FLUSHING, NY – Much like a captain of a nuclear submarine, the most powerful man on the baseball diamond is the starting pitcher. He’s the one in control with the ability to set the tempo of the game and can make opposing batters quake in their Nike’s.
Some, like Johan Santana, make it very clear who is in charge out there, as he has a certain sneer when he is on the mound. When No. 57 pitches, it’s obvious that he will control the at-bat and not the opposing batter and if some wayward hitter decides otherwise, then a message will be sent.
But Santana is an ace, and most elite pitchers are like that. We saw it with Pedro Martinez and Doc Gooden. Back in the day, Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman would brush back opposing batters at will. Yet that was a different time and there are some rules against that now.
The attitude is still there, though, and maybe we are now seeing “the sneer” with Mike Pelfrey. A talented pitcher, who has made great strides over the past 12 months to become what the Mets expected when they picked him ninth overall in 2005.
Yet, Pelfrey never seemed to have the demeanor to match his stuff. A very nice guy in person, you had to wonder if he had the bulldog in him to match his hard sinker. But he does have a good teacher and Pelfrey has gone to the Mets resident master for advice.
“[Santana] was giving me advice on how to control the tempo of the game,” said Pelfrey and when he said tempo he probably meant attitude.
It seemed to work too. In last night’s start, Pelfrey barked at Chase Utley in the sixth for stepping out on him during the windup.
“I was ready to make a pitch and he called timeout,” Pelfrey said after the Mets’ 5-4 loss in 11 innings. “My mind was locked in and the adrenaline was going and I wanted to make a pitch. I got upset and told him to get in the box.”
Although he and Utley said there was no bad blood between them, you can see the purpose. Utley, who hit a homer earlier in the game and then knocked out the game winner in the 11th was trying to control the at-bat. Pelfrey was having nothing of it and made it known to the All-Star second baseman.
It’s that type of attitude Pelfrey needs if he wants to take his game to the next level. To become a member of the elite, a starter not only needs to have good stuff but also needs to be feared. Santana has it, as does Roy Holladay and even CC Sabathia. And now Pelfrey is learning it too.
Even though Pelfrey was frustrated with the timeout, he was sending a message by barking at Utley: “Don’t mess with me.”
When that notice goes through the National League, Pelfrey will then be able to not only be able to win on stuff, he will also be able to win on reputation.
Then he will become an elite.