It begins like this.
He rolls the ball in his right hand, with his thumb pushing along the red seams, making the ball rotate over the callus of his massive paw, until the seams are exactly in the right position…that familiar comfortable position to grab onto and hurl the sphere 96 mpg at the plate 60’ 6” away.
Wap! The sound of the cowhide sphere smacking into the leather catching mitt behind the plate.
It is the sound of unforgettable presence. You know exactly where you are when you hear that sound. It is pleasure.
There are few sounds that compare. Sure, the crack of a bat is a unique sound. But it is different from the really great player and the good player. Ted Simmons hit a heavy ball. The sound of his bat striking the ball was very different. It was ‘Thud’. Ryan Braun’s sound is magic. It is an explosive ‘Crack!’ and you know the ball is gone. ‘Bang’.
But it is that simple sound of the ball banging into that perfect pocket of the mitt that is unique.
On July 28, 1997, sitting at a nearly empty Milwaukee County Stadium, in an afternoon game which was a rescheduled game that became part of a day-night double header, Roger Clemens was on the mound for the Toronto Blue Jays. In this nearly empty stadium, the sound of his fastball hitting the catchers glove was astounding, resounding in the hollow stadium. It was so loud that the echo of emptiness must have been heard by all who were to oppose him that day. It is to this day, the loudest sound I have ever heard a baseball hitting a catcher’s glove make.
Advance to this spring.
Wily Peralta is a highly acclaimed 23 year old rookie with the Milwaukee Brewers. The sound of his 96 mpg fastball hitting the glove is nearly like that. This past Tuesday, he was on the mound in Wrigley Field for his second start of the season, a season where the Brew Crew relievers picked up where they left off early last year by giving up leads continuously. Axford is Axe-less. Michael Gonzalez, who the Brewers got from the Nationals in he off season is usually off. Tom Gorzelanny, another Nationals transfer has not been sharp. Tampa Bay acquisition Burke Badenhop is bad enough. Mark Rodgers is on the DL. Chris Narveson is on the DL. Jim Henderson appears o be the only relief pitcher that has his stuff his year. Yet on this frigid Tuesday evening, where a number of his team mates (Rickie Weeks, Jean Seguari, Ryan Braun, Norichika Aoki, Carlos Gomez, Yuniesky Betancourt and Jonathan Lucroy) were wearing ski masks to temper the cold, donning short sleeves, Peralta was mowing the Cubs down, with 5 strikeouts in 6 2/3rds innings. It was like watching Mitch Seavey, the 53 year old Iditarod winner, wear a tee shirt on the first leg of the Alaskan nightmare. His fastball on this night had that sound.
However, during the Alaskan race, there are tried and true dogs to team through to victory. Not all can make it on the long journey, but the reserves come through for the winners. With the Milwaukee Brewers, there has been a history of great relief pitching. Legendary Ken Sanders, in 1971, appeared in 83 games (a Brewer record to this day), winning 7 and saving 31 games. He also holds the Brewer record for most games finished in a season (77 in 1971).
Rollie Fingers was at the head of the class. In 1981, he won the coveted MVP, the firs relief pitch to do so. He also won the Relief Man of the Year award, The Sporting News Fireman of the Year award and the Joe Cronin Award for distinguished service. The Brewers all time relief leader, Dan Plesac held court. In 1989 (with 33 saves) he is chosen to the All-Star team, making him the first Brewers pitcher ever to be chosen three straight times. In seven years, Plesac holds the Brewers record for all time saves with the team (158).
In 1995, Mike Fetters converted his first 15 save opportunities to increase his consecutive save streak to a then club record 20. There was Doug Jones with 36 saves in 1997 and then little remembered Bob Wickman (37 saves in 1999). He earned an All-Star roster spot in 2000.
Dan Kolb in 2004 had 39 saves, a new franchise record and was named to the All-Star team. The next season, Derrick Turnbow earned 39 saves out of the bullpen. In 2007, Francisco Cordero had 44 saves (a new Brewer record at the time) and earned an All-Star position. In 2009, Trevor Hoffman had 37 saves.
In 2010, Hoffman earned his 600th career save in the very twilight of his career. Then in 2011, the “Beast Mode” Brewers had a great group of relievers, Takashi Saito, LaTroy Hawkins, Francisco Rodriguez and John Berton Axford (46 saves, tops in the National League).
Truth be told, the Milwaukee Brewers have had good relief pitching and closers in the past. But right now, even the explosive exploits of the Dominican Republic’s, 6’1”, 245 lb, flame thrower, cannot get the job done by himself.
The Brewers need, as it was almost all of last year, needs a savior.
They need it right now.
Peralta’s sound of suddenness should not go without victory.