6/7/07 vs. Oakland and shaking off ‘Tek……
Nice to be able to start a post game thread with something other than “I sucked and we lost”.
Figured it would be quickest to get to the middle part of the game, when things began to get interesting. We got to the fourth in a 1-0 game because David homered in the first, Blanton shut us down after that and Jason and I were executing our game plan. When we made a mistake it got hit at someone or taken for a strike.
I knew, or felt I knew, after the third that this was going to be a game that stayed 1-0 unless we couldn’t keep them down. As I was sitting in the dugout thinking through the fifth inning, the fact that we’d only faced 12 hitters was not lost on me. Certainly too early to be concerned or worried about a no-no or perfect game, but you can’t get either if you don’t get to this point anyway.
The fifth started with Eric flying to shallow left on a 1-1 split. Cust went after the first pitch back door slider, which was more middle than anything, then on a 1-2 count chased a split for the fourth, and unbeknownst to me at the time, final, strikeout. We got Johnson to 1-2 and threw a curve that he grounded to short, the error ended the perfect game and as with the prior 14 batters and the next 15, it was easy to not lose focus. A 1-0 game is one pitch away from a tie, and with a runner on one pitch away from a 2-1 game if you don’t stay pitch to pitch, hitter to hitter and inning to inning. Scutaro worked a six pitch AB that ended on a fly out to right on a split. Five innings, 65 pitches and still no hits.
At this point it starts to be something that I, and maybe I am the only pitcher on the planet that would pay serious attention to it, contemplate the possibility of. I know it, everyone paying attention knows it. The main reason it’s something that was easy to not let affect me was that the game was 1-0, so the bunt is in play for every guy that may potentially lay one down.
I was asked about the bunt after the game, and someone referenced Ben Davis bunting to break up a perfect game in the 8th inning in 2002. I said what I’ve always said. I never said a word about that bunt and whether or not I thought it was ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, and I never have. The game was 2-0 at that point, so the tying run was at the plate and the hitter was someone who’d swung the bat well against me. I was shocked at the bunt, caught off guard, but there is no quote anywhere, nor could there be, in which I said anything about the play being ‘bush’ or whatever term some people used. I wish he hadn’t bunted, I wish he’d laid down a good one actually. To lose a perfect game on arguably the worst bunt I’ve ever given up was the disappointing part of it. But as far as playing the game ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ it never occurred to me. You play to win, and do so within the ‘unwritten’ rules is something most guys do. I don’t think many guys would have the gumption to bunt but I also think you do what you think you need to do to win a game, again, within the rules, written or unwritten.
So anyway, the bunt is something I make sure Mike, Kevin and I are all aware of. Who’s going where on a drag and which hitters I think Mike can cheat in on.
The first hitter of the sixth was the first real “I might throw a no hitter” moment for me, during the game. Kotsay hits a first pitch back door slider that’s over the heart of the plate to deep center field. I think it’s a hit off the bat, and as has happened so often this year Coco closes the gap between the ball and himself when it looks like he has no chance, and makes an awesome play. Kendall hits into the defense for the second out on a 1-1 fastball away (same pitch Stewart hit btw), and on a 2-2 fastball Stewart grounds to Youk to end the inning.
Now it starts to get fun for me. Again, the easy part was this was all happening within the framework of a 1-0 game, so the focus part of it was not a challenge. I’ve never taken a no hitter into a game this late with a huge lead. The San Diego game was 2-0 at the time as well. So I am sitting in the dugout going through the 7th inning lineup and thinking about sequences. My main concern was Ellis, as well as he was swinging the bat against us I was concerned that I’d not come in on him, and that he was putting some good swings on the ball.
He leads off the 7th taking a fastball away for a strike and then hits what probably would have been the first hit of the game had Mike not made a fantastic play. It may not have looked like much but from the mound we get to see the tough hops and bad bounces and you can almost see them before they happen. He got one, kept the ball in front of him and made a great play for the first out. Swisher gets jammed and I am not sure if Youks getting the ball or a bat to the head as the barrel goes sailing by him, and makes another great play for out number two. Eric grounds and 0-2 split to second for the final out and walking off the mound I can now hear and feel Sox Nation getting riled up.
Last year I was lucky enough to strike out my 3000th hitter. I did it in Oakland and I can vividly remember the class they showed through the ovation they gave me. I’ve never gotten a good read on the fans there as a whole since they are pretty much the worst in sports during batting practice, but they are very astute fans when it comes to in game events and I could sense there was a contingent of A’s fans hoping to see it happen as well. Right or not that’s what it sounded like.
So I am sitting in the dugout working through the 8th in my head. Scutaro is the the guy I am thinking ahead on. Hoping he’ll stick to his approach since I feel like our game plan and defense is setup to take advantage of it and the fact that being a little guy, height wise, he can hit a fastball. One of the truisms in baseball is that there has never ever been a big league hitter under six feet tall that couldn’t ‘pull a bullet’. Little guys don’t get to the big leagues hitting the breaking stuff and most of them are fantastic high fastball hitters since their strike zone is somewhat different than most.
First pitch outs are always huge. First pitch outs in close games are doubly huge. First pitch outs in 1-0 games in which you have a no-hitter are extraordinarily huge. Cust leads off the 8th by grounding a first pitch curve ball to Youk. I would imagine I am not that different than most pitchers in that each hitter, for me, from an approach standpoint, is a detailed plan and path to an out from how I want to pitch. Hitters, I think, vastly underestimate the magnitude of making outs on the first pitch and how much of a relief it is to pitchers. With one out we go back to curve ball to Johnson for a strike, end up running the count to 2-2 and get him to ground back to me on a 2-2 split. Scutaro ends the inning by flying to center on a fastball away on the second pitch of the AB.
