UMass has taken an early 5-0 lead on us, and I won’t be pitching for a while, so I decide to embark on a journey back through the baseball memories of my childhood.
Suddenly it is 1993 again, and there I am, a third-grader in front of the television, watching Incaviglia’s Phillies fall to the defending champion Blue Jays in the World Series.
One of our guys lines a single to left, starting a potential rally, but I am too consumed in my musings to react. I picture Toronto manager Cito Gaston celebrating the title, and my quest back in time continues. I laugh out loud as I recall the 1993 All-Star game at Camden Yards, when Gaston, the American League manager, warmed up beloved Oriole Mike Mussina in the bullpen but then neglected to use him in the game. The next day, Baltimore fans were seen wearing tee-shirts that said “Cito Sucks,” clearly a precursor to more vulgar varieties of apparel that can be purchased outside Fenway Park these days.
I am jolted back to reality when Sully approaches and asks how my arm is feeling. Coach Sullivan does have a first name, but none of us know it. He goes by “Coach,” and that seems to suffice. I tell him that my arm is feeling great, and he says that I’ll pitch the seventh inning.
There is still time before I need to warm-up, so I try to dig deeper into my store of baseball memories. Now it’s August of 1992, and I’m on vacation at the beach, watching Kevin Gross of the Dodgers throw a no-hitter against the Giants. I had no idea at the time, but I was truly witnessing history—Gross became the first of three pitchers named Kevin to no-hit the Giants in the 1992-2003 period, the other two being Brown and Millwood.
I shoot forward two months, and there I am, watching my first NLCS, not knowing that it will be one of the most memorable in history. Francisco Cabrera pinch hits for the Braves with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the ninth of game seven, with the Pirates leading 2-1. Cabrera drives a single to left off Stan Belinda, Barry Bonds can’t throw out speed-demon Sid Bream at the plate, and the Braves head to the World Series.
We’re down 5-4, and I notice that it’s already the bottom of the sixth, so I jog to the bullpen and start warming up. I should be focusing on my windup and location, but for some reason I can’t stop reminiscing.
My new topic at hand is Heathcliff Slocumb, who played a huge role in the Red Sox’ run to 2004 World Series. Slocumb was the Red Sox closer in 1997, but the Seattle Mariners wanted him so badly that they dealt Boston two top prospects—catcher Jason Varitek and pitcher Derek Lowe.
I continue to loosen up in the bullpen, trying to imitate Lowe’s delivery from the stretch. All I need is a devastating sinker, a month without a haircut, and some alcohol problems, and the two of us will be indistinguishable. Actually he’d still have me beat, since I didn’t win the deciding games of all three of Boston’s playoff series last year, nor did I strike out Adam Melhuse and Terrence Long looking to end the heart-throbbing 2003 ALDS against Oakland.
We don’t score in the bottom of the sixth, and I jog to the mound to begin the last frame (JV usually plays seven-inning games).
The first batter pops out on my first pitch, but then steps in their juiced juggernaut of a cleanup hitter, who hammered one off the wall in a previous at-bat.
I start him off with a curveball, and I throw it two feet behind him. “Juuuuust a bit inside,” as Bob Uecker might have said in “Major League.” The batter singles, but the next batter grounds into an inning-ending double play.
Six pitches, three outs, and I have now thrown a total of 22 pitches in my last three innings dating back to last week. I tell my teammates that I’m the most efficient pitcher in history.
I also have an infinite strikeout-to-walk ratio—one strikeout and zero walks in five innings of work. Take that, Mark Prior!
We don’t get a man past first base in the bottom of the last, and we lose 5-4.