In lieu of actual baseball, I’ll be posting snippets that were cut from The Baseball Codes as a way of amusing myself and, hopefully, you. Today’s theme: what and what not to do when your team holds a big lead late in the game — starting with swinging at a 3-0 pitch.
On May 26 1990, the Mets were walking all over San Diego, holding an 11-0 lead in the eighth inning. With two outs and runners on second and third, shortstop Kevin Elster drew three straight balls from Padres reliever Calvin Schiraldi. With the next pitch, Elster hit the exacta—not only did he swing 3-0, but he swung hard. He let out some shaft. He generated some wind.
He made the Padres mad.
When the Mets retook the field, San Diego coach Sandy Alomar asked third baseman Howard Johnson, “Is [Elster] crazy or just stupid?” Elster answerd the question himself when it was posed to him by reporters the next day, saying, “A little of both.”
The following night, San Diego broke open a 2-2 tie with six runs in the eighth inning. The first Met to bat in the following frame was Elster, and with a comfortable lead, pitcher Greg W. Harris performed his role as baseball assassin, with a low-and-outside first pitch to throw off the scent, and a second pitch that hit Elster clean in the back. Elster read the intent immediately, even as he kneeled at the plate in pain. Before he could even get up, Harris offered a bring-it-on wave of his hand, Elster obliged, and benches emptied. At least Elster saw the pitch for what it was, saying after the game in the Los Angeles Times, “It took some guts for Harris to throw at me. I wish some of our pitchers would do the same thing.”
New York manager Davey Johnson didn’t buy it. “If I’m out there, I’d rather have them swinging,” he said in a Newsday report. “Get it over. My guy (Elster) is hitting .170. Why prolong it? If Harris thinks that’s wrong, he needs to go to a psychiatrist.” Perhaps it was coincidence, but Johnson was fired a day later.