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106 or bust? How Jordan Hicks learned he could throw faster than anyone else on Earth

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Hicks brings unique challenges for hitters (1:19)

Alex Rodriguez, Jessica Mendoza and Matt Vasgersian break down what has made Jordan Hicks a force in the Cardinals' bullpen this year. (1:19)

Jordan Hicks has thrown the three fastest pitches in major league baseball this year. And the next three after that. And the next three after that. In fact, the St. Louis Cardinals' closer has unleashed every one of the 20 hardest offerings in the bigs this season. Not too shabby for a guy who didn't really pitch until high school.

Growing up in Houston, Hicks was an Astros fan who idolized hitters such as Lance Berkman and Craig Biggio. At age 14, he wrote a school essay about wanting to be a major league outfielder (or a lawyer).

Not long after that, he was in Atlanta for a tournament and went to a Braves/Reds game at Turner Field, where he saw Aroldis Chapman throw gas.

"How does he do that?" Hicks wondered.

Six years later, the 22-year-old righty has all but dethroned Chapman as MLB's foremost flamethrower. Last May as a rookie, Hicks -- who jumped all the way from Class-A to The Show -- uncorked a fastball to Philadelphia's Odubel Herrera that clocked in at 105.1 miles per hour. The fastest pitch in the majors last season, it tied Chapman's record for the hardest heater in the Statcast era.

We asked Hicks to share his a-ha moment -- the exact point in time when he knew his arm was different. Here's what he said, in his own words:

The first time I knew could throw hard, like throw 100, was the All-Star Game in low-A. It was 2017. I was a starter and I was really mechanically messed up. The scouting report for me was like 89 to 99. I'd throw one at 89, next pitch would be 96, next pitch 92, then 97. I had no idea what I was doing. So I just said, I'm gonna go throw it. Not gonna throw any sliders. It's the All-Star Game. It doesn't mean anything. I'm here solely to throw as hard as I can, and try to find my fastball. I didn't care about anything. So I just went out and let it all go.

I came on in the eighth inning for the first two batters. I think I threw seven or eight pitches, struck both guys out. There was velocity on the board. I looked back, and it was coming out 99, 100, 99, 100. So I got it. I got two of 'em. I always wanted to throw 100, and I did it. Finally.

After that, my next two outings, I went eight innings, sitting 96-97, topping out at 100. And then I got moved up to the Florida State League right after that. I found my mechanics and it just clicked. People say, something just clicks for you -- it clicked for me. And I just ran with it.

Right after that, I went to the Arizona Fall League. That's when I was consistently hitting 100. My last game of the Fall League, I started it, went three innings, and I hit 102.6. I was just creeping up. I was like, 'OK, I can do this.' Next year, big league camp, and then I made the team.

Last year, when I hit 105.1, everything came together and it was just the perfect moment. [Cardinals starter] Jack [Flaherty] had just gotten a standing ovation. I was running out there and the whole stadium was cheering for him, and I just channeled that energy to me. Odubel was up, and at the time, I didn't like the guy because he took forever to get in the box. I had watched him the day before and everybody was talking about how long he takes -- one foot in the box, taking his sweet-ass time. He was making me mad, so I just channeled the energy and threw it. Everything came together, and it was just the perfect moment.

We haven't played him this year, so I don't know how I feel about him yet. But if I see him doing that stuff again ...

A lot of people say, are you gonna hit 106 today? I'm like, that's not on my mind. I felt really good the other day and hit 104. I tried two pitches to get it, and I threw two straight balls. I was like, I need to lock it back in right here. It's the ninth inning, two-run lead, I need to lock it in. So you can't get away from that.

You can try every once in a while, but if you're not throwing strikes, you're not going to get the job done. I'm not trying to put a guy on base just because I'm trying to get a record. I'm trying to get a win for the team. There's moments you can pick and choose where you want to let one go. I go for it. At the same time, if I don't get it, I'm not going to be disappointed.

No one's ever hit 106. I am a competitor, and I would love to. But maybe 105 is the limit. Who knows? We'll see in a couple years.