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.
In 1979, Davey Lopes was playing second base for the Dodgers when his team took a 7-2 lead in the fourth inning against the Reds. Cincinnati reliever Frank Pastore did little to staunch the damage, giving up two singles and three home runs in the span of the first six batters he faced, and in the process became his team’s sacrificial lamb. With no point in burning his bullpen in what was now a 12-2 blowout, Reds skipper John McNamera left Pastore in; by the time Lopes faced him in the sixth it was 14-2, there were runners on first and third and only one out. Pastore was one unhappy right-hander.
When Lopes swung at (and fouled off) a 3-0 pitch, Pastore was even less happy. And when Lopes homered on the on the pitch following that, Pastore was downright pissed. The right-hander was finally pulled, and Reds reliever Dave Tomlin was so upset that he came in from the bullpen after the inning was over to ask McNamera if Lopes would be let off the hook.
“Mac said, ‘No, we’re just going to pick our spot,’ ” recalled Reds third baseman Ray Knight in a Columbus Dispatch report. “[Tomlin] said, ‘When’s our spot?’ He said, ‘The next time [Lopes] comes up.’ ”
The next time Lopes came up was in the eighth inning, and the pitcher he faced was, not coincidentally, Dave Tomlin. Tomlin threw at him four straight times … and missed all four attempts. Lopes took first base, and that more or less ended it.
“At that time, even though I was in the big leagues, I didn’t know that rule,” said Lopes more than 25 years after the fact. “And I still don’t agree with it, because if I’d have popped the pitch up, nobody would have cared if I swung at it. … I had never, ever swung at a 3-0 pitch, but Lasorda gave it to me, so I said, what the hell.”