The wonderful world of 1/3 IP starts
Felix Hernandez has now done it twice. Roger Clemens did it once. Even the great Nolan Ryan pulled the trick. Welcome to the 1/3 of an inning start: epitome of embarrassment. You're probably not surprised to hear that even I, with my career 6.84 ERA as starting pitcher, have done it.
You've waited your four days, and finally it's your turn to lead your team to victory. You have your eyes set on a complete game, maybe seven innings at the worst, but the goal is simple: go deep and win.
And then you don't.
My fourth start in the major leagues was a big one for me, my first win. I threw seven shutout innings and we beat the Phillies 1-0. Curt Schilling was the opposing starter, it was on national television, and Philadelphia had the best record in the majors. I was riding high.
My fifth start in the major leagues, against the Giants, offered a big piece of humble pie.
I lasted just 1/3 of an inning. I walked the first batter of the game, Darren Lewis, on four pitches. He stole second. Robby Thompson laid down a sacrifice bunt to me, score it 1-3. That would be the last out I would record.
From there the hit parade started: single (Bonds), single (Carreon), double (Hill), double (Clayton), double (Scarsone) ... and seven batters in, my day was over. The outing was ugly: 5 hits, 5 runs, 3 stolen bases, 1 walk, no strikeouts.
That day was bad, and the next was even worse. You have to wait four more days for redemption. You also have to look your teammates in the eye. The bullpen just had to pick up 8 2/3 innings, so those guys aren't thrilled either.
I was just over a year removed from college and had never failed like that in my life. These kinds of days can be tough on a pitcher.
The next day I was having a conversation with John Smiley, who in my short tenure in Cincinnati my rookie year, served as somewhat of a mentor. I was green and determined and at one point I looked at him and said, "I'll never pitch that bad again." I was 22 and seemingly had quite a few years ahead of me in this game. Smiley just laughed and laughed. I was perplexed. What did he know that I didn't? That this game is hard.
My determination was admirable, but the reality is that awful outings happen to bad, and even good, starting pitchers. One-third of an inning is as bad as it gets. Well, I guess 0 innings iis worse, but thanks to Robby Thompson's bunt I'll never have that story to tell.
Long live the sac bunt!