NOT AN EASY TOSS

Ken Hoffman on how to throw the perfect big league first pitch

Photo by Michelle Watson/CultureMapSnap

This article originally appeared on CultureMap.

By now, everybody's seen the video of the poor Chicago White Sox employee of the month who won the opportunity to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at a Sox game. Her toss was, in the words of Bob Uecker, "just a bit outside."

She hit a photographer who was standing to her left, in a different time zone from home plate. It was one of the worst, funniest ceremonial first pitches ever. There was rapper 50 Cent, who missed the plate by a country mile, Michael Jordan, who threw the pitch 10 feet over the catcher's head, and Houston's Olympic hero Carl Lewis, whose baseball pitch was almost as horrible as his singing pitch.

Mariah Carey wore high heels and threw the ball straight down.

Pitchin' ain't easy

To fans in the stands, and people watching on TV, throwing the ceremonial pitch looks easy. What's so difficult about tossing a baseball 60 feet, 6 inches to a catcher? It's not like there's a hitter up there. You're basically just playing catch in your backyard.

It's simple, no excuse for throwing the ceremonial first anywhere other than right over the plate. That's the point I may have made several years ago in a column. I could do it, no sweat, with my eyes closed.

Your pitcher...Ken Hoffman

The Houston Astros called me on it. Okay, hot shot, how about you throw the ceremonial first pitch next week? The Dodgers will be in town, and there will be a big crowd.

I accept — on one condition. I don't want some assistant bullpen coach who wears No. 84 catching for me. I want either (Astros owner) Drayton McLane or (TV analyst) Jim Deshaies.

The Astros called back: Deshaies says he'll do it.

The reason most people throw the ceremonial first pitch into the dirt is because they're not used to throwing off a big league mound, which is higher than you'd think. The pitcher's rubber is 10 inches higher than the field. It slopes downward at the rate of one inch per foot.

Most of us are used to playing catch or co-ed softball games on flat Earth. It's the slope of the big league mound that causes mortals to stumble forward and bounce the ball toward home plate.

So … that weekend, I went to Wallin Field, home of West U Little League, and practiced throwing off a mound. I was confident that I could throw a strike across home plate at Minute Maid Park. But I also had a Plan B that would leave nothing to chance.

I got to Minute Maid Park 30 minutes before game time. An Astros media rep handed me a ball and pointed toward the mound. Some first pitchers walk to a spot in front of the mound and throw from about 45 feet on flat ground. Weenies.

I brought my son Andrew and his friend, also Andrew, with me to the mound. Then two things happened that threw me off: I heard the announcer say my name, and I turned and saw my name on the scoreboard. That brought it home, and I suddenly got nervous and scared: what if I throw the ball straight into the ground?

Continue reading on CultureMap to find out how Ken Hoffman's first pitch went.

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

After a tightly contested ALCS Game 2, the Astros were able to come out on top with a 3-2 win to even the series. Justin Verlander threw a great game while Carlos Correa came through with the walk-off homer in the bottom of the eleventh inning.

In ALCS Game 1, it was all Yankees as they overpowered Houston at the plate and on the mound en route to a shutout victory to steal a road game to start the seven-game series. Houston turned their attention to Game 2 with a fully-rested Justin Verlander on the mound to try and even the series. Here is how the game unfolded:

Final Score (11 innings): Astros 3, Yankees 2.

Series: tied 1-1.

Winning Pitcher: Josh James.

Losing Pitcher: J.A. Happ.

Astros force Paxton out early after taking early lead


Houston's offense started on the right foot on Sunday in ALCS Game 2. After stranding a runner in the bottom of the first, the Astros scored first in the bottom of the second after Alex Bregman lasered a leadoff single, moved to second on a walk to Yordan Alvarez, advanced to third on a sacrifice fly by Yuli Gurriel, then scored on an RBI-double by Carlos Correa.

The run was a significant momentum boost for Houston, who had been shutout in the Game 1 loss. Although James Paxton would get through that inning with only one run allowed, he would allow back-to-back one-out singles in the bottom of the third, which prompted the Yankees to go to their bullpen early. The moved worked, as Houston would strand both runners to send the game to the fourth.

Verlander does his part


After three perfect innings for Justin Verlander, he would watch his 1-0 lead go away in the top of the fourth. New York's first baserunner of the night came on a leadoff walk allowed by Verlander to start the inning, which turned into a two-run home run blasted by Aaron Judge to center field to put the Yankees up 2-1 to erase Houston's lead.

Those would be the only runs allowed by Verlander, who would do an impressive job of holding the Yankees down over his start. The home run would be one of the few blemishes on a night he was able to induce outs and strikeouts to keep his team in it. He would continue into the seventh inning with a pitch count over 100, but after a two-out walk would be removed to end his night. His final line: 6.2 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 7 K, 1 HR.

Correa wins it in extras

After going down 2-1 earlier in the game, Verlander would leave in a 2-2 tie thanks to a solo home run by George Springer in the bottom of the fifth. Will Harris was first out of Houston's bullpen to finish off the seventh, getting a strikeout for the third out. Harris stayed on the mound to start the eighth, getting an out before issuing a walk to prompt AJ Hinch to bring in his closer, Roberto Osuna.

He would get two quick outs to finish the top of the eighth, but New York's bullpen would also hold in the bottom of the inning to send the gridlocked game to the ninth. In the top of the ninth, Osuna would remain in the game and record a quick 1-2-3 frame to give Houston a chance to walk it off in the bottom half. In the bottom of the ninth, a pinch-hitting Aledmys Diaz would work a two-out walk against Aroldis Chapman, giving the Astros a baserunner, but he would be left on base after a strikeout of Springer to end the inning and force extras. Joe Smith was next out of Houston's bullpen to start the top of the tenth and was able to retire the Yankees in order on seven pitches.

In the bottom of the tenth, New York turned to CC Sabathia for a rare relief appearance to face left-handed Michael Brantley, who would ground out for the first out. Jonathan Loaisiga was next out for the Yankees to try and finish the tenth. Instead, he would issue back-to-back one-out walks, resulting in another move to bring in J.A. Happ. Happ would get out of the jam with a strikeout and flyout to move the game to the eleventh.

Smith would get two quick outs in the top of the eleventh before a walk would end his night in favor of Ryan Pressly, who would allow a single, resulting in another change to Josh James, who would get the third out after a lengthy at-bat. In the bottom of the inning, Carlos Correa evened the series with a solo home run to win the game.

Up Next: With the first two games in Houston accounted for, the ALCS will now shift to the Bronx. In Game 3 at 3:08 PM on Tuesday from New York, the pitching matchup will be the electric Gerrit Cole for Houston, who is 2-0 with a 0.57 ERA and 25 strikeouts after his two ALDS starts going up against Luis Severino who went four shutout innings in his ALDS start.

The Astros playoff report is presented by APG&E.

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