, I don't care what the gun says, it's a really good fastball. And obviously that has to do with deception and delivery and all of that, but I really think we can paint a lot of the story with spin rate now.
VEB: You probably spent way more time at the old Busch with all your time with the Reds, do you have any good or bad memories about that place that you'd like to share?
AB: Sure. I'll take you good and bad right out of the gate. My first major league game I believe in June 1997, I get called up and I get my first major league hit and RBI in my third at-bat I believe in the sixth inning, I believe it was the tie or go-ahead run, and I steal 2B. Joe Oliver gets a base hit to right field, I'm coming in to score and I think I slide around the tag and tap the plate but I'm called out. I pop up and throw my helmet down and Gary Darling, the umpire, tosses me out of the game.
So I get my first hit, RBI, stolen base, and what I think is run scored and ejection in the course of about five mintues. I remember the panic I had as I'm walking off the field, wondering, "My gosh, I'm going to be blackballed," I just got kicked out of my first game. And I wasn't even really arguing! I was more just popping up and saying, "No, I was safe," you know, it was just reactionary in the heat of the moment. Fortunately it kind of developed a bond between Gary Darling and I and we've had fun with it over the years, but yeah, that was my first memorable at the older Busch Stadium.
VEB: Well, I assume you've seen the replay. Were you safe?
AB: It's hard to tell. I think Tom Lampkin was the catcher and he kind of blocks me off so I'm sliding around the tag and I thought I tapped the plate but there aren't good enough replays that show it one way or the other. But I'm pretty sure I tapped the plate otherwise I wouldn't have argued.
VEB: I assume you played a few games at the new stadium later in your career. Anything that sticks out about it from those days or from doing games for ESPN.
AB: I feel like we should just get an apartment here, we're here so much during the year. I feel like a lot of the sightlines remind me of old Busch, a lot of things feel similar just much more modern. But walking around the stadium, I was walking with Buster Olney as we were heading back to our hotel yesterday and the brick work on this stadium I think is just fantastic. There's a richness, a beauty to it, I'm looking at it now from my hotel room, and it's just one of the many beautiful ballparks in America right now.
VEB: The Cubs are currently 11 games up on the Cardinals. One, sitting here on June 5th, two games over .500, do the Cardinals have any chance of catching them, and two, if they don't, are they one of the candidates to be playing for one of these two wild-card spots?
AB: Well, any chance? Sure. There are over 100 games left and so much can happen from an injury standpoint, you just never know. That being said, yeah, it's not looking good from a divisional standpoint because the Cubs look so strong and they don't have a lot of weaknesses so it's hard to envision them going on a long losing streak anytime in the season.
But yeah, absolutely, the Cardinals are capable of being one of those two wild card teams, I think it's important that their rotation kind of settled in, Carlos emerging and becoming that top guy, getting Wacha back on track, Wainwright continuing to build on some good outings, Rosenthal an encouraging sign with a strong outing last night and having a clean inning, he's important. And then the offense which overall has been very good but also polarizing. They've dominated the weaker teams, and been shutdown by some of the really good teams. They've got to get more consistent, play better against the very good teams in the NL, if they are going to claim a playoff spot.
Many thanks to Aaron for taking his time on a game day to talk with us.