clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The time a catcher pitched at Coors Field and won

New, comments

Fifteen years ago, Brent Mayne pitched in a tie game at the best hitter's park in history. He won.

Brian Bahr/Getty Images

1. The first thing to understand is that Coors Field in 2000 was an abomination, the unholy son of Wrigley Field and Action Park. It's where the game of baseball was kicked out of an airplane 30,000 feet off the ground with a shitty guitar solo playing during the entire descent. Coors Field and Mountain Dew commercials peaked at the same time. This is not a coincidence.

And, because I'm getting older and older, further and further removed from the pain, I miss it so.

Coors Field in 2000 was the apex of offense. Not just for the park, but for the game. It was dry air, high altitude, short grass, expansive outfields and lineups filled with roided-up goons. Coors Field before the humidor and Major League Baseball before the Mitchell Report were two drunks in the same drunk tank, wearing different jerseys, and one of them just mouthed off. The violence was predictable.

When you use Baseball-Reference's greatest toy, 2000 Coors is a default setting.

screen

You can play around with this button and see what players throughout baseball history would have done if they played their seasons in 2000 Coors Field. In Ichiro's rookie season, he hits .406 with 307 hits and 185 runs scored. Mike Trout averages 38 homers, 41 steals, 167 RBI and a .376 average. Ted Williams hits .449 in 1941 and .385 for his career. Barry Bonds hits 93 home runs in 2001 and 989 for his career.

If every team played in the conditions that existed for Coors Field in 2000, I can't tell if baseball would die under the weight of 11-9 games, or take over the NFL in popularity.

This is the setting in which a 32-year-old catcher pitched for the first time in his life and won the game.

2. Brent Mayne was a fine catcher. He was rarely an unquestioned, full-time starter, but once he got into his 30s, he developed enough of an offensive game to be that rarest of creatures: a left-handed catcher who could hit a little bit. It's something teams dream of in their most boring, practical dreams: a player who helps the roster's flexibility immensely.

Brent Mayne was also a dedicated catcher. If you want to learn about the art of catching, you can buy his book, The Art of Catching. You can watch some of his tips on YouTube. If you're in Southern California and want to learn about catching, you can pay him a reasonable $125 per hour for private lessons. In his own words:

Catching is my deal. It’s my passion. I know it as well as anyone on earth and have the ability to articulate and pass on that knowledge.

In his retirement, Mayne is known for two things:

  1. Being the batter on deck when Barry Bonds was walked with the bases loaded

  2. Pitching against the Braves in relief and winning the danged game

Baseball is a jerk. But it's a really, really funny jerk.

3. The Braves were one of the best teams in baseball because they always were. The Rockies were struggling to find their identity because they always were (and still are). And for whatever reason, the Braves were an extraordinarily difficult team to beat in Denver.

The Rockies lost their first 16 games against the Braves and went 3-28 against them in their first 31 games. At altitude, where no visiting team was supposed to win or feel comfortable, the Braves were 27-15 against the Rockies heading into the second game of a three-game set in August 2000. They won the first game because they usually did.

The matchup was John Burkett against Masato Yoshii, which in Coors Field is baseball-ese for "come watch the bullpens get warm in the fourth inning!" Burkett relied on movement, which Coors Field would prevent, and letting batters put the ball in play, a strategy that Coors Field would punish without mercy. Yoshii was a similar pitcher, which is why his ERA was 5.94 entering the game. He finished with a 5.86 ERA for the season and according to ERA+, which adjusts for park and league, that was good for a 99 -- completely average.

The Rockies scored the first three runs, which in Coors was like getting runners in scoring position with one out -- you felt good about it, but you knew the job wasn't done yet. The Braves chipped away (foreshadowing) at the lead, finally tying it on a classic Coors grounder through the 6-5 hole. The ball didn't just go farther at Coors, and it wasn't just that pitches didn't break as well at Coors. The outfield was the size of 17 Disneyland parking lots, too, which allowed for dinks and dunks to drop in front of panicked outfielders. And at some point the grounds crew said, "SCREW IT YOLO" and kept the grass obscenely short, which let balls zip through the infield.

By the time John Wasdin came into the game in the 11th inning, the Rockies had used seven pitchers. He was the last option. It was okay, though, because Wasdin was the swing man, shuttling between the rotation and bullpen as needed. He hadn't pitched in three days, so he was good for a couple innings. Heck, he was good for as many innings as the Rockies needed.

He hit the first batter of the game and was ejected.

4. Baseball fights are always dumb. This was one of the dumbest, though.

On a 3-2 pitch, with two outs in extra innings of a tie game, Wasdin hit Braves first baseman Andres Galarraga with a pitch. There was no reason to think it was intentional. Situationally, it made no sense. Anecdotally, it made no sense. Galarraga was a former Rockie, but it's not like he ate Wasdin's food on road trips -- the reliever had been a Rockie for just a couple weeks. They were never teammates. He had faced Galarraga twice before -- striking him out and allowing a double.

