It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Pitch


In Baseball Bugs, master hurler Bugs Bunny tosses a certain slow pitch that befuddles a whole line-up of monster mashers with one throw. They hack and lunge and cut and swipe, as the pitch just sputters along. In fact, Bugs strikes out the whole side with one pitch.

With his pinkie extended as if he's sipping tea with the Brahmin elite, Red Sox starting pitcher Tim Wakefield tosses his knuckleballs not much faster than old Bugs. Tonight, before a 34,951 paid, he baffled a whole lineup of Twins (Torii Hunter exempted), giving up but three hits and no runs through seven, in the Red Sox 2-0 victory.

Have you ever watched a knuckleball pitcher at the ballpark? It's like watching someone throw through antique glass, clear but wobbly. The ball doesn't just dip and tumble, but it veers left and right. The damn thing comes in between 60 and 70 mph, unless Wakefield chooses to uncork a 75 mph fastball. Sometimes, his throws appear high and inside to right-handers, and the batter dives back, only to watch in disbelief as the umpire calls a strike. Often, pitches--good pitches--skip on by the catcher (Wakefield's one of the few in history who've struck out four batters in an inning). Often they strike the batter (Wakefield led the league in hit batsmen twice, and is often in the double-digits). Always they're unpredictable.

Knuckleballers make the game schizophrenic. Tonight I sat awed as The Great Wakefield, the latest proponent of that cartoon pitch, kept the Twins off base, and then did a double take when Carlos Silva took the mound and everything righted itself again. A normal pitcher making normal swings. Batters not diving at strikes and taking normal swings as gravity and physics reasserted themselves.

With such an atmosphere, one might forget that Carlos Silva pitched one heck of a good game. Though he struck out but one and had only a single 1-2-3 inning in the second, he'd given up only two hits through five. The Twins fielded their positions with aplomb (including a sharp play in the third, when Jason Bartlett gunned down the slow-footed Doug Mirabelli at the plate), and Silva didn't lose his head when a long, difficult fly bounced off Josh Rabe's glove for a two-out triple in the fifth. He ran the count to Julio Lugo full and then induced him to pop out to center.

But the fifth hit off Silva was the killer: sitting on a 1-1 count, David Ortiz unloaded one of Carlos' fastballs 423 feet into the upper deck in right. Papi trotted around the bases slowly, kissed God, and the game was over.

Sure, there were still four innings left for the Twins to try their luck (and the Sox actually won 2-0, pushing another run across in the ninth off Juan Rincon) but as a sullen scribe moaned in the pressbox after the blast: "The chances of rallying are low." Indeed.

Who can blame the Twins for this loss tonight? Wakefield struck out but one, letting the Twins bats flail at his knucklers. Powerful connections resulted in feeble grounders or weak flies against that unspinning ball. Sometimes you just get outplayed. Sometimes, as was the case tonight, you just get tricked, over and over and over again. Give Wakefield credit for keeping his career going with a pitch as wacky as that one. His knuckler can produce a game like this, or he'll miss and the pitch becomes a 65 mph warm-up toss, easily destroyed. Tonight, it was a yo-yo on a space shuttle. If the Gas-House Gorillas can't beat this type of throwing, how can we?

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