So I had this whole big Broadway production number planned about the history of the screwball in honor of surprise A's starter Dallas Braden, only to discover via the Chronicle's game report that the rookie hardly even used the screwgie. So now what I'm supposed to write about? Nick Swisher's hamstring? I'll take a pass, thanks.
So instead, here's an up-close-and-personal look at the pitch Dallas Braden didn't throw all that much of. I'll be damned if I unearthed my copy of The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers for nothing.
Rob Neyer concludes his chapter on the screwball by writing, "when you see one, treasure the moment. Because it may be your last." A's fans have actually seen a bit of the screwball in recent years -- before Braden came along, Jim Mecir relied on the pitch, though I'm not sure Jim Mecir on the mound is a moment that any A's fan should be expected to treasure.
I also happened to live in Los Angeles during the height of Fernandomania. I was but a lad at the time, though I remember two things about Fernando Valenzuela's screwball: 1) He learned it from Bobby Castillo, which is undoubtedly Castillo's greatest accomplishment in baseball; and 2) Every time Valenzuela threw the screwgie, my father predicted dire arm troubles were in his future.
Turned out my old man was right. Indeed in his Guide to Pitchers chapter, Neyer lists some of the great screwball specialists in history, noting that really only Mike Cuellar pitched effectively into his late thirties. Christy Mathewson, Carl Hubbell, Fernando -- all of them kept pitching to one degree or another, but they all became fairly average pitchers as they hit their early- to mid-30s.
It is not so hard to figure out why screwball pitchers don't enjoy Satchel Paige-like bouts of longevity, according to Neyer:
If you don't believe that throwing a screwball puts a strain on your arm, I want you to conduct a little experiment (don't worry, it'll take just a few seconds and doesn't involve a Bunsen burner).
First raise your right arm, with your elbow pointing toward third base (work with me here) and your hand pointing straight up.
Now, quickly bring your hand forward and downward, and just as your arm is nearly straight, twist your wrist violently clockwise, so that your palm winds up facing skyward and your thumb is pointing toward third base.
Not bad, huh? That was a curveball.
Now, start over and do the same thing... except instead of twisting your wrist clockwise, twist it counter-clockwise.
Hurts a little, doesn't it? That's a screwball.
So that's one reason you don't see that pitch much these days -- it hurts like hell over time and there are other pitches (the split-finger fastball, its cousin the forkball, and the circle change) that more or less do the same thing with the added benefit of not crippling you. Also, Neyer points out, it's not the easiest pitch in the world to learn.
Now how Dallas Braden picked up the pitch given all these obstacles, I do not know. But I'm hoping those details emerge the longer he sticks with the club. I also hope to see just how big a part of his repertoire the screwball actually is -- might be worth a trip out to the Coliseum Sunday to see for myself.
In the meantime, as Ryan noted in February, the A's are amassing themselves quite the impressive army of gimmick pitches -- screwball-tossing Dallas Braden, side-arming Jay Marshall, and Kaz Tadano and his amazing, stupefying eephus pitch. Quick -- someone teach Chad Gaudin to throw the hesitation pitch or Justin Duchscherer to toss one of them Bugs Bunny one-two-three-strikes-yer-out slowballs, and we'll be assured of having the most colorful pitching staff in the league, if nothing else.
Game 20: A's 4, Orioles 2
Your Pitchers of Record: WP -- D. Braden (1-0) LP -- J. Guthrie (1-1) S -- H. Street (6)
Went Deep: N/A
Your Coca-Cola Star of the Game: Six innings of three hit ball with only an Aubrey Huff triple to spoil the whitewash is a pretty nice Major League Debut, especially for someone who started the month in the Texas League. So Dallas Braden gets the nod here, screwball or no.
The Turning Point: In a game in which none of the A's four runs were actually plated by hits, I'll go with the Melvin Mora miscue in the first that turned a likely double-play ball into the A's first run of the game (while setting the stage for Todd Walker's sac fly that put Oakland up 2-0). That gave Braden all the cushion he needed, and it was probably a lot easier on the rookie to take the field with a two-run lead before he ever threw a pitch.
We would also be remiss if we did not mention the bases-loaded, two-out situation in the sixth in which Brian Roberts fielded a potentially inning-ending Jason Kendall grounder -- and then threw to a base that no one was actually covering. They scored it a fielder's choice because you can't zap people with errors for mentally booting the ball, but still -- a really dumb play.
Combine those mistakes with the base-running and bunting blunders from Monday night and the Orioles played a really sloppy series. Anyone can have a bad couple of days, I suppose, but right now, I bet there's a Baltimore-based analogue to me who's writing a much more strongly worded game summary about all this.
Travis Buck's wrists -- both of 'em -- hurt, though not enough to keep him out of the field in the ninth when the prospect of having Marco Scutaro patrolling right became too odious for Bob Geren to bear. And apparently Bobby Kielty's calf is sore.
Phil's Phun Phacts: By grabbing the W, Braden became the first A's pitcher to win his Major League debut since Aaron Harang on May 25, 2002 against Tampa. Note the six-out save recorded by our friend Chad Bradford.
Courtesy of Deadspin, we learned this week that the Orioles relief staff has sought to build team solidarity by growing mustaches that comply with the team's policy on facial hair. Most of us just would have organized a post-game mixer or something. According to the Baltimore Sun article, the Brotherhood of Mustachioed Orioles has spread beyond the bullpen to include Aubrey Huff, Jay Gibbons, and, of course, Kevin Millar, who would take the field wearing a fright wig and big floppy clown shoes if he thought it might draw attention to him.
Huston Street Grows More Powerful With Fatigue: Tuesday marked Huston Street's third consecutive appearance, after shaky stints against the Rangers and Team Mustache in his previous outings. I don't seem to recall Street having the most encouraging of track records when pressed into service on back-to-back-to-back occasions -- I have no actual link to back this up -- so I figured the ninth inning would be an unmitigated disaster.
Nope. One-two-three inning, and perhaps Street's easiest save of the year. This is why I shouldn't be let anywhere near a dugout.
All in All: A 3-2 road trip is nothing to pout about, and now the A's come home with the chance to rack up some wins against Seattle and Tampa. I'll be there tonight in the cheap seats, loading up on dollar hot dogs and hoping that somewhere on the flight back from Baltimore, Joe Blanton picked up a knuckleball.