Mays leaves thinking cap at home, mows down AngelsPosted: Wednesday October 09, 2002 2:02 AM
Updated: Wednesday October 09, 2002 2:39 PM
By Stephen Cannella, Sports Illustrated
Let's try an experiment.
Stop reading, get up from your chair and walk across the room. Then walk back to your computer, only on the return trip concentrate as hard as you can on every step you take.
Think about the way you place one foot in front of the other -- how your shoes hit the ground, how your upper and lower body work in rhythm with one another, how your arms move in time with your legs.
Try to follow the thousands of electric messages your brain sends out over your nervous system just to trigger a few simple steps. While you're occupied with all that, try not to walk into a wall.
For Twins right-hander Joe Mays, pitching is sometimes as difficult as that self-conscious walk back to your computer. His mind works overtime. He concentrates too deeply on movements that should be as natural to him as breathing is for you and me. He calls it getting "too mechanical," and the result is usually a delivery that deteriorates into a herky-jerky mess and command of his pitches that dissipates like steam.
"When he thinks too much he tries to overanalyze everything," says catcher A.J. Pierzynski. "He looks at each pitch like itís life and death. When he just throws the ball he's usually all right."
Judging by his performance in Game 1 of the ALCS, Mays' mind was a tabula rosa on Tuesday night.
He held the Angels, who bludgeoned the Yankees with an offensive onslaught in the division series, to one unearned run in eight innings. He retired the last 13 batters he faced, and after the fourth inning the Angels hit just four balls out of the infield.
It was about as dominating an outing a touch pitcher like Mays, who keeps hitters off balance more than he blows them away, can have.
"His changeup was the best pitch he had tonight," said Anaheim first baseman Scott Spiezio, who went 0-for-3 and didnít get the ball out of the infield against Mays. "He was locating everything well. You can count on one hand the number of mistakes he made."
It was a far cry from Mays' performance in the division series, when he was rocked for six runs in 3 2/3 innings in Oakland's 9-1 victory in Game 2. That was one of those mental days for Mays, and it continued the pattern he set during the regular season.
After making the All-Star team in 2001, Mays missed three months with inflammation in his elbow. He returned in July and ended up going 4-8 with a 5.38 ERA in 17 starts. "Last year , I was fine all year," Mays says. "This year, I was thinking way too much."
In the days before Game 1 Pierzynski badgered Mays to, "Try easy." It sounded like something Yogi Berra might mumble in his sleep, but the catcherís message was clear: Donít think, just do.
Mays left the pitch calling to Pierzynski and tuned out his thoughts. The approach worked. Mays felt calm and relaxed in the bullpen (he said he left his brain "in [his] locker") and the feeling carried over into the game. The Angels may have been dazzled by his changeup, but another key told him he was on.
"I was getting my curveball over," said Mays. "That tells me Iím throwing nice and easy."
No one expected these two teams to be playing for the American League championship, and no one expected a 2-1 pitchers duel in Game 1. So far the ALCS has defied all logic. Donít try to figure out what might happen in Game 2, when the Twins' Rick Reed will face Ramon Ortiz. As Mays knows, too much thinking can get you in trouble.