Pitching In A Pinch
Many Pitchers Are Effective in a Big League Ball Game until that
Heart-Breaking Moment Arrives Known as the "Pinch"--It Is then that
the Man in the Box is Put to the Severest Test by the Coachers and
the Players on the Bench--Victory or Defeat Hangs on his Work in that
In most Big League ball games, there comes an inning on which hangs
victory or defeat. Certain intellectual fans call it the crisis; college
professors, interested in the sport, have named it the psychological
moment; Big League managers mention it as the "break," and pitchers speak
of the "pinch."
This is the time when each team is straining every nerve either to win or
to prevent defeat. The players and spectators realize that the outcome of
the inning is of vital importance. And in most of these pinches, the real
burden falls on the pitcher. It is at this moment that he is "putting all
he has" on the ball, and simultaneously his opponents are doing everything
they can to disconcert him.
Managers wait for this break, and the shrewd league leader can often time
it. Frequently a certain style of play is adopted to lead up to the pinch,
then suddenly a slovenly mode of attack is changed, and the team comes on
with a rush in an effort to break up the game. That is the real test of a
pitcher. He must be able to live through these squalls.
Two evenly matched clubs have been playing through six innings with
neither team gaining any advantage. Let us say that they are the Giants
and the Chicago Cubs. Suddenly the Chicago pitcher begins to weaken in the
seventh. Spectators cannot perceive this, but McGraw, the Giants' manager,
has detected some crack. All has been quiet on the bench up to this
moment. Now the men begin to fling about sweaters and move around, one
going to the water cooler to get a drink, another picking up a bat or two
and flinging them in the air, while four or five prospective hitters are
lined up, swinging several sticks apiece, as if absolutely confident that
each will get his turn at the plate.
The two coachers on the side lines have become dancing dervishes, waving
sweaters and arms wildly, and shouting various words of discouragement to
the pitcher which are calculated to make his job as soft as a bed of
concrete. He has pitched three balls to the batter, and McGraw vehemently
protests to the umpire that the twirler is not keeping his foot on the
slab. The game is delayed while this is discussed at the pitcher's box and
the umpire brushes off the rubber strip with a whisk broom.
There is a kick against these tactics from the other bench, but the damage
has been done. The pitcher passes the batter, forgets what he ought to
throw to the next man, and cannot get the ball where he wants it. A base
hit follows. Then he is gone. The following batter triples, and, before
another pitcher can be warmed up, three or four runs are across the plate,
and the game is won. That explains why so many wise managers keep a
pitcher warming up when the man in the box is going strong.
It is in the pinch that the pitcher shows whether or not he is a Big
Leaguer. He must have something besides curves then. He needs a head, and
he has to use it. It is the acid test. That is the reason so many men, who
shine in the minor leagues, fail to make good in the majors. They cannot
stand the fire.
A young pitcher came to the Giants a few years ago. I won't mention his
name because he has been pitching good minor-league ball since. He was a
wonder with the bases empty, but let a man or two get on the sacks, and he
wouldn't know whether he was in a pitcher's box or learning aviation in
the Wright school, and he acted a lot more like an aviator in the crisis.
McGraw looked him over twice.
"He's got a spine like a charlotte russe," declared "Mac," after his
second peek, and he passed him back to the bushes.
Several other Big League managers, tempted by this man's brilliant record
in the minors, have tried him out since, but he has always gone back.
McGraw's judgment of the man was correct.
On the other hand, Otis Crandall came to the New York club a few years ago
a raw country boy from Indiana. I shall never forget how he looked the
first spring I saw him in Texas. The club had a large number of recruits
and was short of uniforms. He was among the last of the hopefuls to arrive
and there was no suit for him, so, in a pair of regular trousers with his
coat off, he began chasing flies in the outfield. His head hung down on
his chest, and, when not playing, a cigarette drooped out of the corner of
his mouth. But he turned out to be a very good fly chaser, and McGraw
admired his persistency.
"What are you?" McGraw asked him one day.
"A pitcher," replied Crandall. Two words constitute an oration for him.
"Let's see what you've got," said McGraw.
Crandall warmed up, and he didn't have much of anything besides a sweeping
outcurve and a good deal of speed. He looked less like a pitcher than any
of the spring crop, but McGraw saw something in him and kept him. The
result is he has turned out to be one of the most valuable men on the
club, because he is there in a pinch. He couldn't be disturbed if the
McNamaras tied a bomb to him, with a time fuse on it set for "at once." He
is the sort of pitcher who is best when things look darkest. I've heard
the crowd yelling, when he has been pitching on the enemy's ground, so
that a sixteen-inch gun couldn't have been heard if it had gone off in the
"That crowd was making some noise," I've said to Crandall after the
"Was it?" asked Otie. "I didn't notice it."
