There is a perfectly reasonable rule on the books in MLB that says a relief pitcher coming into a game to replace a guy who was injured or removed for some other emergency situation can throw as many warm-up pitches as the umpire allows. It’s there, of course, so pitchers coming into the game ice cold don’t wreck their arms by going 0 to 60 in under four seconds, and it also, on the flip side, protects injured players who might feel pressured to gut out a few more batters if they have no allies up in the bullpen. It’s a good rule, all told! But Astros hurler Jake Odorizzi took its permissiveness to the absolute limit as he entered Houston’s loss against the Red Sox in the second inning on Saturday afternoon.
Odorizzi arrived to replace the starter, Luis Garcia, who had suffered through a disastrous beginning of the game. In the first inning, he allowed a J.D. Martinez grand slam that put the Astros down 4-0 in their eventual 9-5 defeat, and at the start of the second, he exited with a right knee strain after walking the first batter on four pitches. Odorizzi was put in an extremely difficult position, and I don’t fault him for taking the time he needed, but what followed was perhaps the most fan-unfriendly stretch of postseason baseball I have ever witnessed, as nearly a quarter of an hour passed before the Astros pitcher was ready to play for real.
“My typical routine is out the window at that point,” said Odorizzi, who cut his normal 30-minute warmup time in half. “I hadn’t even stretched, thrown, anything, so it was going to take me a good while to warm up. I think all things considered—I’m sure it felt like forever for y’all—but for me that was about the fastest I can warm up.
“Obviously, it’s probably the worst situation you can come in as a starting pitcher.”
I turned the channel to Georgia-Kentucky while the warm-up pitches happened, and I hope you did too, but going back through the footage, here’s a recap of what was on the TV during Odorizzi’s warmup.
- A five-minute commercial break
- Joe Buck and John Smoltz discussing how odd and boring the situation was
- Tom Verducci reporting on various injuries
- Another three-minute commercial break
- A happy birthday package for Tim McCarver
- Another few minutes of announcer small talk in which they essentially counted down the pitches until Odorizzi should be ready
I don’t know if you’ve heard this before, but playoff baseball games are long. Game 1 of Red Sox-Astros clocked in at four hours and seven minutes, and by the time Odorizzi faced his first hitter, this one was chugging along at a rate of one out every ten minutes or so. And while the 4:20 ET game still managed to be over by 8:30, the outs didn’t exactly come quickly for poor Odorizzi once he was warm. He gave up two singles out of the first three batters he saw to load the bases, and then Rafael Devers stepped up to attempt an assault on the right-field foul pole. The ball that Devers ripped just barely stayed fair, the Red Sox in just two innings became the first team ever to hit two grand slams in the same playoff game, and with an 8-0 score line Game 2 was all but over already. Whether Odorizzi had taken two minutes or 20 did not seem to matter one bit.
The context you probably need here is that not only was Odorizzi completely unprepared to enter the game in the second inning, but he also hadn’t pitched at all for the Astros since Oct. 2. In his first year in Houston, Odorizzi had a rough start, was perfectly serviceable through the majority of the season, and then fell apart a bit in the final month. On Sept. 7, the pitcher publicly called out his team for lifting him from a game after just five innings. Then he injured his foot while covering first base, and despite returning for a couple more outings he was left off the Astros’ ALDS roster, making it for this series only because of an injury to Lance McCullers.
But despite the grand slam and the recent frustrations, Odorizzi found a way to look on the bright side, even in a sentence that began with “I sucked.” He managed to pitch four whole innings for the Astros on Saturday, allowing another dinger later on but also preserving the stamina of a bullpen that would have been wasting its strength trying to win this one instead of saving up for Game 3 of this 1-1 series.
“I sucked up four innings. That’s the best way of putting it,” Odorizzi said. “Those can be crucial as we move forward in the series.”