ATLANTA – Houston Astros reliever Kendall Graveman walked to the batter’s box in the ninth inning of Game 5 of the World Series, gleefully unaware of the significance of what was about to happen. Equally unconscious, Atlanta Braves pitcher Drew Smyly looked at Graveman from the mound. The story doesn’t just announce itself, after all, and in this case it was serendipitous; otherwise these two men, now bound for posterity, would surely have been paralyzed by the enormity of the moment.
Major League Baseball has given every indication that it will go to the universal designated hitter for the 2022 season, ending the American League’s 48-year reign as its sole owner. And if pitchers at-bats end, this is how they left us: Graveman, poised with nowhere to go. As he approached home plate from the waiting circle, Graveman found Braves catcher Travis d’Arnaud looking at him with “big eyes,” as Graveman put it. D’Arnaud didn’t expect to see Graveman, who pitched the last two innings of Houston’s 9-5 win, in this position.
Again: you don’t choose the story; chooses you.
“I was like, ‘This is weird,'” Graveman said.
Graveman had strict orders: don’t swing. However, he was up for the charade, choosing one of Alex Bregman’s bats, a pair of Bregman gloves and the helmet of fellow pitcher Jake Odorizzi. (Cooperstown will undoubtedly be in touch.) “And they threw an elbow guard at me,” he said, presumably saving a potential inability to dodge Smyly’s hard pitch quickly enough.
Occupying the right side of the batter’s cage, he dug a bit, feet apart a little more than shoulder-width apart, and took a couple of half practice swings. This was the seventh plate appearance of his career, but he’d seen enough in his seven major league seasons to know what he was supposed to look like. He tipped the bat over his shoulder, his red gloves glinting in the stadium lights, and he proceeded not to swing.
He did his job for six pitches, the first two strikes, the next three balls, the sixth and last an 87 mph cutter 2-3 inches above the bottom of the center strike zone. Perhaps it is appropriate that the last at-bat of a pitcher who is not named Shohei Ohtani was carried out just because the rules require someone to stand there, and even more appropriate that it was as useless as someone performing magic tricks in Radio.
“It was unique because they told me, ‘Don’t swing,'” Graveman said. “At the time, a part of me was like, man, as a competitor, I want to swing. But right now I can’t hurt an oblique or something. I haven’t hit in years. The kid in me enjoyed holding the bat and being standing there. There was about 49 percent of me that really wanted to swing on a pitch. But really, what good was it going to do at that point? “
It’s a safe assumption that no matter what pitching hitting provision the new collective bargaining agreement contains, this was Graveman’s last at-bat. In the blaze of the moment, he was able to recall his first: “In the fourth at-bat at Yankee Stadium because we had two people get hurt and we had to kill the designated hitter. And then potentially my last at-bat in the majors was in a World Series game. Two archived at-bats in my career. “
The epic Graveman-Smyly confrontation saved us from the prospect of fourth-inning hostility between AJ Minter and Jose Urquidy entering the all-time high. That one took place with one out and d’Arnaud, the Zelig of this historical chronicle, at first base. Urquidy pitched and Minter, a left-handed hitter, tried to touch the ball. Saying try is probably unfair, because Minter touched her: straight into the air, where she ended up in the glove of Astros catcher Martín Maldonado.
And while Graveman clearly stole the spotlight, Zack Greinke is at least a footnote from last weekend with pitchers hitting. In Game 4 on Saturday, he had the last (probably) hit from a pitcher hitting as a pitcher (again, not named Shohei Ohtani). He hit a ground ball hard that dodged the outstretched glove of an Ozzie Albies that dove behind second base. The ball rolled into center field, where it was picked up by Adam Duvall and tossed back to second base.
Greinke was also the (most likely) final practitioner of the legendary jacket ceremony. He stood up early and waited as the batter ran out of the third base dugout to present him with the Running Jacket, which Greinke dropped after he reached second base with two outs, a practical move intended to reduce the coefficient of drag if he needed to run to score from second. (Didn’t do it in the end)
Greinke, just to show off, followed that performance with a pinch single in the fourth inning of Game 4. He hit a solid line to right field for which, because he was not pitching, he was not given his running jacket.
And if this is truly the end, a cherished subculture of baseball will die with it. There were decades of batting practice betting, surprise home runs, false bravado, outright lies about hitting prowess.
And the touches. Never forget the touches we had along the way.
All those pitchers who spent all that time in the batter’s box served a greater purpose, one that will be difficult to replace. They came to the plate every second or third inning, ready or not, and they reminded us how damn difficult it is to hit major league pitchers. Most of them, not all, but most, were baseball’s version of the NFL kicker forced to attempt a tackle: totally out of his element, quite a challenge. These brave men – notable athletes who likely hit fourth in some lineup and made their way through high school – injected a dose of sober reality into the game for those of us who might venture to think anything is possible.
But all of that serves as disrespect for the Graveman moment. When it was all over, when the story was made and the count could begin, Graveman accepted the judgment of home umpire Ted Barrett without complaint. He removed Bregman’s gloves, returned Bregman’s bat to the rack, removed Odorizzi’s helmet, and unbuttoned his elbow guard. He could feel the personal gratification that comes with completing the task that has been entrusted to him, knowing that once that feeling dissipated, he could return to the mound, the job he was hired for, and wonder why it took so long for everyone to settle down. they realized that this was all a bad idea.