One day in 1911, he started a game in Philadelphia and three men got on
the bases with no one out, along about the fourth or fifth inning. He shut
them out without a run. It was the first game he had started for a long
while, his specialty having been to enter a contest, after some other
pitcher had gotten into trouble, with two or three men on the bases and
scarcely any one out. After he came to the bench with the threatening
inning behind him, he said to me:
"Matty, I didn't feel at home out there to-day until a lot of people got
on the bases. I'll be all right now." And he was. I believe that Crandall
is the best pitcher in a pinch in the National League and one of the most
valuable men to a team, for he can play any position and bats hard.
Besides being a great pinch pitcher, he can also hit in a crush, and won
many games for the Giants in 1911 that way.
Very often spectators think that a pitcher has lost his grip in a pinch,
when really he is playing inside baseball. A game with Chicago in Chicago
back in 1908 (not the famous contest that cost the Giants a championship;
I did not have any grip at all that day; but one earlier in the season)
best illustrates the point I want to bring out. Mordecai Brown and I were
having a pitchers' duel, and the Giants were in the lead by the score of 1
to 0 when the team took the field for the ninth inning.
It was one of those fragile games in which one run makes a lot of
difference, the sort that has a fringe of nervous prostration for the
spectators. Chance was up first in the ninth and he pushed a base hit to
right field. Steinfeldt followed with a triple that brought Chance home
and left the run which would win the game for the Cubs on third base. The
crowd was shouting like mad, thinking I was done. I looked at the hitters,
waiting to come up, and saw Hofman and Tinker swinging their bats in
anticipation. Both are dangerous men, but the silver lining was my second
look, which revealed to me Kling and Brown following Hofman and Tinker.
Without a second's hesitation, I decided to pass both Hofman and Tinker,
because the run on third base would win the game anyway if it scored, and
with three men on the bags instead of one, there would be a remote chance
for a triple play, besides making a force out at the plate possible.
Remember that no one was out at this time. Kling and Brown had always been
easy for me.
When I got two balls on Hofman, trying to make him hit at a bad one, the
throng stood up in the stand and tore splinters out of the floor with its
feet. And then I passed Hofman. The spectators misunderstood my motive.
"He's done. He's all in," shouted one man in a voice which was one of the
carrying, persistent, penetrating sort. The crowd took the cry up and
stamped its feet and cheered wildly.
Then I passed Tinker, a man, as I have said before, who has had a habit of
making trouble for me. The crowd quieted down somewhat, perhaps because it
was not possible for it to cheer any louder, but probably because the
spectators thought that now it would be only a matter of how many the Cubs
would win by. The bases were full, and no one was out.
But that wildly cheering crowd had worked me up to greater effort, and I
struck Kling out and then Brown followed him back to the bench for the
same reason. Just one batter stood between me and a tied score now. He was
John Evers, and the crowd having lost its chortle of victory, was begging
him to make the hit which would bring just one run over the plate. They
were surprised by my recuperation after having passed two men. Evers
lifted a gentle fly to left field and the three men were left on the
bases. The Giants eventually won that game in the eleventh inning by the
score of 4 to 1.
But that system doesn't always work. Often I have passed a man to get a
supposedly poor batter up and then had him bang out a base hit. My first
successful year in the National League was 1901, although I joined the
Giants in the middle of the season of 1900. The Boston club at that time
had a pitcher named "Kid" Nichols who was a great twirler. The first two
games I pitched against the Boston club were against this man, and I won
the first in Boston and the second in New York, the latter by the score of
2 to 1.
Both teams then went west for a three weeks' trip, and when the Giants
returned a series was scheduled with Boston at the Polo Grounds. There was
a good deal of speculation as to whether I would again beat the veteran
"Kid" Nichols, and the newspapers, discussing the promised pitching duel,
stirred up considerable enthusiasm over it. Of course, I, the youngster,
was eager to make it three straight over the veteran. Neither team had
scored at the beginning of the eighth inning. Boston runners got on second
and third bases with two out, and Fred Tenney, then playing first base on
the Boston club, was up at the bat. He had been hitting me hard that day,
and I decided to pass him and take a chance on "Dick" Cooley, the next
man, and a weak batter. So Tenney got his base on balls, and the sacks
Two strikes were gathered on Cooley, one at which he swung and the other
called, and I was beginning to congratulate myself on my excellent
judgment, which was really counting my chickens while they were still in
the incubator. I attempted to slip a fast one over on Cooley and got the
ball a little too high. The result was that he stepped into it and made a
three base hit which eventually won the game by the score of 3 to 0. That
was once when passing a man to get a weak batter did not work.
