FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Good morning from the Fort, where the sun is shining in all its glory for the school vacationers who are down this week from the Commonwealth, and where a few fans might even know that nonroster invitee Mitch Maier, an outfielder by trade and an auditioning first baseman, once pitched against the Red Sox.
“A moment I’ll never forget,’’ Maier said the other day, “even though it was as nerve-wracking [an experience] as I’ve ever had in this game.’’
You can look it up: July 26, 2011. Maier’s team, the Kansas City Royals, entered the eighth inning trailing the Sox by six runs, 13-7. Maier was on the bench when Ned Yost, the Royals’ manager, asked him to go to the bullpen to warm up. The last time Maier had pitched was as a child. Never at Novi High School in Michigan, never at the University of Toledo, never in pro ball.
“I’m thinking, ‘Great, this may go from ugly to real ugly quick,’’ Maier said. “My bullpen coach (Steve Foster) actually tells me, ‘You know Pedroia needs a home run for the cycle. He is going to be trying to take you deep.’
“Great. Not that I’m already nervous. I probably threw 30 pitches warming up, Way too many. Couldn’t even lift my arm the next day.’’
As Maier made his way to the mound from the bullpen, a fan leaped out of the grandstand and ran onto the field. “I had tunnel vision,’’ Maier said, “but that maybe loosened me up.’’
The plate umpire, Chris Conroy, was waiting when Maier got to the mound.
“The umpire tells me warnings have been issued,’’ Maier says, noting that three batters already had been hit by pitches in the game—Adrian Gonzalez, Ortiz, and Billy Butler of the Royals.
“‘I say, ‘You know I’m a position player, right? The last thing I want to do is hit someone.’’’
Pedroia already had four hits in the game—two singles, a double and a triple--when he strode to the plate to lead off the home eighth.
“The first two pitches I threw were balls,’’ Maier said. “I’m thinking, ‘This is going to be bad.’ I was fortunate to throw a couple of strikes. I think the [umpire] gave me a favorable zone, so to speak.’’
The count was full when Pedroia launched a deep drive to left.
“I thought when Dustin hit the ball it was a home run,’’ Maier said. “But I don’t think I was throwing hard enough. I wasn’t supplying enough power. If the pitch had been 85 [miles an hour] it would have been no doubt. But Alex Gordon caught it at the base of wall.’’
Ortiz followed by launching a double to center, but Maier induced Crawford to ground out to second, then Varitek lined out to Maier to end the inning.
No, Maier didn’t point to the sky, offer a fist bump, or thrust his arms overhead as he walked off the mound.
“It was like, ‘Get me out of here as soon as I can,’’’ he said.
There would be an encore appearance on the mound for Maier, a former Royals first-rounder (2003) who has played parts of six seasons with the Royals, mostly as a fourth outfielder, and was contacted by Sox VP Allard Baird, who was Royals GM when he was drafted, about signing with the Sox.
“Home opener against Cleveland,’’ Maier said. “I was playing center field. Pitched a scoreless inning. Pure luck.’’
On the wall of Maier’s basement is a framed lineup card from his pitching performance against the Sox, as well as a ball from that game.
“Definitely a moment I won’t forget,’’ he said. “Talk about being out of place.
“I hope it ends there, and I can keep that 0.00 ERA.’’