Ok, now it gets real interesting for me. Walking off the field I am thinking of my wife and my kids. Shonda and I had often talked about what throwing a no-hitter would be like. She’s been at pretty much every significant event I’ve ever achieved in this game and she’s always joked about how I better not do it when she wasn’t there. I am walking off the mound, and it’s pretty loud at this point, and I know that she’s somewhere thinking and praying I do it, but at the same time feeling her gut wrench because she’s not there.
I am also thinking and praying that if it doesn’t happen, and if I do give up a hit, that it’s clean. I know how much pressure the guys in the field are feeling. None of them wants to be the guy to get a questionable ball at this point, nor do I want them to. Add to that, it’s still 1-0, we’ve lost four straight and I just want to win this game and have it over. I also want to enjoy the fact that I’ve never been here, most likely won’t ever be again, and after 450 plus starts in the major leagues how cool it is to experience something I’ve never experienced. I’m trying to soak it in but in all honesty I can’t. We need to win this game. Then I think “Damn, I’ve gotten 24 of them already, what’s getting 3 more?”
I know it’s far from easy but the score really did allow me to keep the mindset I’d had all day. While it’s crossed my mind between innings it was never a prevalent thought when I was trying to execute pitches.
Our ninth ends rather quick, which is nice, and I stroll out for the final inning. Sox Nation is way into it, I can hear them, which is cool. I am also thinking about a few thousand or so friends of mine that I know are tuned in. 30+ thousand ALS patients, a lot of which I know follow my starts, that are probably as nervous as anyone. My son Gehrig, who just this week had thrown a five inning no-hitter. My Yavapai teammates that I am going to be seeing in Phoenix, my little league coaches, as a group I am wondering what’s going through their minds as I am warming up. One of the greatest things about doing what I do for a living is knowing how much these games mean to people that have helped me get to this point, that so many of them do live and die with every pitch we throw. The fact that God gave me the ability to impact peoples lives in this way is something you wish everyone had a chance to experience.
The thought process between innings was somewhat grueling. The first two hitters in the ninth are both guys I’ve faced over 70 times each in my career. There will be no shocks or surprises, no tricks. In a way, looking back on it, I think it made it easier because in my mind it really came down to execution. I thought the advantage I had at this point was that I was throwing 93-95 from about the 5th inning on and I’d seen neither of them since that point. Having a little extra was a weapon that I thought would, and it did, give me the ability to stay true to what I know, do it, and have it work. Kotsay took a first pitch fastball strike, away, fouled a pitch and then took a high fastball to go 1-2. He grounded the next fastball away to short, Julio made a nice play too, for the first out. Jason took two fastballs to go 1-1, then hit a fastball to short again, for the second out. The ball was up a bit and watching the swing it seems he was trying to hit against the defense, seeing the outfield shifted to right it looked like he was trying to hook the ball. I think, had I not had a little extra, he might have done it.
This was the very first time I actually said to myself, on the mound, “Holy crap, I think I am going to do this.” I knew EXACTLY what I wanted to do with Shannon and felt I knew exactly what he was going to come to the plate trying to do.
Now comes the infamous ‘shake’. In talking with Tek after the game it’s clear to me that he was 100% spot on with his thought, and I was completely wrong with mine. Why would he take a strike at this point? I had gone to 1 three ball count all day. I wasn’t going to walk him and the only thing you do at that point, by taking a strike, is allow me freedom to use my split. There was no way in hell he was taking. I was sure otherwise. So I shake off the slider, execute the pitch I want, and he lines it to right.
There was about 1.5 seconds of disappointment there on my end. It would have been damn cool, hell it would have been awesome, to throw the no-no. As soon as the ball hit the outfield grass I thought “Ok what do I want to do with Ellis?” I hadn’t even contemplated him hitting up to this point. Tek was starting to come to the mound, Mike did as well. I waved them both off as I was absolutely locked into getting this next out. This win was something we sorely needed but it was cool as hell to know the two veteran leaders on this team are that aware of how the game and the mind can work. Neither wanted me to let this slip by going to a bad place mentally. Given how inconsistent I have been to this point in the season I was sure that was not going to be an issue.
So the game ends two pitches later when Alex clutches Marks pop up. I am pretty fired up given what I thought was the magnitude of the game. It’s June, we are 10 games up, must wins are a media creation at this point but at the same time a losing streak is a losing streak and no one feels good about themselves or their teams when you drop 4-5 games in a row.
I think most, if not all good pitchers want to be known as ‘stoppers’ when it comes to ending losing streaks. I know it’s something I’ve always been very aware of and tried to approach with that mentality, but in the end you have to execute. Our staff is so solid and so deep that we shouldn’t ever have to deal with long losing streaks. I think we all feel that any one of us can go out and throw up 7 scoreless on any given night, and good staffs like that thrive on each others performances.
In the locker room after the game Eric Hinske comes up and says “Man, we just stopped a four game losing streak, our starter just won 1-0, threw a one hitter and I am so damn mad right now.” We laughed our butts off. There were quite a few guys uttering those same thoughts and you have to realize what that means. I’ve watched guys do this before, come close, miss it. But as a team, we are all so invested in each other and care that much about each other that when something happens to one of us, most of us feel it. It’s a pretty rare dynamic in team sports theses days but when you are on a team that has that makeup you enjoy the hell out of it, because it might be the last time you get the honor of being a part of something that special.
Funny thing is you wake up the next morning, the world moves on, and you get ready to do it all over again in five days.
BTW, to the folks at SOSH, cool game thread and Lucen you suck! 30,000 posts into your SOSH career and you know better than to mess with baseball karma you dolt.