I have always been against a twirler pitching himself out, when there is
no necessity for it, as so many youngsters do. They burn them through for
eight innings and then, when the pinch comes, something is lacking. A
pitcher must remember that there are eight other men in the game, drawing
more or less salary to stop balls hit at them, and he must have confidence
in them. Some pitchers will put all that they have on each ball. This is
foolish for two reasons.
In the first place, it exhausts the man physically and, when the pinch
comes, he has not the strength to last it out. But second and more
important, it shows the batters everything that he has, which is
senseless. A man should always hold something in reserve, a surprise to
spring when things get tight. If a pitcher has displayed his whole
assortment to the batters in the early part of the game and has used all
his speed and his fastest breaking curve, then, when the crisis comes, he
"hasn't anything" to fall back on.
Like all youngsters, I was eager to make a record during my first year in
the Big League, and in one of the first games I pitched against Cincinnati
I made the mistake of putting all that I had on every ball. We were
playing at the Polo Grounds, and the Giants had the visitors beaten 2 to
0, going into the last inning. I had been popping them through, trying to
strike out every hitter and had not held anything in reserve. The first
man to the bat in the ninth got a single, the next a two bagger, and by
the time they had stopped hitting me, the scorer had credited the
Cincinnati club with four runs, and we lost the game, 4 to 2.
I was very much down in the mouth over the defeat, after I had the game
apparently won, and George Davis, then the manager of the Giants, noticed
it in the clubhouse.
"Never mind, Matty," he said, "it was worth it. The game ought to teach
you not to pitch your head off when you don't need to."
It did. I have never forgotten that lesson. Many spectators wonder why a
pitcher does not work as hard as he can all through the game, instead of
just in the pinches. If he did, they argue, there would be no pinches. But
there would be, and, if the pitcher did not conserve his energy, the
pinches would usually go against him.
Sometimes bawling at a man in a pinch has the opposite effect from that
desired. Clarke Griffith, recently of Cincinnati, has a reputation in the
Big Leagues for being a bad man to upset a pitcher from the coacher's box.
Off the field he is one of the decentest fellows in the game, but, when
talking to a pitcher, he is very irritating. I was working in a game
against the Reds in Cincinnati one day, just after he had been made
manager of the club, and Griffith spent the afternoon and a lot of breath
trying to get me going. The Giants were ahead, 5 to 1, at the beginning of
the seventh. In the Cincinnati half of that inning, "Mike" Mitchell
tripled with the bases full and later tallied on an outfield fly which
tied the score. The effect this had on Griffith was much the same as that
of a lighted match on gasolene.
"Now, you big blond," he shouted at me, "we've got you at last."
I expected McGraw to take me out, as it looked in that inning as if I was
not right, but he did not, and I pitched along up to the ninth with the
score still tied and with Griffith, the carping critic, on the side
lines. We failed to count in our half, but the first Cincinnati batter got
on the bases, stole second, and went to third on a sacrifice. He was there
with one out.
"Here's where we get you," chortled Griffith. "This is the point at which
you receive a terrible showing up."
I tried to get the next batter to hit at bad balls, and he refused, so
that I lost him. I was afraid to lay the ball over the plate in this
crisis, as a hit or an outfield fly meant the game. Hoblitzell and
Mitchell, two of Griffith's heaviest batters, were scheduled to arrive at
the plate next.
"You ought to be up, Mike," yelled the Cincinnati manager at Mitchell, who
was swinging a couple of sticks preparatory to his turn at the bat. "Too
bad you won't get a lick, old man, because Hobby's going to break it up
Something he said irritated me, but, instead of worrying me, it made me
feel more like pitching. I seldom talk to a coacher, but I turned to
Griffith and said:
"I'll bring Mike up, and we'll see what he can do."
I deliberately passed Hoblitzell without even giving him a chance to hit
at a single ball. It wasn't to make a grand stand play I did this, but
because it was baseball. One run would win the game anyway, and, with more
men on the bases, there were more plays possible. Besides Hoblitzell is a
nasty hitter, and I thought that I had a better chance of making Mitchell
hit the ball on the ground, a desirable thing under the conditions.
"Now, Mike," urged Griffith, as Mitchell stepped up to the plate, "go as
far as you like. Blot up the bases, old boy. This blond is gone."
