Big League Stew - MLB

So, there's this pitch, "Sort of like a clubhouse legend," Oakland Athletics reliever Jay Witasick describes it, and it is called "the sizzler."

First reported by Susan Slusser in the San Francisco Chronicle, the sizzler mingles gyro-ball mystery (the baseball part) with Zen experiential wisdom (the long, mind-numbing hours in the bullpen part).

Anyway, I recently asked Witasick about the pitch, and thought the conversation would be best left untouched.

Y!: Jay, how did you and other A's pitchers develop your, uh, sizzlers?

JW (far-away look): "I don't think you work on this. I think you're born with the sizzler. It's not something you can perfect. I don't know, it's kind of odd. We have a couple spin-offs of the sizzler. There's Flo, Ron Flores, who throws the sizz-layo."

Y!: From the side?

JW (gazing to the horizon): "And we have another guy who throws the sizz-lette."

Y!: Takes a little off?

JW (from lotus position): "Well, it's his pitch. I don't want to elaborate."

Y!: How would you describe the aerodynamics of the sizzler. I mean, does it rotate? Wobble? Orbit?

JW (petting a grasshopper): "I would say strictly a mystery. It means a lot for a lot of different people. For me, I would say it's pretty much one of those here-you-go, hit-it type pitches."

Y!: Interesting. Perhaps I'd have been better off talking to the Devil Rays about this. Is there a sizzler guru, like the guy who came to Phoenix to teach everyone the gyroball?

JW (becoming one with himself): "You know, I think you'd find those answers on top of Camelback Mountain. Somebody said it's written under a stone. I don't know, I've never been there. That's kind of where we're at."

Y!: So, maybe like in that Batman movie, where you have to fight all the Ninja guys, then carry the secret down the mountain?

JW (flicking nunchuks): "That's kinda the way it is. Maybe you do, maybe you don't. Sometimes you go to a movie and don't quite understand it the first time around. Next time it just dawns on you."

Y!: Like Babel.

JW (achieving total consciousness): "There it is. Very much. So, yeah, as far as trying to pinpoint exactly when it's thrown in a game, it's very tricky. Only two people know that, the catcher and pitcher. Never elaborated on. It's a hush-hush thing."

Y!: Does this sizzler have an early-bird special?

JW (breaking vow of silence): "It's not even to that level yet. We started off locally and then went to multiple states. We're almost going global with it. The other day I got magnets with it on it. Some people made 'em for me."

Y!: Magnets? That sounds a bit materialistic for something so ethereal.

JW (walking across rice paper): "Yes, now it's materializing."

Y!: How does one honor the sizzler?

JW (still playing along): "I guess you better have at least something to back it up with. You can't go out there, get absolutely lit up and say, 'Hey, the sizzler wasn't working today.' Nooo-no-no-no-no. You go grounder-punchout, someone says, 'Hey, the sizzler was good today.' Ah, I don't know. Maybe. It's hard to say."

Y!: I see the dilemma. Are there others who share the secret?

JW (holding his forefingers to his temples): "There's another man in this locker room, goes by the name of Badger. If the lights were out, it was completely dark, you could see him. You would. It's like the aura. Actually, if you hold a blue light up to him, he glows a lot."

Y!: Is it the lint?

JW (sensing enlightenment): "Yeah, it is. A lot of lint. A lot of extra lint."

Y!: This seems difficult to put into words.

JW (arousing from meditation): "It is. I don't know how anybody could print a story about it. Really, it's something beyond print. … People tell stories about it though. It's mythical."

Y!: Maybe if I lie down, take it all in.

JW (unrolling a straw mat): "Put your feet up a little bit. Absorb it."

Y!: Thanks, Jay. I think I understand.

JW (Hoping no one else was listening in): "You got it. Did I completely waste your time?"

Y!: No, not completely.

FIVE …

Hunter Pence came into the big leagues hitting, which helped ease some of the resentment in the Houston Astros' clubhouse over the benching of center fielder Chris Burke, along with the here-we-go-again angst around town. Burke plays hard but struggled offensively (.230) and defensively for the up-and-(mostly)-down Astros, leading to the promotion of the 24-year-old Pence. Lance Berkman, himself batting .234 when Pence arrived, told the Houston Chronicle, "I think it's a horrible move. … I think it's unfair to Chris. I think it sends the wrong message to the team that there's something drastic that needs to be fixed. I don't like it. If you're going to put Chris Burke on the bench, I think it's a horrible move." Pence hit .341 at Triple-A Round Rock, then had three singles in his first seven at-bats for the Astros before joining a lot of his teammates in oh-fers against Bronson Arroyo last night. The fact is, Astros GM Tim Purpura had his pick of players to demote.

• On Wednesday morning, 11 of the 16 National League teams were at .500 or below at home. Same with eight of the 14 AL teams.

• The Philadelphia Phillies sending Brett Myers to the bullpen remains mystifying, but the move has been beneficial to Jon Lieber, who, at 37, will be a free agent at the end of the season. He is 1-0 in three starts, allowing three earned runs in 18 2/3 innings. Though the Phillies have lost both of Lieber's no-decisions, they are otherwise showing some life, winning eight of their last 11.

David Wright hit his first home run of the season last night, riding a thigh-high, 2-and-0 fastball from Florida's Ricky Nolasco over the right-center field fence. The crowd at Shea Stadium seemed happy with that.

• Are the New York Yankees stretching? Chien-Ming Wang, hamstring. Hideki Matsui, hamstring. Mike Mussina, hamstring. Phil Hughes, hamstring.

… AND FLY

Sure, counting to four is not that tough. But, 30 years from now you'll have a quiet moment with your grandson and explain how Albert Pujols finished the 2007 season with 97 3/4 walks. Isn't that worth it?


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