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Original Issue

Up in Arms

Position players are showing pitchers how it's done. Well, sometimes

In baseball there are few things more entertaining than the sight of a position player on the mound as a late-inning emergency reliever—YouTube was invented for moments like Jose Canseco's 33-pitch horror show at Fenway Park 20 years ago. This season has delightfully been the Year of the (Position Player) Pitcher: Last week alone, three managers turned to nonpitchers to spell their bullpens late in blowouts, running the total number of position players who've come in for (comic) relief up to nine for the year.

"Every player who's ever pitched in their life secretly dreams about that moment," says Indians utilityman Ryan Raburn, who got his moment last Thursday, when Rhett Akins's "Kiss My Country Ass" (Raburn's walkup music) began to blare over the Progressive Stadium speakers. The eight-year veteran trotted to the mound in the top of the ninth with the Indians down 10--2 to the Tigers. Raburn, who'd last pitched in a game 12 years ago at South Florida Community College, had been in manager Terry Francona's ear about pitching since spring training. With good reason, it seems: He put Detroit down in order with a fastball clocked as high as 89 mph. He mixed in a changeup, and he struck out Tigers leftfielder Matt Tuiasosopo with a two-seamer.

Raburn's secret, which all pitchers could take a lesson from: Don't overthink, and throw strikes. Raburn messed around with a few pitches in the batting cage in the eighth inning, but he didn't even talk to pitching coach Mickey Callaway or catcher Carlos Santana before he took the hill. When he got on the mound, he pounded the zone. (Eight of his 13 pitches were strikes.) "I could have gotten it up a few more ticks out there, but Tito [Francona] told me not to do anything stupid—so I saved my cutters for next time," says the righthander who just one day earlier signed a two-year extension with Cleveland. "I told my agent we should renegotiate now that I'm a two-way player."

At the other end of the spectrum, Mets backup catcher Anthony Recker entered a June 30 game against the Nationals in the ninth inning with New York down 11--0. His first six pitches: ball, ball, ball, ball (a walk for Jayson Werth), ball, ball. His seventh pitch was bludgeoned by shortstop Ian Desmond for a 408-foot upper-deck homer to left. Recker retired the next three hitters and finished the day with an 18.00 ERA. "My only regret is that I wish I'd gotten ahead of someone so I could have thrown a knuckleball," he says.

"Now I can cross it off the bucket list," says Raburn. "I'll be ready if there's a next time. For our team's sake, hopefully there isn't."

Go Figure


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