Friday, October 29, 2010

Derek Holland, Meet Atlee Hammaker

Atlee Hammaker

"It's like deja-vu, all over again."
-- Yogi Berra

Baseball is life. Life is unfair. Texas Rangers' relief pitcher Derek Holland learned that lesson the hard way in Game 2 of the World Series. He was called into the game with two outs in the eighth inning of a close game. His team put him on the mound and put the pressure on his back.

After the jump, what Holland does with his moment in the spotlight.

Derek Holland proceeds to throw 4 straight balls to the first batter he faces, walking him. He then throws 4 straight balls to the next batter, walking him. Left on the mound by his manager to face still another hitter, he throws 3 more balls, then a strike, then a fourth ball, walking in a run and starting a rout by the San Francisco Giants who go on to win the game 9-0. Three walks on 13 pitches while in the spotlight, in the role he's certainly dreamed of being in since he was a kid. The next day, the news media calls his performance "Little League," "incompetent" and "flat-out embarrassing."

Does Holland deserve the criticism? On the one hand, sure he does. He was the one throwing the balls. His eight other teammates could only stand around watching helplessly. On the other hand, no, he doesn't deserve such a fate. He's a great athlete, good enough to make it to the major leagues, a position the vast majority of kids who play baseball never come close to achieving. Moreover, he's on the roster of a team that's made it to the sport's ultimate level, the World Series. He earned it by years of hard work to get there. It's a moment he should have been able to savor for a lifetime. Cruelly, his bad outing happened to come at this, the worst possible time. For him to be remembered for this one inning is indeed unfair. It will haunt him the rest of his life.

And that's what brings back memories of Atlee Hammaker. Hammaker was a major league pitcher for twelve, mostly unremarkable, seasons. 59 career wins and 67 losses. But in 1983 he enjoyed a magical season. He led the National League in ERA and was chosen to pitch in Major League Baseball's annual All-Star Game. The high point of his career turned into a nightmare. He never finished his inning. He gave up 7 runs in 2/3 of an inning, including the All-Star Game's only grand slam home run. Today, he is remembered, if he is remembered at all, only for that one night when he didn't have his stuff. It happened to come at the worst possible time. Derek Holland, meet Atlee Hammaker.

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