It was late July of last year, July of last year, which is to say that Mike Magnante had picked a bad time to pitch poorly. Mags, as everyone called him, had come in against Cleveland in the top of the seventh with two runners on and a three-run lead. The first thing he did was to walk Jim Thome — no one could blame him for that. He then gave up a bloop single to Milton Bradley, and the inherited runners scored — just plain bad luck, that. But then he threw three straight balls to Lee Stevens. Stevens dutifully took a strike, then waited for Mags to throw his fifth pitch.
After the game the first question the Oakland A’s’ general manager, Billy Beane, asked his manager, Art Howe, was why he brought in Magnante. Howe’s first answer was that he thought that Mags, the lefty, would be effective against a left-handed slugger like Thome. Which was just more conventional baseball nonsense, in Beane’s view, since Mags hadn’t got anyone out in weeks. Howe’s second answer was that Beane put Mags on the team, and if a guy is on the team, you need to use him. Howe won’t say this directly to Beane, but he’ll probably think it. The coaching staff had grown tired of hearing Beane holler at them for using Magnante. ”The guy has got braces on both legs,” said Rick Peterson, the pitching coach. ”We’re not going to use him as a pinch runner. If you don’t want us to use him, trade him.”Free Credit Don’t deposit don’t share
Magnante went into his stretch and looked for the signal. He had recently turned 37 and was four days shy of the 10 full years of big-league service he needed to collect a full pension. Paul DePodesta, Oakland’s assistant general manager, often said that ”for guys to be available to us, there usually has to be something wrong with them,” and it wasn’t hard to see what was wrong with Mags, to discern the defect that made him available to a strapped team like Oakland. He was pear-shaped and slack-jawed and looked less like a professional baseball player than most of the beat reporters who covered the team.
Magnante made an almost perfect pitch to Lee Stevens, a fastball low and away. The catcher was set up low and outside. When you see the replay, you understand that he had hit his spot. If he missed, it was only by half an inch. It was the pitch Mike Magnante wanted to make. Good pitch, bad count. The ball caught the fat part of the bat. It rose and rose, and the two runners on base began to circle ahead of the hitter. It was Lee Stevens’s first home run as a Cleveland Indian. By the time the ball landed, the first and third basemen were closing in on the mound like bailiffs, and Art Howe was on the top of the dugout steps. Magnante let in five runs and got nobody out. It wasn’t the first time that he had been knocked out of a game, but it wasn’t often he had been knocked out on his pitch. That’s what happens when you’re 37 years old: you do the things you always did, but the results are somehow different.