Earlier this season, rookie Tigers starter Casey Mize answered a fan-submitted question about how he thought his first Major League plate appearance might go. “Ooh, not good. Not good at all,” he said in July. “I’m going to be terrified. I haven’t faced live pitching since junior year of high school so I’m going to be pretty terrified. I don’t think I’ve ever seen like, above 88 before, so if somebody’s in there 95 to 100, I’m going to be terrified. So it’s not going to go good.” When the time arrived yesterday in St. Louis, manager A.J. Hinch seemed equally nervous for his pitcher. “I don’t know how much we’re going to let him hit. We’ll see how the game situation plays out,” Hinch said before the game. “Quite honestly, I just want him to get through it and not get hurt. If he needs to move a runner, hopefully we can get a bunt down.”
Read this with the perceptive and discerning eye of an advanced sabermetrician, and you can cobble together a three-part opponent scouting report: Mize was 1) “going to be terrified” 2) “going to be pretty terrified” and 3) “going to be terrified.” A look even deeper into the data would reveal that Mize was also probably not going to swing the bat at all. And yet! As it turned out, he did not have to. Something about this young lad struck fear into the heart of Cardinals ace Jack Flaherty. In his first plate appearance, Mize managed to draw a four-pitch, bases-loaded walk.
There’s a lot to enjoy here. The dugout was having fun. The nerves of someone who hadn’t had an at-bat in six years melted away, and immediately some real confidence showed up in their stead. Grinning at first base, Mize let loose the little bow-and-arrow celebration some of the Tigers guys like to do when they hit home runs. Maybe the best part of this was Mize doing a jaunty RBI walk bat flip, which was extremely cool and adorable, even if he was a little sheepish about it afterward. “That’s pretty unlike me, honestly, to do something like that,” he said. “But, the moment, you know? I was just having fun and it happened, so it is what it is. The bat—I went and rewatched the video—it went a little bit further than I intended.” Casey, hush! It was good. A bat flip on a walk is good.
Unfortunately, as the inning went on, it became less apparent that Flaherty knew something about Mize that no one else did or that Mize had pulled off some feat of reverse psychology, and more apparent that something was actually wrong with the Cardinals pitcher. Flaherty’s command was obviously off, his velocity nosedived after the first inning, and he left with no outs in the third after giving up back-to-back home runs to Robbie Grossman, who sent Flaherty’s sub-90 fastball to deep right field, and Miguel Cabrera, who absolutely bombed a weak slider to the left upper deck. After the Tigers won 4-3, the Cardinals put Flaherty on the IL with a right shoulder strain.
Mize pitched five shutout innings. His next time up, he managed to work a full count against Daniel Ponce de Leon but sadly grounded out to second base, sending his career OBP plummeting down to .500. Grossman pointed out in his postgame interview that this may have been Mize’s last time in the lineup; the Tigers have just one NL road series left this year and a universal DH could come as early as next season. While the extremely good vibes of Casey Mize make a compelling case for preserving baseball’s quirky status quo, a more compelling case to the contrary was made by my poor scorebook, which endured its first interleague game in an NL park and first double switch. It’s a mess and I don’t want to talk about it! But I did write a little LOL in Mize’s box.