FORT MYERS, FL - MARCH 09: Vicente Padilla #44 of the Boston Red Sox pitches against the Pittsburgh Pirates during a Grapefruit League Spring Training Game at JetBlue Park on March 9, 2012 in Fort Myers, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
Twice over the past week, Vicente Padilla has stolen a strike with a 50-m.p.h. lob. But baseball can do even better.
Brayan Pena has shuffled up to home plate 3,382 times in his professional career. He's probably seen about 10,000 to 11,000 different pitches, give or take. Some of them dove straight down, some of them sailed to the left, and some of them cut right. There's at least a decent chance this was the first time he's seen this:
Vicente Padilla learned that pitch in '34 from Chance Dickery on the Waxahachie Skinks. MLB GameDay has an idea of what it was:
Ah, the eephus. A pitch of mystery and legend. In a game decided by gigantic men throwing 95-m.p.h. fastballs to other gigantic men, a well-timed lob can mess everyone up. And it's a relatively common way for Vicente Padilla to steal a first-pitch strike:
That's from the 17-inning game on Sunday. If Padilla came up to the plate against Chris Davis later, I'd like to think that Davis would have thrown one at his ass for making him look bad, but that's just the poet in me. Davis would eventually strike out on a 94-m.p.h. fastball, which is hilarious and just a little unfair.
But that's not really an eephus pitch. It's a slow curve -- a really, really slow curve -- but it isn't an eephus. From the Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers:
In the last five years, people have been using the term "blooper" or "eephus" to refer to what we might call a ridiculously slow curveball. But the original blooper, as thrown by (Rip) Sewell or Bobo Newsome or a surprising number of other aging pitchers of the 1940s and 1950s, was a pitch thrown 20 to 30 feet into the air, which crossed the plate on a downward trajectory.
So it wasn't a true eephus. It was pretty cool, but it could be more eephusy. Now picture Paul Hogan looking at an eephus pitch and saying, "That's not an eephus pitch …" before pulling this out of his belt:
That is an eephus -- a loopy, humiliating lob that embarrasses the hitter when he doesn't swing, and often embarrasses him more when he does. It was thrown by Kaz Tadano, former Indians reliever and current Nippon Ham Fighter. The difference between the two in still images, first with Padilla:
And now with Tadano:
Padilla's is a great, deceptive pitch that is as entertaining as it is effective. The true eephus pitch, though, is one of baseball's greatest treasures. And it needs to come back.
This brings up the Baseball Nation Eephus-Related Charity Guarantee:
If any major-league pitcher chucks a pitch 30 feet in the air and has it cross the plate on a downward trajectory for a strike, I will donate $10 to the favorite charity of the player in question.
Oh, yeah. Ten bucks. From my pocket. The first time it happens, and never again. I'm not a rich man, but I'm willing to go out on a financial limb for this. Jamie Moyer, I'm looking at you.
The eephus pitch is like a running back taking a handoff and walking leisurely, hoping the defense won't attempt to tackle him because they think he's on his way to the post office or something. It's one of the (many) things that sets baseball apart from other sports, and the game needs more of them. I'm willing to pay. Think it over, baseball.