That sort of talk never bothers me. I had better luck with Mitchell than I
had hoped. He struck out. The next batter was easy, and the Giants won the
game in the tenth inning. According to the newspaper reports, I won
twenty-one or twenty-two games before Cincinnati beat me again, so it can
be seen that joshing in pinches is not effective against all pitchers. A
manager must judge the temperament of his victim. But Griffith has never
stopped trying to rag me. In 1911, when the Giants were west on their
final trip, I was warming up in Cincinnati before a game, and he was
batting out flies near me. He would talk to me between each ball he hit
to the outfield.
"Got anything to-day, Matty?" he asked. "Guess there ain't many games left
in you. You're getting old."
When I broke into the National League, the Brooklyn club had as bad a
bunch of men to bother a pitcher as I ever faced. The team had won the
championship in 1900, and naturally they were all pretty chesty. When I
first began to play in 1901, this crowd--Kelly, Jennings, Keeler and
Hanlon--got after me pretty strong. But I seemed to get pitching
nourishment out of their line of conversation and won a lot of games. At
last, so I have been told, Hanlon, who was the manager, said to his
conversational ball players:
"Lay off that Mathewson kid. Leave him alone. He likes the chatter you
fellows spill out there."
They did not bother me after that, but this bunch spoiled many a promising
Speaking of sizing up the temperament of batters and pitchers in a pinch,
few persons realize that it was a little bit of carelessly placed
conversation belonging to "Chief" Bender, the Indian pitcher on the
Athletics, that did as much as anything to give the Giants the first game
in the 1911 world's series.
"Josh" Devore, the left-fielder on the New York team, is an in-and-out
batter, but he is a bulldog in a pinch and is more apt to make a hit in a
tight place than when the bases are empty. And he is quite as likely to
strike out. He is the type of ball player who cannot be rattled. With
"Chief" Myers on second base, the score tied, and two out, Devore came to
the bat in the seventh inning of the first game.
"Look at little 'Josh,'" said Bender, who had been talking to batters all
through the game.
Devore promptly got himself into the hole with two strikes and two balls
on him, but a little drawback like that never worries "Josh."
"I'm going to pitch you a curved ball over the outside corner," shouted
Bender as he wound up.
"I know it, Chief," replied "Josh," and he set himself to receive just
that sort of delivery.
Up came the predicted curve over the outside corner. "Josh" hit it to left
field for two bases, and brought home the winning run. Bender evidently
thought that, by telling Devore what he was actually going to pitch, he
would make him think he was going to cross him.
"I knew it would be a curve ball," Devore told me after the game. "With
two and two, he would be crazy to hand me anything else. When he made that
crack, I guessed that he was trying to cross me by telling the truth.
Before he spoke, I wasn't sure which corner he was going to put it over,
but he tipped me."
Some batters might have been fooled by those tactics. It was taking a
chance in a pinch, and Bender lost.
Very few of the fans who saw this first game of the 1911 world's series
realize that the "break" in that contest came in the fifth inning. The
score was tied, with runners on second and third bases with two out, when
"Eddie" Collins, the fast second baseman of the Athletics, and a dangerous
hitter, came to the bat. I realized that I was skating on thin ice and was
putting everything I had on the ball. Collins hit a slow one down the
first base line, about six feet inside the bag.
With the hit, I ran over to cover the base, and Merkle made for the ball,
but he had to get directly in my line of approach to field it. Collins,
steaming down the base line, realized that, if he could get the decision
at first on this hit, his team would probably win the game, as the two
other runners could score easily. In a flash, I was aware of this, too.
"I'll take it," yelled Merkle, as he stopped to pick up the ball.
Seeing Merkle and me in front of him, both heavy men, Collins knew that he
could not get past us standing up. When still ten or twelve feet from the
bag, he slid, hoping to take us unawares and thus avoid being touched. He
could then scramble to the bag. As soon as he jumped, I realized what he
hoped to do, and, fearing that Merkle would miss him, I grabbed the first
baseman and hurled him at Collins. It was an old-fashioned, football
shove, Merkle landing on Collins and touching him out. A great many of the
spectators believed that I had interfered with Merkle on the play. As a
matter of fact, I thought that it was the crisis of the game and knew
that, if Collins was not put out, we would probably lose. That football
shove was a brand new play to me in baseball, invented on the spur of the
second, but it worked.
In minor leagues, there are fewer games in which a "break" comes. It does
not develop in all Big League contests by any means. Sometimes one team
starts to win in the first inning and simply runs away from the other club
all the way. But in all close games the pinch shows up.
It happens in many contests in the major leagues because of the almost
perfect baseball played. Depending on his fielders, a manager can play for
this "break." And when the pinch comes, it is a case of the batter's nerve
against the pitcher's.
Next: Big League Pitchers And Their Peculiarities
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