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Updated: June 9, 2010, 2:25 AM ET

Facing an ace can actually be fun … really

By Aaron Boone
ESPN
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Hitters with the Florida Marlins, San Diego Padres and Baltimore Orioles will arrive at the ballpark Wednesday and look at the bottom line of the lineup card and see the names Roy Halladay, Johan Santana and CC Sabathia staring back at them. There's a definite sense of excitement going to the ballpark on a day when you're scheduled to face an elite pitcher. You may come away with some humbling numbers on occasion, but there's no greater feeling than striking success against the best of the best.

[+] EnlargeC.C. Sabathia
Al Bello/Getty ImagesGetting a hit off CC Sabathia is no easy feat. When you do get one, it's worth a little celebration. Just ask Aaron Boone.

In a lot of respects, baseball is in the business of turning the page and not getting too high or too low on any one element -- ace pitcher, hot hitter, etc. It's a long season and games tend to blur together. But teams know when there's an extra challenge facing them on the pitching mound: There's a buzz around the ballpark, and you can just feel it in the air.

I remember the first time CC Sabathia came to Cincinnati. He was having a strong rookie campaign with Cleveland and, in Ohio, they always played up a Reds-Indians series. I didn't see the ball well at all that night and ended up striking out three times. On strike three of my last at-bat, I swung, missed, and fell down in the box while trying to hit a slider down and in. A couple of years down the road, I got an infield hit off of him and was pounding my chest at first, thinking, "Take that!" All over a little infield hit. When I played with him later on in my career, we looked back at that and laughed.

Sabathia and Santana handed me some rough nights at the ballpark, but I played the majority of my major league games with Cincinnati, where there was a sharpness required to succeed against talented NL Central arms such as Roy Oswalt, Mike Hampton, Matt Morris, Kerry Wood and Mark Prior. You knew you had to be fine-tuned mechanically to be successful because they could make you look really bad if you weren't sound in your approach. Some players poured over film and try to get every advantage they could. Others didn't want to see anything. But I fell in the middle group.

Most teams have the opposing team starter's most recent outing (or his last start against their club), playing on TVs throughout the clubhouse on that day. I'd always take 10 minutes or so to sit down in front of a screen and watch for patterns, refreshing my memory of pitches and how they moved. If it was a pitcher I hadn't faced or had a limited number of at-bats against, I'd take extra time to learn his stuff and figure out his go-to pitch in crunch time. This routine was heightened, subconsciously or not, when facing the type of talent that hitters across the league will face Wednesday night.

Though every professional takes a different approach to their preparation, the mental incentive is always there because there's a special satisfaction that comes with beating an elite pitcher. The Marlins, who see Halladay again, are well aware that the guy they're facing is just one start removed from tossing a perfect game. And while some may stumble in the batter's box, it makes those moments of success that much sweeter.

Aaron Boone is an analyst for "Baseball Tonight."

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Wednesday's Best Matchups

Phillies at Marlins, 7:05 p.m. ET

Like marquee pitching matchups? Well, this is the place for you -- with Roy Halladay facing Josh Johnson. After two consecutive losses, Halladay has come back with two consecutive victories. He leads the NL in innings (93.0) and is third in ERA (2.03). Johnson has allowed two total runs over his past four starts. His 2.10 ERA ranks fifth in the league.


Cubs at Brewers, 8:10 p.m. ET, ESPN

Carlos Zambrano makes his second start since returning from the bullpen. He went only 4 1/3 innings in that first start back, giving up six hits and three runs in a loss against the Astros. Randy Wolf, meanwhile, has lost three of his past four starts.


Cardinals at Dodgers, 10:10 p.m. ET

Adam Wainwright has given up two runs in three starts. He won two of those outings, but suffered the loss in a 1-0 defeat against the Padres on May 25. Clayton Kershaw's control has been a bit of an issue in his two most recent outings; he's handed out nine walks 11 2/3 innings.

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