OBSERVATIONS: Another ‘feel good’ tale from baseball’s playoffs

By Hal McCoy

UNSOLICITED OBSERVATIONS from The Man Cave after a belly-stuffing Western Omelette breakfast at Mom’s Restaurant in Franklin, where eggs fight each other to jump into a skillet.

—The ‘Feel Good’ stories just keep surfacing during baseball’s post-season. And is there a better one than that owned by Atlanta relief pitcher Tyler Matzek?

Matzek was the Colorado Rockies No. 1 draft pick in 2009 with a bright future, everybody thought. Then the anxiety attacks began and Matzek contracted the ‘yips,’ which meant he couldn’t throw a pitch to home plate within the same zip code.

He slid down baseball’s minor league pole until he was at the bottom and he nearly quit. His wife convinced him to keep trying. So he did.

He signed last year with an independent team in Grand Prairie, Tex. called the Texas AirDogs. Believe it or not, the AirDogs are run by Billy Martin Jr., a son to the famous and infamous Billy Martin. And he turned Matzek around.

Martin convinced Matzek to return to the higher arm angle he employed early in his career.

“That one little thing changed my command and my velocity — everything,” Matzek said. “Then I just continued to throw, throw, throw. I think that got the yips out of me.”

So how did he land with the Braves?

In the summer of 2019, Braves bench coach Walt Weiss was studying the organization’s minor-league scouting reports when he came across a familiar name. It was the name of a pitcher Weiss had on his team when he managed Colorado.

“I was reading one of our box scores from our Double-A team in Jackson (Miss.), and it said, ‘Matzek,’ ” Weiss told the Denver Post. “I thought, ‘Well, that can’t be him.’ I hadn’t heard from Tyler in four or five years. I just assumed he wasn’t in the game any more. But sure enough, it was him. Man, what an incredible journey.”

The Braves signed him last year as a free agent and now the left handed Matzek pitches in middle relief for the Braves and has been untouchable and he has turned the yips into zips.

They say if you are a left handed pitcher and your arm is still attached to your shoulder you will always have a job in baseball. In this case, Matsek earned everything he is getting.

What Matzek suffered is known as The Steve Blass Disease, named after the former Pittsburgh Pirates star pitcher turned legendary broadcaster. And it is a malady suffered by Steve Sax, Mark Wohlers, Rick Ankiel and Chuck Knoblauch — guys who suddenly needed GPS to hit their targets.

In 1971, Blass pitched complete game victories in Games 3 and 7 of the World Series. He won 19 games in 1972. Then came 1973 — 84 walks and 12 hit batsman in 88 2/3 innings and a 9.85 earned run average. He never found a cure and retired to the broadcast booth.

—A Cincinnati Reds pitcher led the MLB with his four-seam fastball. Hitters batted only .068 against his four-seamer, lowest in baseball. Who was it? Trevor Bauer? No. Sonny Gray? No. Luis Castillo? No.

It was the guy with the upper arms the size of battleship guns, Michael Lorenzen.

Prediction: If/when Trevor Bauer and Anthony DeSclafani defect via free agency, Lorenzen will start next season in the Reds rotation, which is where he wants to go. Oh, and he wants to play center field when he isn’t pitching.

—Houston manager Dusty Baker, his team down three games to none to the Tampa Bay Rays, had this simplistic solution for the Astros to get back into it: “We have to tighten our belts, put on our big boys pants and go out there fighting.”

I checked the tapes and, sure enough, the Astros were not wearing those 1975 Chicago White Sox clam-digger shorts. They already were wearing their big boys pants. But I couldn’t see how tight their belts were.

—This is not a paid political announcement, it is just a personal message from Peter Edward Rose:

“How is Barry Bonds not in the Hall of Fame? How is Roger Clemens, who won seven Cy Youngs, not in the Hall of Fame? Or how about me, I’ve got the most hits, I’ve got the most of a lot of things, and we’re not in the Hall of Fame. Does that damper the Hall of Fame, the fact that the guy with the most home runs and the guy with the most Cy Youngs and the guy with the most hits aren’t part of that fraternity?”

Fact: Rose, Bonds and Clemens have as much memorabilia in the Cooperstown Museum as any players. They just don’t have the ‘official’ plaque. But the reason, Pete, is fairly (or unfairly) obvious.

—The Chicago White interviewed Tony LaRussa, 76, for their open managerial spot. I checked with Jack McKeon, a month away from 90, and he said he is ready to manage again.

McKeon would like to break the record of Connie Mack, who retired from managing the Philadelphia A’s in 1950 at age 87. Mack never wore a baseball uniform. He managed in a suit, tie and either a bowler hat or a straw boater hat with a rolled up scorecard in his hand.

QUOTE: From Connie Mack to rookie Jimmy Dykes when Mack took him out of his first game: “I suppose you know why I took you out. You see, the American League record for striking out is five times in one game and I didn’t want you to tie it in your very first game.”

—A line from Satchel Paige, a pitcher I was fortunate to once see on the mound for the St. Louis Browns in 1953 in Cleveland Municipal Stadium when he was ‘allegedly’ 47 years old: “I can nick frosting off a cake with my fastball.”

He also said he could throw a strike across a postage stamp.

And he also said about pitching against the speedy Cool Papa Bell in the Negro Leagues: “One time he hit a line drive right past my ear. I turned around and saw the ball hit his ass sliding into second.”

Satchell said a lot of things, most of them very funny.

—Is there anything, and I mean anything, they can’t measure in baseball these days — even stuff that means absolutely nothing?

For example, when the Los Angeles Dodgers scored 11 runs in the first inning against Atlanta, StatCast announced that the Dodgers hit five balls in that inning that left their bats at 105 miles an hour or more.

And, they said, it was the first time in StatCast history that a team had five players hit balls at more than 105 miles an hour in any inning of any postseason game.

Big deal. Nobody hits the ball harder than New York Yankees slugger Giancarlos Stanton. He hit the hardest recorded home run in history and it happened this year. It left the bat at 121.3 miles an hour and traveled 483 feet, landing at the feet of the Statue of Liberty.

That, though, was not the highest exit velocity recorded so far. Stanton owns that one, too. It was 123.9 miles per hour in 2016 against the Minnesota Twins. And you know what it was? It was a ground ball, a 6-4-3 double play. Twins shortstop Jorge Polanco still has a swollen palm.

Some days you just hit the ball too hard.

One thought on “OBSERVATIONS: Another ‘feel good’ tale from baseball’s playoffs”

  1. What an opportunity! – to see Satchel Paige… “Don’t look back. Someone might be gaining on you.” These are words I literally live by – ha.

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