KANSAS CITY, Mo. – You might ask what it is that takes hold of Jake Peavy when he’s ball in hand on a pitcher’s mound. He might ask the same.
Some burn at a slightly different temperature is all, a deeper shade of blue. That’s Jake.
“Just the old Southern, dig your toes in the mud, and try to make your stand,” is the way he puts it.
He’s one of those average-sized right-handers nobody seems to care much for, a 15th-round draft pick 15 years ago who really was something for the better part of a decade. He’s not quite that pitcher anymore, not at 33, not for a season or a month or even, perhaps, for nine innings. But he can be for the next pitch.
That, maybe, is what makes Peavy burn. The wind sprint that is the next pitch. The contest of it. The 30 seconds or so spent planning for it. The breath and the exhale, the rise of the neck tendon, the notion that it matters not just to him, but to the men around him.
“My children go, ‘God, Daddy, you were really excited,’ ” he said. “They had me turning into the Hulk in Washington after the double play.”
Peavy didn’t throw that pitch, the one in the division series that kept this strange San Francisco Giants October trundling along. Somebody else did. But those were baserunners he’d left behind, on what he’d still call “my watch,” and he’d be as invested in the next man up as he would have been in himself.
It’s his turn again. This time, the Giants could win a World Series on his watch, and that means he has been considering the next pitch – his first Tuesday night here – for no less than six days. He’ll look over the top of his glove, find Buster Posey’s fingers, find Posey’s mitt, and if that pitch is the first of one or the first of a hundred, it will be all that Peavy has in that moment.
Sometimes, it’s not enough to shake off a Posey sign. He’ll mouth the word, “No,” too. As if he’s whispering in Posey’s ear. As if it’s that intimate.
He’ll clench his fist at a play, scowl at a pitch, hoist a teammate, bark at himself. As if it’s that fragile.
Maybe it is. And maybe that’s what makes Jake burn, too. He was 1-9 with a 4.72 ERA in Boston before Brian Sabean and Bruce Bochy traded for him this summer. At 33, that just might get a man to thinking. His ERA the season before – in Chicago and Boston – was 4.17, just about average for a starter in the American League. Peavy would have a difficult time thinking of himself as average, ever. But the game is nothing if not honest.
He made three postseason starts in 2013 and the Red Sox lost two of them. In fact, in eight postseason starts, three of them this October, Peavy’s ERA is more than seven. Two of those starts were flaming disasters, and one of them was nine years ago. Still, come October the win’s the thing, no matter how it looks, and in Peavy’s eight starts his team has lost six of them. He’s made six starts – Tuesday night will be the seventh – the past two Octobers, and he’s finished the fifth inning in half.
So, yeah, it is that fragile. The fight for the strike zone and the bat barrel is that real, and takes every ounce of him to survive, and some guys pitch and other guys survive. It’s just that way.
So if Peavy believes that wanting it more, committing to it harder and honoring it longer is the way to a win – damn, the way to a freakin’ championship – then who’s to say otherwise? Back with Bochy the final two months of the regular season (Peavy pitched for him with the Padres from 2002-06), he’d made 12 starts and had a 2.17 ERA. The hits were down, the walks were down, the WHIP was down. He was pitching again. He was winning.
He’d become an important figure in their clubhouse when he arrived, as well, because he spoke with authority and empathy, and he came with a résumé.
“With his experiences and his knowledge, he really has, I think, just ramped up the intensity and the focus on these guys,” Bochy said. “Jake, as you know, when he plays, when he pitches, he’s all in.”
So they turn to him again, one last time, for Game 6. In that, Peavy has one promise, and one only.
“It’s a special opportunity,” he said Monday night. “I understand that. Just got to do all I can do to be in the moment, to think about executing pitches, to find any way, anyhow for the San Francisco Giants to win this game. And I promise you, I’m going to exhaust every option.”
Yep. That’s Jake.
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