Three things about Tim Anderson’s second consecutive first-inning homer

Tim Anderson was supposed to have Sunday off thanks to a slump, but he talked his way back into the lineup after some pregame work with hitting coach Frank Menechino restored that feeling. He homered on the first pitch of the game and tacked on two more hits before the sweep of the Cubs was complete.

Maybe Tony La Russa still wanted to get Anderson a breather just as a matter of load management, but it wasn’t going to be after a three-hit, one-homer night. So there Anderson was, batting leadoff against the Twins on Monday night, and after homering in his first at-bat and tacking on two more hits in another White Sox rout, rest probably isn’t coming in the second game of this three-game set, either.

I want to go back to that second first-inning homer, because there’s a sequence between Anderson and Beau Burrows that stuck out to me in real time.

First, Burrows starts Anderson off with a slider in the dirt.

You normally don’t see a pitcher throw a non-fastball to Anderson on the first pitch of the game. He entered the game leading off 96 times in 2021, and he’d seen a variant of a fastball 89 times …

… and it’s still 89, because Burrows made it six sliders instead.

This has been done before, and sometimes for the specific reason of what Anderson had recently accomplished. On April 20, Zach Plesac started a game with a slider against Anderson, because Anderson pounced on the first-pitch fastballs the previous two games against the Red Sox. He took Nathan Eovaldi’s first pitch into the Red Sox bullpen at Fenway Park on April 18, then notched an infield single against Tanner Houck’s first pitch the next day, and that’s all we’ll say about that morning in Boston.

What’s more, this looks like one of Minnesota’s game plans. Twins pitches have thrown four of the six sliders Anderson’s seen on the first pitch of the game this year, including twice in the last series by Bailey Ober and Griffin Jax. Perhaps this is part of their map for young pitchers, because Michael Pineda opted out in the finale back in July. (Kenta Maeda threw the other Minnesota first-pitch slider back in May, but he throws more sliders than fastballs, so you’d almost expect it.)

With Jax starting tonight, his first pitch to Anderson is worth paying attention to. But that’s not really why we’re here.

* * * * * * * * *

Let us skip ahead to the fourth pitch of the at-bat, where Anderson is ahead 2-1 after chopping a hanging-but-outside-enough slider for strike one, then taking a fastball well away for ball two. With the count in his favor and Burrows throwing a fastball, you might expect Anderson ready to pounce.

Instead, Anderson takes all the way.

Anderson’s not known for taking in general, much less on a fastball when the count should have him anticipating one. He hadn’t taken any of the previous three pitches with such nonchalance, and given the location, he might not have swung even if he were inclined to, but the body language still struck me as noteworthy.

And more so when he called time before Burrows threw his next pitch.

Well down the list of unfortunate aspects of the pandemic, well below candidates like “general distrust, even with loved ones” and “singalongs are a public health menace,” is “both of a game’s broadcasts being reliant on the home team’s cameras.” We don’t see the exact point when Anderson calls time. Burrows might’ve tried jumping the gun while Anderson was getting established with his right hand in the air, but based on the previous pitch, he might’ve stepped into the box with the intent of messing with Burrows’ rhythm.

Minnesota’s feed cuts away from Burrows to manager Rocco Baldelli, because the Twins’ broadcasters are talking about his potential plans for a bullpen game. The White Sox’s broadcast sticks with Burrows in silence, even though Steve Stone and fill-in play-by-play guy Mike Monaco were talking about Anderson and the way he set the tone for three first-inning homers on Sunday with one of his own.

By the time both broadcasts return to the center field camera, time’s already being granted, showing Anderson looking quite relaxed and genial.

And on the next pitch, Anderson gets a fastball in the same place and goes deep.

* * * * * * * * *

Watch the at-bat through both feeds, and you can kinda-sorta piece together both elements of what made that 20 seconds unique. When Anderson calls for time from the home plate umpire, Stone shifts his description of outfield positioning to, “Tim says, ‘Give me a little time,'” and following a pause, Monaco adds, “With a smile as well.” As Anderson circles the bases after the blast, Stone notes that the Twins were trying to jam him because that’s what the scouting report says, and Anderson foiled it.

However, it’s Minnesota analyst and White Sox legend Justin Morneau is the one who better ties it to what came before: “So quick, such fast hands, so confident. He took a 2-and-1 fastball right there, just took it all the way, like he wanted to see the fastball. Once he had seen it, you can’t get in there. ‘I know what the speed is, I know what my hands can do.””

Still, Anderson had already seen a fastball in the count, albeit one that bounced to the backstop, so he should’ve had some measure of the velocity. It doesn’t quite explain the take in and of itself, and nobody really mentions the calling of time.

To me, it looks like Anderson is stepping into the batter’s box against a pitcher with an 11.00 ERA.

Specifically, a pitcher the White Sox assigned a 21.60 ERA after his first outing of the season.

More specifically, a pitcher who succinctly summarized his 1⅔ innings during that 15-2 White Sox winner on June 12 by throwing up behind the mound.

And Anderson’s letting him know who’s in charge. He’s not going to fall for a first-pitch slider, he’s going to get his fastball, and he’s going to get it when he wants it.

Or maybe it’s less about who’s on the mound and more about how good he feels, with a second consecutive first-inning homer as proof. Unless somebody can get him to fill in the blanks, there’s fun in trying to piece it together ourselves.

(Photo by Jordan Johnson-USA TODAY Sports)

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Jim Margalus
Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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loch

Nice analysis, Jim. I’m just here to say that I completely forgot Morneau every played for the Sox.

joewho112

I still don’t remember that. Another thing that jumped out at me is that he only had 247 career HR. I am shocked it wasn’t 400+. He also has about the same career fWAR as Jose despite Jose having played half as long.

In conclusion, Justin Morneau: not as good as I remember him to be

Greg Nix

He was Paul Konerko with a better glove but less longevity. I think the early MVP award (which should have been Jeter’s) skews our perception of him.

joewho112

I guess I never understood the scope of his injury problems. He and Konerko played similar number of years (if you don’t count Konerko’s early career cup of coffee) but Konerko played in about 50% more games (2349 vs. 1545).

yinkadoubledare

He had a bad concussion in 2010 and never was the same after that.

Willardmarshall

A Yankee shortchanged for an award? That’s rare….

Right Size Wrong Shape

The voting that year was all over the place. But forget Jeter, what about Grady Sizemore? Vernon Wells was awesome that year too, and he finished 22nd.

ryguygosox

Realtime, I felt like the Burrows was working quick and Tim didn’t have time to get settled between pitches. Maybe the one that blew by him was a result of that and called time to not let it happen again. Either way, it was cool how he hit a homer right after calling for time.

calcetinesblancos

It’s still hard for me to believe that TA has become this good. I also love that he goes up there looking to swing the bat; it balances out our lineup.