What goes through the mind of a pitcher prior to hitting (on accident) one of the best hitters to ever play the game? Well, let me tell you what went through mine before, during, and after.
In 2004 I was a rookie at the young age of 28. I had fought my way through the minor leagues and was making my third start in the big leagues. My previous two starts where a little shaky but good enough to get a third. I was starting to get a little more comfortable with the atmosphere and wanted to have a good outing. I had watched video of the Mariners prior to the game so I could put together a good game plan with each hitter. I knew that Ichiro Suzuki was going to make contact and put the ball in play somewhere so I was a little surprised when I found myself ahead in the count with two strikes on him. He was in the middle of a record breaking season so he was obviously swinging a hot bat. A strikeout didn’t seem like an attainable goal against him so I was shooting for weak contact but not too weak. In the video I watched prior to the game I saw a few at-bats showing Ichiro swinging through a high fastball. That pitch stuck in my head because it was so rare that he swing and missed. But again, I wasn’t going for a strikeout just semi-weak contact. So there I was, two strikes on a great hitter and my catcher calls a fastball inside. I agree with the pitch and think its the best option after throwing back to back change-ups. The inside fastball should allow me to induce the semi-weak contact and maybe even get him to pop it up. He can beat out a groundball but its pretty tough to beat out a pop up. As I nod to the catcher and start my delivery, the video images flash in my head of the slightly elevated fastball. Somewhere between striding towards home and releasing the baseball I decide I should elevate the pitch and go for the punchout. As the ball left my fingertips at around 90mph, I could see the precisely planned trajectory was way off. In my head was a voice screaming “heads up”, “look out”, and “take cover” but as the pitch sailed and hit Ichiro in the head I had these thoughts…
Thought 1. Please be OK
Thought 2. Please, Please be OK
Thought 3. Seriously, did that just happen?
Thought 4. Thank God he is moving and looks OK. Maybe it just grazed him.
Thought 5. Should I help him off the field?
Thought 6. Great, now one of my teammates are going to get hit.
Thought 7. Are you kidding me Jimmy. I should send myself back to the minor leagues.
Thought 8. Ok, get back to baseball. It was an accident.
As the game resumed, Ichiro was taken to the hospital for observation and the very next inning one our hitters was thrown behind (my bad). As you can imagine, after the game my phone was flooded with text messages and reporters asking why I hit Ichiro. I made sure everyone knew it was not intentional. After the game it was all over ESPN. I was concerned that his record setting season was in jeopardy but the next day we were rained out and Ichiro came back the day after and went 3 for 4. We played them again a few weeks later and I was able talk to him and apologize for the pitch and he was totally cool about it.
Additional Article HERE