rosenbloom article from June 2003 linked
A classic baseball moment
June 18, 2003|BY STEVE ROSENBLOOM.
One of the greatest pitchers of this generation vs. one of the greatest hitters of this generation. Pedro Martinez vs. Frank Thomas. Power vs. power.
A baseball moment.
A baseball moment with no options, either. Martinez must pitch to Thomas because the bases are loaded. Thomas must battle Martinez because there are two outs.
Before this confrontation with Boston up 2-1 at U.S. Cellular Field on Monday night, Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek goes to the mound.
"Sometimes you just go over pitches," Varitek said, "so we have a few pitches in mind that we'll throw."
Thomas waits, thinking "line-drive double or a line-drive home run," and promptly watches a 95-m.p.h. fastball whistle by his face. A message?
"No, no, no," Thomas said. "Pedro's a man when he's on the mound. Everybody knows that. He's a nasty pitcher. Sure he's going to back me off the plate. That's good, hard-nosed baseball."
Second pitch, 92. Thomas fouls it off to the right. Looking for a spot?
"No, never with him," Thomas said. "I just felt I had to cover the plate."
Martinez gets a new ball. Doesn't like it. Gets another one. Rubs it up. Thomas digs his back foot into the box, then reaches the bat to the outside of the plate. He sets his front foot. He waves his bat. Martinez checks Joe Crede at third, then winds, and Thomas fouls another 92-m.p.h. fastball to the right.
Martinez has come inside. Martinez has gone outside. Varitek goes to the mound.
"I guess they wanted to get me out of my rhythm," Thomas said. "Try to get in my head a little bit."
Countered Varitek: "We wanted to call two pitches without giving signs."
Better call two better pitches next time, because Thomas rips Martinez's next offering. Just rips it.
"He tried to go in," Varitek said, "and it ended up middle."
Almost ended up a grand slam, a screaming drive that hooked just outside the left-field foul pole, wrenching the uncharacteristically hopped-up crowd of more than 30,000.
"You only get so many chances up there, and that was my chance," Thomas said, "and I barely missed it."
Barely missed the next pitch, too, scalding it just outside third.
"A slider," Thomas said.
"A cutter," Varitek said.
Slider, cutter, doesn't matter. It's 1-2 and Martinez is painting.
"I battled him in and out," Thomas said. "He kept coming."
Thomas steps out. Martinez rubs up a new ball, then scratches the rubber. He takes a look into Varitek. A long look. So long that Varitek goes out to the mound again amid heavy boos.
Thomas sets his back foot, reaches the bat outside the plate, sets his front foot. Martinez checks third and deals the sixth pitch of the at-bat.
And almost takes off Thomas' chin.
The crowd oohs and hoots and screams.
"I dove out and ripped a slider foul," Thomas said, "so they wanted to back me off the plate, probably."
Said Varitek, speaking for his pitcher who isn't talking to the media these days: "With bases loaded, you're not trying to waste pitches. We were trying to get a swing there, and Frank was able to hold up."
Next pitch, 94 miles of tracer heat. Outside corner. Thomas slashes. Foul to the right.
"I was just going pitch-to-pitch with him," Thomas said.
New ball. Martinez rubs it up as he stares at the scoreboard in left. Two balls, two strikes, two outs, two of the best going at it engulfed by a roaring crowd.
"There was a lot of energy there," Thomas said. "I'm happy for the fans, the way they reacted, because they were really into that moment."
Thomas plants his back foot, touches the outside of the plate--well, you know the routine. And you know the result: Another 94-m.p.h. missile on the outside corner, another foul to the right, another trip to the mound.
"I was covering both sides of the plate," Thomas said. "They weren't prepared for that because I'm more of a middle-in type of guy. They were wondering what was going on. Josh (Paul, the runner on second) said he thought they thought he was cheating out there, but he wasn't giving me any signs."
Maybe, maybe not. Turns out, Varitek admitted, the reason he went to the mound so often was because the White Sox are "historically known for being able to pick up signs from second. So I wanted to be able to discuss it and have the next two pitches in mind without a signal."
Once again, Martinez scratches the rubber. Once again, Thomas plants his back foot. Once again, Martinez checks third. Once again, Thomas waves his bat.
And once again, Thomas fouls a weapons-grade fastball to the right.
If this were October, ESPN Classic would be rerunning it before the inning had ended.
Thomas steps out of the box. Martinez gets a new ball, the seventh since this at-bat started. Thomas stares at Martinez, the back foot dug in, the front foot planted, the mind geeked.
"I just really wanted to get a hit," Thomas said.
But Thomas is leaning out, and Thomas and Martinez know it. Three straight 94-m.p.h. fastballs on the outside corner. Eight 90-plus fastballs so far. But no curves or changeups. Sorry, can't think about that. Can't think off-speed when a guy's speed is 95.
"That's why he's so good," Thomas said.
The crowd is thundering. Martinez is dealing. Thomas is ready.
But not ready for this. Not ready for Martinez's backdoor curve. Not ready for strike three to be called as he's jumping back out of the way on the 10th pitch of this electrifying at-bat.
"He had me leaning back and forth," Thomas said.
"He had him off-balance with that, by far," Varitek said. "He had him totally committed on the fastball."
"That backdoor breaking ball," Thomas lamented, "he had to buckle me when he did. I thought it was a little down, but it was a nasty pitch."
And a great baseball moment.