Most relief pitchers good enough to last eight seasons in the Major Leagues will have careers that look roughly as bizarre as Cory Gearrin’s. Some of those relievers are closers or setup aces or multi-inning firemen types, and they’ll have a more linear lot and make more money, but for the ones living a tranche down-market like Gearrin, the general rule is that things will be weird. Relief pitching is inherently so variable, and pitchers like Gearrin are both just reliable and just unreliable enough to deliver any number of outcomes, that the only real guarantee is that anyone who sticks around long enough will have both a very good and a very bad season. There’s also a 50/50 chance that they either grow their hair out to questionable effect or show up one season with a preposterously ill-considered sleeve of tattoos, but let’s stick to the baseball.
Gearrin had his good and bad seasons back to back: in 2017, when he was 31, Gearrin was the best reliever on the Giants and, by WAR, one of the most valuable relievers in all of baseball. The underlying metrics suggest that he was mostly just Cory Gearrin—decent at limiting hard contact but too wild by half, just middling enough to be affordable and healthy enough to be available. The next year, Gearrin was pretty much the same pitcher but gave up homers more than twice as often as he had in his previous six seasons. He got traded twice and Oakland non-tendered him shortly after Thanksgiving rather than pay him the $2.4 million he was projected to get in arbitration. All perfectly random, all familiar relief pitcher stuff.
But on Monday night, Gearrin finally became a Made Guy in reliever terms when something unprecedented and nonsensical happened to him. While warming up in the seventh inning of what wound up being an extra-inning Mariners win over the A’s, umpires delayed the game for several minutes because they were concerned that Gearrin’s retooled delivery—which he had used in 19 previous appearances this season—contained an illegal toe-tap. All of this happened before Gearrin was allowed to throw even one pitch.
Instant replay was involved, a phone call was placed to New York, both managers were consulted, and half the umpiring team kind of just stood there making cop faces at Gearrin while he went through his warm-up tosses. Gearrin and manager Scott Servais seemed too confused to get especially mad about it, and in the end the umpires concluded that Gearrin would be allowed to pitch if he did so without the toe-tap. He did his best—“It’s basically changing your delivery,” he later told the Seattle Times, “but I just tried to make it as comparable as possible”—and gave up two hits and no runs. It was, in every way besides the unprecedented moment of administrative panic that preceded it, both a perfectly Cory Gearrin outing and exactly the sort of thing that happens to pitchers like Cory Gearrin. And so is this:
The only reason that anyone will remember any of this is that, while the review was going on, Mariners second baseman Dee Gordon delivered a brilliant bit of comedic face-acting—the stalwart GIFsmith C.J. Fogler was the first to spot it—that deftly progressed through several stages of incredulity in just a few seconds.
Just as no one really cares about the game from which the unfadeable Alonzo Mourning Acceptance GIF originated, so will Cory Gearrin’s toe-tap be lost to time. Gordon’s GIF is really good—if I could buy stock in it, I would—and as viable a contender for Mourning-esque ubiquity as any I can think of. But let it be known here, before the moment that gave birth to the GIF disappears into obscurity: this was all Cory Gearrin’s doing.