Mike Mayers faced a perfect storm. As a reclamation project from thoracic outlet syndrome, he’d been struggling uphill for years. As mid-season call-up for one spot-start, he likely felt he had one chance to impress. Add to that, he would be pitching for a team on the bubble, gaining ground in their division and facing their wild-card opponent—more pressure. Also add that he would be pitching in 100-degree swamp heat he wasn’t used to, on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball, with his mom and dad in the stands. I imagine Mayers felt as much pressure as anyone ever has in a major league debut.
Yet his first pitch was a strike and a beauty—he tossed it back to Yadi to be put aside as a souvenir. He then threw fastballs at 93-95mph, marking the edges of the strike zone. The first hit against him was a soft liner up the middle. The second hit was a fought-off fastball that somehow made its way over the third base bag. Second and third, nobody out. Mayers threw harder, and his changeups began to float up or outside the zone. Third guy walked. Way more pressure now, and he started missing even with his fastball.
So this is where the situation gets really sucky for Mayers. All the pressure above, trouble getting his changeup to work, plus the loaded bases and no outs, and he’s even more rattled. His pinpoint fastball control meant little without an alternate pitch, and Gonzo sat on a changup up, got one, and crushed it. Post-grand-slam, I’m surprised Mayers was able to throw a strike at all, yet he did.
The reason it was beautiful, though, from a Cardinals point of view (and a human point of view, same thing) is that after he was pulled the Cardinals battled back for 6 of those nine runs; Wainwright talked to him and settled him down; and the best moment from our team captain, Yadi doubled and jokingly sped around second as though he might stretch to a triple. He trotted back to second and smiled broadly back to the dugout where a shellshocked Mayers stood waiting for some grace. Yadi gestured as if to say, “I was trying to do too much, lol” or “relax.” Open palms pumping down toward the ground like, “I know my limit.”
This big smile and bit of horseplay from the 11 year veteran who had been behind the plate when Mayers gave up 9 runs means everything not only to Mayers but to the team as they slog through a hot, grinding midsummer. But mostly to Mayers. Yadi’s big smile was the embodiment of leadership. It’s just a game, and truthfully, moments like these mean more to me than big championship wins. They say, “dude, you blew it spectacularly, and the game goes on.” I think we’ll see Mayers again.