Curt Casali is exactly the sort of Rothian study that makes this squalid little operation go … or he would be if he hadn’t suddenly transcended Guyness and become a catching genius, backstopping five different pitchers to five straight shutouts. Hell, just building a force field around home plate that no other players can cross would make him a fit study for Comrade Thompson and his CERN fetish.
But no, Casali’s now a Dude who turns pitching Guys into potential Cy Young winners, simply by dropping down fingers, catching baseballs on the fly, engaging hitters into conversations that distract more than delight, and in general helping to reduce San Francisco Giants opponents into the Gas-House Gorillas once Bugs Bunny comes in from the pen.
Casali is your standard backup catcher in that (a) he knows Buster Posey is the starter barring injury and (b) he doesn’t have the new catchers’ body, which is shorter and wider than the standard. He is, in short, bereft of the novelty of your Alejandro Kirks or Willians Astudillos or Yermin Mercedeses, mostly due to his height.
But he has now caught five consecutive blank slates, one each for Anthony DeSclafani, Johnny Cueto, Alex Wood, Kevin Gausman, and now Aaron Sanchez, as the Giants continue to push off their badly needed rebuild by having the second-best record in the National League. Why, he’s the second biggest story on the Giants beat other than Ballpark Bunny, and even Ballpark Bunny, whose name is Alex and has a job, has relatively squatter dimensions than Casali does. Although if you think about it a moment, Casali is kind of a therapy bunny himself, only mildly less furred.
Casali owns your standard backup’s CV, and at 32 has but four years’ service time. But now that he’s figured out the obvious gimmick of not letting his pitchers allow runs, he might be fully pension-eligible by the time he’s 38. If he can keep this up, frankly, he could become the first catcher to start every game since before Roger Bresnahan invented shinguards.
But we’re getting over our chest protectors here, as streaks become increasingly fragile over time (see Curry, Stephen). Indeed, Casali’s streak is in a lot of ways more subtle because it relies much more on the deeds of others. Yes, catching is part receiving, pitch-calling, and framing, and part profane psychology, as he exercised on Gregory Santos, who was making his MLB debut in the sixth inning, but it is largely in service to someone in greater control. It’s a bit like giving credit to Kevon Looney for Curry’s 30-point games streak.
Thus, because Casali is a backup catcher, he knows better than to take credit for anything, even if it means being a teeny bit defensive about his defensive role. “As a catcher, I pride myself on being defense and game-calling and receiving first,” he said after Thursday’s 3-0 win over Miami. “It kind of gets my hitting spat on. For it to finally come to fruition and get a little bit of recognition is pretty cool. I would say that catchers are kind of like the offensive linemen of baseball.”
Of course, he’s not an offensive lineman. Kirk (5-foot-8, 265 pounds), now there’s an offensive lineman; Astudillo, too (5-foot-9, 225), and Mercedes (5-foot-11, 245). Casali at 6-foot-2 is almost oversized for baseball’s newest market inefficiency of duvet-dimensioned backstops. As for his hitting, well, he’s 3-for-24 this year, and .227 lifetime, so it’s not like he shouldn’t expect a few loogie-based strays aimed his way. You can’t argue with shutouts, though, which is why manager Gabe Kapler, who has overachieved managerially with this team after underachieving in Philadelphia, claims to have a conundrum on his hands.
“Tomorrow is a tough decision between the best catcher in Giants history and the guy who is certain to catch a shutout,” Kapler said, referring to Buster Posey, whose current shutout innings streak is at zero. “I have my work cut out for me.”
Of course Kapler has nothing of the sort. He’s writing down names on an oversized card, which your average third-grader could do. Plus, he knows Posey will almost surely catch Wood tonight anyway. But he knows a good throwaway line for an April game story, which is in itself a dying art.
Casali seems like a likely choice for Sunday’s day-game-after-a-night-game, catching Logan Webb. At least we’d like it to be Sunday, since coaxing a shutout from Webb would complete his starting staff bingo card, and he could become even more noteworthy than he is now. If only he had the gumption to lop off about eight inches of shin so he could look more like baseball’s new catching prototype, the Roomba with feet. Then he could really look like Ballpark Bunny and really cash in with a plush toy the way Pablo Sandoval and Brandon Belt did when the Giants were in the midst of their “What Animal Is Like Your Favorite Player And Why Should You Pay $89 For A Stuffed Version Of It?” period. Why, with a little longer run his comps could improve from George Kottaras and Bill Nahorodny and get closer to Bugs himself, who as we know is still the best baseball rabbit ever.