Pragmatically, it made no sense. Galarraga was a medium-sized planet and he outweighed Wasdin by at least 30 pounds. For whatever reason, though, Wasdin wasn't digging the Big Cat's general mirth and winning smile.

''He started talking (garbage), that's why I had to jump on him,'' Galarraga said. ''I have to fight. I don't know why he started talking. I don't know what the guy's thinking.''

Brian Jordan was down on the bottom of the pile, exchanging pleasantries with Wasdin.

''What does he think, we're going to be happy when we get hit?'' Jordan said. ''Don't sit there and mouth off."

It was the only hit batter of the game. No warnings had been issued. There was no reason for Wasdin to be ejected ... unless he challenged Galarraga for whatever reason. The last Rockies reliever was out of the game, tossed along with Galarraga and Buddy Bell, the Rockies manager.

The Rockies' starter the previous night, Brian Bohanon, threw 10 pitches, walked a batter and got the final out of the inning. He'd thrown 99 pitches the night before, so that was all he was good for.

5. It's important to know the context of all this stuff because otherwise, it's just another position player pitching. That would sell this far too short. This was someone who had never pitched before in his life -- not little league, not high school -- going against one of the best teams in baseball, and he was supposed to do it in a tie game in the deepest pit of pitching despair in baseball history. It was just the 12th inning, too.

Bell had no idea which of his position players could pitch. He was likely thinking something like, "catchers usually have strong arms, or whatever, hell, I don't know" when he asked Mayne if he could pitch.

"Can you pitch?" Bell asked.

"Yeah, I can pitch," Mayne replied, fibbing slightly as he realized he was on the verge of fulfilling a lifelong dream.

In his first at-bat, he had to face a Hall of Famer.

6. Okay, the Hall of Famer was Tom Glavine. But still! Glavine was sent up as a pinch-hitter, and he was approximately 30,000 times more experienced as a hitter than Mayne was as a pitcher. The first pitch was 82 mph. The fourth pitched bounced behind Glavine. The fifth pitch was a comebacker. One out.

Walt Weiss, now the manager of the Rockies, lined a ball sharply in the next at-bat for the second out of the inning. Rafael Furcal grounded a single up the middle in the next at-bat, though, and suddenly Mayne had to worry about the possibility of a stolen base.

"I didn't want to balk," (Mayne) said. "I was thinking what is the balk (rule)? Can I go into the glove and take the ball out of my glove? That was probably the most nerve-wracking thing.

Well, the most nerve-wracking thing until Andruw Jones came up, at least. Jones was in the middle of a breakout season, hitting for average and power, and Mayne walked him. The only problem with that is that a Hall of Famer hitter was on-deck, Chipper Jones.

Of course, there was more pressure on Jones.

"It's a lose-lose situation," Chipper Jones said. "If you get a hit, you're supposed to, and if you don't, you're a geek."

On the first pitch of the at-bat, Jones was a geek.

7. In the bottom of the 12th, John Rocker came in and gave up three screaming line drives. In the previous offseason, he had vomited xenophobic and homophobic and purpophobic comments to a Sports Illustrated writer. The reliever thought this was a good idea because he was and remains a melonhead whose head is made entirely from melons.

Rocker was booed when he entered the game. He was mock cheered when he left the game with two runners on and one out. He was the losing pitcher.

Rocker took the loss and snapped at reporters in the clubhouse. "Beat it!" he said. "I'm not talking."

8. Lol.

9. Later in that inning, with a new reliever in, Mayne's spot in the order came up ... except he was still nursing an injured wrist. Bell, managing from the clubhouse, did what you're supposed to do in an extra-inning game -- he pinch-hit for his pitcher. Adam Melhuse, another left-handed hitter, came in for Mayne and lined a single to left. Rockies win.

Brent Mayne was the winning pitcher.

10. It was the first time a position player had picked up a win since 1968, when freak of nature Rocky Colavito pitched 2 2/3 innings in a doubleheader. Since Mayne, though, three other position players have picked up a win: Wilson Valdez for the Phillies, Chris Davis of the Orioles, and John Baker of the Cubs. Baker even scored the winning run in his walk-off. This almost diminishes the funky, goofy brilliance of Mayne's night.

Almost.

Instead, it's an idyllic baseball game, a combination of luck, talent and general nonsense. These kinds of games are my absolute favorites, if you can't tell. There was no reason for a catcher to be pitching, and there was no reason it should have worked. Except those reasons are explained up there, and it did work. There's video proof.

Fifteen years ago on Saturday, the Rockies won, 7-6. They've won by that exact score 55 times in franchise history. They had never won quite like that, though. Unless about a dozen different people screw up at the same time in the same way, they'll never win quite like it again.

* * *

SB Nation video archives: The best first pitch and the absolute worst ones (2013)