Some of my fondest childhood memories involve nothing more than a glove, a ball and a wall. I would conjure up fun scenarios — two on, no out, bottom of the ninth! — find my favorite patch of grass and get to work. Sweat pouring down my face on those hot summer afternoons, I’d start attacking imaginary hitters with my vast repertoire. I did this frequently; as it turns out, I would wear out patches of dirt all over the place.
As a youngster, like 7 or 8, I convinced myself that if I put three fingers — index, middle and ring — on the ball I’d be throwing a curveball. And it was a good one. (Don’t fact check that.) It doesn’t have to make sense when you are a kid, it just has to keep up the dream.
As I grew up, I tried to simulate actual pitching motions and again found myself plucking baseballs off walls. I never had much interest in actually going out for the team — that wasn’t my crowd, plus I had a job and cash was nice — but I had plenty of fun spinning wiffle balls in the backyard. I tried to throw sinkers and sliders; the results were mixed.
What joyous memories. My love of baseball was cemented.
I say all this because, in many ways, Tyler Skaggs was living the dream of 18-year-old me. He wasn’t just throwing wiffleball curves in his backyard; he was twisting big league hitters into knots with the real thing. He was able to do things I can’t imagine. Skaggs had the talent to succeed and the drive to put it all together. He was doing it. He was pitching in the Major Leagues. How freaking cool. I hope he was living his dream; it isn’t an easy life, but it sure must be a memorable one.
As you probably know, Skaggs died last week in Texas. He leaves behind a wife; they were married last offseason. Not a single word I type here can do anything for Skaggs’ family, but what I can do is celebrate a young man — younger than me — who loved the game I also love.
Maybe in a different life we could have shared a coffee and talked about baseball. I would have liked that. (I also would have almost certainly annoyed him with incessant questions. Alas.)
Today, we are going to look at Skaggs’ final start, which came on Saturday, June 29 against the Oakland Athletics.
Skaggs could spin a gorgeous curveball
The majesty of this sport is incomparable. Football, basketball and hockey have nothing like a well-spun curveball and let me tell you, Tyler Skaggs could spin one, man. It was a beauty. We’re gonna see it in full glory here, and we’re going to celebrate it.
Up first for the A’s is Chad Pinder. Skaggs starts him with a fastball on the inner half for a called strike. Notice how Skaggs comes up and over with his delivery; beautiful curveballs that way come.
My goodness. What a beauty of a pitch. Skaggs drops a hammer on the outside corner and Pinder swings right over it for strike two. That’s how you draw it up, man; this breaking ball is a whopping 17 MPH slower than the fastball before it. Dominant. Sequencing, kids!
It’s 0-2. Skaggs has options. He’s already shown Pinder he can work both sides of the plate, and his curveball just ate the poor guy’s lunch. Oh, what to do, what to do.
Why not the hammer?
Skaggs returns to the curve and buries it inside, drawing another feeble swing. I’m not sure what Pinder could have done in this at-bat; Skaggs has it working, man. This was clinical.
Look at that tilt! Damn thing just falls right out of the sky. Are we sure Dr. Strange didn’t drop this out of a different dimension or something?
Ramon Laureano is up next. Skaggs goes back to this magical hammer — when it’s working, why go away? — and spins it in for strike one. Just as an aside, Skaggs reminds me of Washington Nationals lefty Patrick Corbin. Similar motion — ball hidden below the back, high-arching release — and a gorgeous breaking ball.
Skaggs moves to the outside corner with the changeup and earns a whiff. Both Pinder and Laureano have just been flat out fooled by the Angels lefty. They look like hitters who don’t have a clue what’s coming.
If Laureano had whiffed on a curveball in front of home plate, we might have had to just shut down Ode to a Pitcher. The rest of the piece would just be garbled nonsense as I went delirious with utter bliss.
Alas, the A’s outfielder takes it for ball one.
Well sequenced here. Skaggs has worked every which way but up to Laureano, so he wisely goes with the high heat in the 1-2 count. The fastball ends up at shoulder level, but this was a good pitch. Look beyond the count and consider the tactics. With firm control of the count, Skaggs bounced a curveball and fired a fastball above the wrists; in other words, the hitter has a whole lot of strike zone to think about. That’s always good.
Skaggs decides to go off-speed but leaves the changeup over the plate for Laureano to bounce foul. This is a healthier swing than before; I’m sure Skaggs realizes this. Probably time to go for the punchout, and that means one thing.
The hammer of the gods
Will drive our ships to new lands
To fight the horde
Sing and cry
Valhalla, I am coming
On we sweep with threshing oar
Our only goal will be the western shore
We come from the land of the ice and snow
From the midnight sun where the hot springs flow
(Sorry — just felt like I had to get the Led out after that curveball. Good heavens.)
The Angels lefty comes inside with a very well-located fastball for strike one. Working inside like this against righties is absolutely critical for any lefthander. Yankee fans will no doubt remember Andy Pettitte and CC Sabathia bashing hitters with cutters on their hands. Well, they did so for good reason. If the hitter has to watch the inside of the plate and be conscious of not getting jammed, suddenly the pitcher has a bounty of options. Against talents like Skaggs, that’s no bueno. Remember, disrupting timing is the name of the game.
Skaggs returns to the changeup and gets another whiff in the zone. The A’s hitters are having serious trouble picking up what he’s throwing, a testament to his delivery and the quality of his stuff. Good stuff and consistent deception make for a quality big league starter.
With Profar 0-2, what are we hoping for? Well, I can’t speak for you, I guess, but I’d like a hammer, please.
Mr. Skaggs delivers, channeling the power of Thor and punching out Profar on a curveball well below the zone. Profar tries his damnedest to hold back but can’t. Punchout.
Rest in peace, Tyler.