They say that baseball is a game of inches, or centimeters if you find yourself in the British Isles. You could take that old baseball adage and apply it in so many ways, but basically it juxtaposes the reality of how easily the game can change on a dime or how suddenly the momentum in a game can shift.
But for now I want to shift your focus back to the Mets and our newest addition Vic Black.
The New York Times ran an interesting story about him yesterday, and it touches on how he reinvented himself by adding one small and odd movement to his delivery – a glove tap.
That said, it’s amazing how the most subtlest change in a batter’s swing or a pitcher’s delivery can transform a player from being plain old mediocre to an All Star caliber performer.
Vic Black’s career as a pitcher was unsettled in 2011. His fastball fell to 88 miles per hour from 97. As a 23-year-old right-handed reliever pitching in an age of power arms, throwing a pedestrian 88 m.p.h. was not going to get him out of Class A ball. It was more likely to run him out of baseball.
But one afternoon in Jupiter, Fla., while playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Class A team, Bradenton, Black was throwing what he called a “mindless bullpen session,” trying to find a career switch to flip. He patted his glove with the ball in his right hand in mid-windup during warm-ups, like always, and threw a pitch while the pitching coach Mike Steele was looking on.
“Do that,” Black said Steele told him.
“You mean pat my glove,” Black said.
“Yes,” Steele said.
“It’s not illegal?” Black said.
“No, we don’t care what you do, try it,” Steele said.
It was an audacious move because Black had always used a normal windup without patting his glove in mid-windup. So he toed the rubber and patted his glove in mid-windup for Steele. The ball flew out of his hand. Black, who is now throwing in the 90s again, stood there stunned. He threw another pitch, then another and then another. The catcher, Ramon Cabrera, who is now in the Tigers’ organization, looked like a hockey goalie diving around, trying to prevent wild pitches.
Black stayed in the bullpen for a week to work on his control, and then in his first outing he pitched an inning and struck out two and got a groundout. “I hadn’t had two strikeouts in an inning in a long time,” said Black, whom the Mets acquired from the Pirates on Aug. 27 as part of a trade for Marlon Byrd. “It was just 100 times better. Your body responds to it, your mind responds to it, you feel free again.”
By now most of you know that, the Mets originally drafted the 6-foot-4 righthander in the 41st round of the 2006 draft, but he opted to go to college and eventually was drafted 49th overall by the Pirates three years later. Now he finds himself with the team that coveted him in the first place. It’s funny how things work out that way…
While it’s pretty much established that Bobby Parnell is the Mets’ closer, there is at least a small modicum of uncertainty regarding the bulging disc that is giving him pain in his upper back and neck. Surgery has yet to be ruled out.
Enter Black, who has one goal in mind and that is to become a major league closer.
“Personality and approach-wise, it just fits me to be a closer,” Black said. “It’s the path I want to keep going down. This is my new family, I want to do well with them, doing whatever they need. I’ll throw whenever they need me to throw.”
Hopefully, Parnell returns this Spring healthy and ready to go. But in the off chance that he doesn’t, the Mets may have themselves a potential option in Black if the need arises.
So far, the 25-year old has made two appearances, both of them high-pressure situations, and each time he did his job while stranding five runners in the process.
Picking him up in that Marlon Byrd/John Buck deal may have been a smart and very shrewd move by Sandy Alderson.