Where was Mike Matheny when I needed him?
Unfortunately, he hadn’t been born yet — not when I was standing on the mound in search of a pitch that could get in on Bruce Somers’ knuckles.
Maybe Mike’s parents were thinking about it, anyhow — about having a son, I mean, not about how to get Bruce to hit a soft ground ball.
All of these people have been in my head recently, along with the ace of the Seattle Mariners pitching staff.
See, the story here is that there are a lot of advantages to be being left-handed.
Baseball organizations are always searching for that special lefty who can throw a hook — the pitch you see that seems to start off behind a left-handed hitter’s ear, then snaps hard, down and over the plate.
To hit that pitch, you need more than hand-eye coordination.
You need blind, crazy courage.
Back in the day, I could throw that thing and scare hitters to death. What’s more, I didn’t mind if a guy got clipped on the shoulder or chin once in a while.
It tends to sap the next hitter’s motivation.
But there was just one problem with being a lefty at the time I was trying to make it in professional baseball.
THE ISSUE was right-handed hitters.
Oh, I could get a lot of them out because, like a lot of left-handers, I can’t throw the ball straight.
When the ball comes out of my hand naturally — no matter what speed — it tends to veer left and then down.
It’s actually a great pitch if you can spot it properly.
The ball looks like it’s heading straight across the plate, the hitter lines it up, the thing fades a bit and...
Ground ball to shortstop.
Now, if you have overpowering stuff and can run the ball up there at 98 mph with a sink to it, you don’t worry about trying to nip the corners of the plate.
You just let the thing fly and take your chances.
I couldn’t do that, and during a press conference the other day, I listened to Marco Gonzales explain that he couldn’t do it, either.
And yet Marco was sitting next to Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto, happily accepting a $30 million extension to his contract.
I listened and thought: If Gonzales can’t throw above 90, and he’s been making a living with the same pitch I used to paint that outside corner...
What does he do with right-handed hitters who know what’s coming and start leaning over the plate?
That was the pitch I never mastered.
I tried a slider that was supposed to dive down and in toward right-handers, but could never really control it.
So I became a struggling journalist.
Marco Gonzales, meanwhile, is now earning enough money to buy the entire golf course I can see outside my window.
THE HUGE difference these days is that pitchers like Marco have learned to throw a cutter.
For a lefty who doesn’t have that unhittable gas, it’s become a great equalizer.
Essentially, the pitch is released like a fastball and LOOKS like a fastball, but in the last 10 feet or so before reaching the plate, the ball veers to the pitcher’s glove side.
In other words, if I’d been able to throw a cutter back when I needed to get out Bruce Somers, the ball would have moved slightly in toward him — hitting his bat right on the handle.
I needed Mike Matheny back then.
Now, there’s no question that Yankees Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera mastered the cutter beyond anyone’s dreams. He simply threw it on every pitch and dared you to hit it.
However, clever dudes like Matheny have learned how to TEACH the pitch, which he did as a catcher and then manager with the St. Louis Cardinals — where he happened to be when Marco Gonzales came into the organization just a few years ago.
Gonzales was a savvy young lefty right from his days at Gonzaga, but adding that cutter to his arsenal has made him one of the game’s more reliable starters.
Marco was one of only seven pitchers in the majors to log 200 innings last season.
He’s got plenty of bullets, and an easy delivery that made the Mariners believe that he’ll hold up well as the ace of a staff that hopefully will be in pennant races soon.
It’s a nice story and I’m a Marco fan, but...
If only somebody had taught me a cutter.
Steve Cameron’s “Cheap Seats” columns for The Press appear on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. He also contributes the “Zags Tracker” package on Gonzaga basketball each Tuesday.
Steve’s various tales from several decades in sports — “Moments, Memories and Madness” — run on Sundays.