A trio of home runs in Fenway Park off the unusually-hittable Curt Schilling powered the Angels to the top. Vladimir Guerrero hit the second home run in the series, a 484 foot no-doubter to left field, and the longest at Fenway Park in the HitTracker era (since 2006). Guerrero's home run was bookended by two other strong blasts, making for a heart-pounding top of the third inning on July 30th, 2006.
Vladimir Guerrero, a favorite for a generation of baseball fans, loved crushing baseballs with his immense power. His other tools stood out too; Guerrero's throwing arm was one of the biggest cannons in years. By 2006, Guerrero was already a perennial MVP candidate who had batted over .300 in every full season. From 1998 to 2006, he averaged 36 home runs a season. He was the MVP of the American League in his first year with the Angels in 2004. The season after that, Guerrero reached base nearly 40% of the time and slugged 32 balls into the stands.
All in all, it's fair to say Vlad was one of the best in baseball, and his knack for knocking balls that seemed out-of-reach was unprecedented. Entering the game in 2006, Vlad had maintained a .314 batting average and hit 20 home runs. About a year after hitting the longest home run at Fenway, he won the Home Run Derby at AT&T Park, launching an incredible 503-foot blast in the semi-finals.
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Curt Schilling put together a lengthy and solid 20-year career with five different baseball clubs. He first came to the majors in 1988, in which he pitched for the Baltimore Orioles; after a rough three years, he was traded to the Astros in what is now seen as a very lopsided deal. He eventually moved back into a rotation with the Phillies in 1992, and stuck there for eight and a half years. His tenure in Philadelphia was the longest of his career, but Schilling was just getting started: He was elected to three consecutive All-Star games from 1997 to 1999.
His next four years in Arizona are regarded as the prime of his pitching. Schilling put together a 3.14 ERA from start to finish with an insane 7.48 strikeout to walk ratio. The Diamondbacks proceeded to trade a 36-year old Curt Schilling to the Red Sox, where he pitched to a 3.11 FIP and placed second in the AL Cy Young voting.
In 2005, he landed on the disabled list early with an ankle injury and only reappeared mid-season in bad shape. The injury had obviously affected his pitching, because he put up a nasty 5.69 ERA over a smattering of relief appearances and starts. 2006, however, was a new season. The 39-year old veteran was in the twilight of his career, but he still knew how to get batters out. Entering the game, Schilling had a 3.60 ERA and was a solid option in the Boston rotation because of his consistency. Unfortunately for fans, his career ended without warning, when shoulder injuries took away what was supposed to be his final season in 2008.
Curt took the mound on July 30th but immediately looked lost. The usually-dependable pitcher allowed a run in the first because of a Vladimir Guerrero single, and two runs in the second. Those runs were only a sign of things to come. The extra-base hits of the first and second inning began turning into home runs by the third inning. What I mean by that is Orlando Cabrera took Schilling deep on the second pitch of his at-bat. Vladimir Guerrero walked to the plate and waved his bat back and forth while waiting for the first pitch. Schilling threw pitch number one and Guerrero made hard contact, resulting in a foul ball. He repeated his delivery and threw a split-fingered fastball down at his knees, but this time he hit the ball for a monstrous home run. Juan Rivera followed up two batters later with another hammering shot.
The ball screamed off the end of the bat at 122 mph, 16.3 mph faster than his average home run from 2006. All that speed emanated from Guerrero's powerful swing and bat speed. This home run in particular traveled 484 feet, 20.4% farther than his average home run, and it eventually came back down to Earth on the other side of the Green Monster. In this particular case, the diagram above is wrong because the HitTracker software did not track the ball after it passed through some of the crossbeams of the light tower sitting atop the Green Monster. The infamous left-field wall is known for blocking right-handed power, but Guerrero had the power and the loft to punch the baseball straight over. Alas, the video of Guerrero's home run is lost to MLB.com's video graveyard.
One possible explanation for the mighty home run could be that Schilling's third inning split was unusually weak. Opponents batted a strong .313 in the third inning and slugged an even more powerful .531. But that's highly inconclusive. Another aspect, Vlad's splits, probably have more of a telling effect. Guerrero was only warming up in the first half, and he really appeared full force for the Angels in the second half of the season, batting .368 with a 1.047 OPS.
The most important statistic that can be used in the understanding of the home run is their career match-ups. It turns out that Vladimir Guerrero feasted on Curt Schilling's pitching! They met for 67 plate appearances over the course of both of their careers during the regular season. In that time, Guerrero slammed him for six home runs, his most against any single pitcher and an average of one home run every 10 and a half at-bats. His other career figures against Schilling add up to a healthy .286/.328/.635 slash line. Curt Schilling only allowed two other batters to to hit more home runs off him in his entire career. If you can name them, post it in the comments.
"[The baseball was] hit so high above and so far beyond the Green Monster in left field it looked as if it might land on the Massachusetts Turnpike." - Mike DiGiovanna, Los Angeles Times
Another home run by Vlad Guerrero in a long series of statistical thumpings for Curt Schilling wound up winning the game for the Angels.
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All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs, HitTracker Online, and Baseball-Reference.
Justin Perline is a writer for Beyond the Box Score and The Wild Pitch. You can follow him on Twitter at @jperline.