By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — It was neither shocking nor even surprising to see 23-year-old Tyler Mahle wearing old school black Converse All-Star sneakers late Monday afternoon as he stood in a tee-shirt answering questions from the media.
What he did and how he did it a few minutes before the interview was old-school through-and-through.
Showing no emotion, no histrionics, barely twitching an eyebrow, Mahle icily dissected his way through a loaded Chicago Cubs lineup Monday afternoon, pitching the Cincinnati Reds to a 1-0 victory.
Mahle sawed off the Cubs on one hit, two walks and seven strikeouts and acting along the way as if it was just another game in Pensacola.
“This is the day-and-age where there is a lot of expressive outbursts of emotion in baseball, while it was a pretty stoic game 20, 30, 40 years ago,” said Reds manager Bryan Price. “There is something, though, to be said about a real professional approach and not a lot of ebb and flow to a young pitcher. He is stoic, but extremely competitive while being reserved and staying in the moment. That’s one of the reason you are seeing a kid at his age, limited amount of experience, pitch so well against a club like the Cubs.”
There were many moments in this breath-holding game that could have melted a lesser person or cause them to explode in celebration.
Mahle walked the first batter of the game, hit the third batter, then calmly struck out Willson Contreras and Kyle Schwarber.
The only hit was a two-out triple by Javier Baez in the second, but Mahle routinely struck out opposing pitcher Tyler Chatwood, completing a three-strikeout inning.
He walked Schwarber with one out in the fourth, but shortstop Cliff Pennington made a diving stop on Addison Russell to start an inning-ending double play.
“You didn’t see it because you all were watching Pennington, but I gave a little fist pump after that play,” said Mahle, grinning under a pencil-thin mustache.
The Reds only run came in the fourth on a lead-off triple by Eugenio Suarez and a ground ball by Adam Duvall.
Amazingly, the Reds had only five hits, three by catcher Tucker Barnhart, who also helped out by throwing out Schwarber in the seventh inning when Addison Russell messed up a hit-and-run.
And Barnhart was the least surprised of all by what Mahle did.
“He did today what he did all spring,” said Barnhart. “He located his fastball and he continues to develop his breaking ball and his change-up is good as well. It wasn’t a surprise at all that he was able to execute the way that he did. To hold a team like that to no runs and one hit is extremely impressive.”
About Mahle’s massive maturity level, Barnhart smiled and said when asked if he has ever seen Mahle crack a grin or display a grimace while on the mound, “No, I haven’t. And I still haven’t. A lot of our guys are extremely composed for as young as they are. To see him do that today was awesome, and to be a part of it. You can never tell if he is in a bad situation or a good situation. He is always composed, something special that you can’t teach.”
Mahle left after six innings, followed by a 1-2-3 inning by Jared Hughes, two-thirds of a two-strikeout, one-walk inning by Wandy Peralta and 1 1/3 innings by closer Raisel Iglesias.
Iglesias walked the first batter he faced in the eighth, putting two on with two outs. But he struck out Anthony Rizzo. Then he went 1-2-3 in the ninth against Willson Contreras, Kyle Schwarber (strikeout) and Addison Russell (ground out to third).
Even though Hughes is only 32 and was around in the 1980s, he is a student of baseball history and what he saw of Mahle took him back to what it must have been like then.
“It was fantastic because he was locating his pitches to all four corners of the strike zone,” said Hughes. “Whatever pitch they wanted, he put it right where he wanted to put it. He is almost like that tough 1980s version of baseball. He is a tough egg and he reminds of the 80’s, even though I wasn’t born then.”
Mahle wasn’t born in the ‘80s. He was born in the 1994, so he never saw how the game was played then. But he acts like it.
“My calmness and composure doesn’t come from anything, really,” he said. “I guess that’s just the way I am. I’m just an easy laid-back guy.”
Pitching the way he did against a team that won a World Series two years ago with basically the same lineup, certainly must boost Mahle’s self-worth, right?
“Yeah, this gives me confidence,” he said. “But I’m already pretty confident in my stuff, especially from last year when I saw how my stuff played in the majors. And my stuff only got better in the off-season working on my change-up and slider. So, I’m pretty confident.”
And with that, he finished lacing his Converse All-Stars and shuffled out of the clubhouse with the demeanor of a Tom Seaver or a Tom Glavine.