It’s often stated that pitchers are weird, which helps explain why they tend to wet themselves every time it’s even suggested they need to change their routine. Just watch what happens when MLB tries to put in a pitch clock next season. The streets will run yellow with hurler urine!
But there’s a reason for that. No one is more on their own than pitchers. The game starts with them, pauses with them, moves at their pace. And when things go wrong for a team, they’re the first to blame. Baseball is a “team” sport only in name, only really masquerading as such to conceal that it’s an individual sport. Everyone is on the same team, but when a pitcher is on the mound he can only feel the loosest connection to the seven fielders behind him. Most of what they do is after he’s completed his task, and vice versa. A pitcher can only really count on himself, which leads to the tics and behavior of someone who’s lived in their own head for their entire career.
That feeling of isolation goes both ways for sure. When a pitcher is dealing he must feel above everyone on the field, which he literally is, as if he’s conducting an orchestra while also playing all the instruments. The fielders move to where he wants them, thanks to contact he induced exactly the way he planned. The hitters dance to his tune and are swiftly making right turns back to the dugout.
Nathan Eovaldi was on the opposite end of the spectrum last night. The second inning against Houston went just a tad balls-up:
Eovaldi is only the third pitcher to give up five home runs in an inning. One wonders what the emotional stages were for him. A leadoff homer to Yordan Alvarez is no big thing, but then the next hitter reached on an error. Perhaps to a vet like Eovaldi this wouldn’t trigger any feelings of discomfort or suspicion, but there might have been a twinge. Then Kyle Tucker took him deep, and it was officially a shitty inning. No big deal, Eovaldi must have thought. He’s had shitty innings before. Get out here and it’s just a run-of-the-mill shitty inning.
But then two pitches later, Jeremy Peña was taking him out beyond the wall. Now Eovaldi must’ve noticed the abnormality. Three homers, four runs, 11 pitches. At this point one would have to feel cautious about throwing anything toward the plate, fearing that it’s destined to be blasted at high velocity the opposite direction. Except that’s the job. That’s the only job. Even with a restless Fenway crowd staring daggers at you and cursing your name, and your teammates wondering if the rest of the night is now a waste, you still have to chuck the baseball toward another hitter. Even if you’re sure it’s destined to be a disaster, you still have to go through with it.
Eovaldi got the next hitter out, and must’ve thought maybe the waters were settling, and this would just go down as a really bad inning he could recover from. But then five pitches later there were two runners on, and Eovaldi would have had to be sure he didn’t have anything to offer. But there was no help coming. How lost can one be knowing he doesn’t have the stuff to get the hitters he is due to face out, and yet must try anyway? This is as close as sports get us to actually watching Sisyphus. Except instead of a boulder rolling down a hill, it’s a much smaller sphere being propelled out of the field of play. And yet Eovaldi had no choice but to try and get that sphere “up his hill,” knowing it was pointless now.
Michael Brantley would be the next to Gashouse Gorilla around the bases. At this point, Eovaldi must’ve been hoping the Astros would just declare and end the inning out of boredom. His infielders must’ve felt 100 yards away, and might as well have been considering where the ball was landing. He couldn’t help them, they couldn’t help him. There was no rescue.
By the time Yuri Gurriel added the fifth homer, Eovaldi must’ve been numb. He could have come out the other side. He knew it was lost, knew he was cannon fodder, and by this point it was just about just going through the motions. Perhaps randomness would save him. A hitter just missing a pitch because. Maybe a tremor would open up a crevice in the field he could fall into. Maybe a flash thunderstorm. But it couldn’t get worse, so you just do your job because it has to be done.
Still, standing on that mound, which puts you above everyone else and thus the most visible, watching everything you offer labeled “terrible” in the most violent and obvious way possible, knowing everyone is watching only you…that has to be what it’s like to be in the center of a black hole. Nothing to see, nothing to hold onto, just a vacuum all around you. The downside of an individual sport is that sometimes, you are alone.
Speaking of being embarrassed, Katie Strang once again got to show the world what a mockery the Arizona Coyotes are making of themselves. Highlights of the Yotes’ agreement with ASU to play in their warehouse that they’ll charge their 17 fans hundreds of dollars per game to enter include a good behavior clause. Which means any headlines like we’ve seen — toxic workplace, the “I totally remember sending the check” defense to unpaid taxes, or whatever else — would allow Arizona State to boot the Coyotes out. They even have to pay their rent up front like a renter with bad credit.
The kicker on a nightly basis will be that the Coyotes aren’t allowed to put their logo at center ice. So every time anyone puts on a Yotes game, they’ll be instantly reminded that not only were they booted out of their own arena, and have to share with a college, and play in a larger version of that fieldhouse in your town where all the rec leagues are, that they are merely guests. It’s not even their warehouse. They had to move in with their younger sibling and sleep on a college apartment couch that assuredly has vomit on the underside of one cushion at minimum. And they still have to supply the fridge.
Good look for everyone all around.