In a magnificently pitched 10-inning 2-1 win over the Braves last week, Seaver actually struck out more hitters (3) with his change than with his fastball (2). He also struck out two with his slider and two more with his curve, another pitch he is throwing more effectively this year, although he does not always get it over the plate. Against the Braves, he threw 55 of 80 fastballs for strikes, but only half of his 34 curves. The increased use of the slower pitches has made Seaver's fastball even more devastating.
Improved control has made all of Palmer's pitches more effective. In his last full season, 1973, he walked 113 batters and struck out 158, a high ratio of walks to strikeouts for a 22-game winner. In 175? innings this year, he has walked 45 and struck out 105.
"When I first came up, all I did was worry about throwing the ball over the plate," he says. "I'd get behind the hitters, then have to come down the middle, and balls down the middle are the hardest hit. Location is the key. It's silly to throw pitches out of the strike zone. The important thing is to stay ahead of the hitters. You must use the corners. You can get by with bad stuff if you're making good pitches. I can't throw as hard as I used to—oh, some days I can—so I've asked: if I threw all that good before, how did I get hit? The answer is I never thought about the corners. Now, I'm putting the ball where I want."
He did not put every ball where he wanted to last week in a 7-1 loss to the World Champion A's, but the defeat was largely not his fault. Palmer's normally proficient teammates played abominably on defense while fighting a losing battle with a bright sun. Shortstop Mark Belanger and Second Baseman Bobby Grich, both Gold Glove winners, lost pop-ups in the sun that fell for damaging hits, and Leftfielder Don Baylor dropped a fly that was ruled a double. Belanger and even Brooks Robinson made egregious errors on ground balls.
Palmer seemed only mildly discomfited by these catastrophes. "You can't expect it to go good all year," he said, soaking his precious arm in ice. "I didn't throw badly, and the arm felt better today. They hit three balls hard and I gave up seven runs [five earned]. When you're going good, things fall your way. When you're going bad...."
Palmer was more concerned about his arm than about one inexpertly played game. He was to return to Baltimore for cortisone injections to relieve the stiffness. Still, he was heartened by the relative absence of pain.
Palmer and Seaver take safety precautions with their arms that can be regarded by the layman only as idiosyncratic. They look upon air-conditioning units with alarm, and they never hang their right arms out the windows of moving vehicles, fearing ill winds even on warm days. They never go to bed without pajama tops, and they always sleep on their left sides. Palmer trained himself in his nocturnal discipline by lying at the extreme edge of the bed and piling pillows against his back to impede him from rolling over onto his right side. Seaver stays off his feet on days he is pitching. An ardent reader of newspapers and fiction, this is a routine he finds more agreeable than constricting. (Seaver finally received his degree in journalism from USC last year, after pursuing his studies on a part-time basis throughout his playing career. He gained credit in a geology course, taught appropriately by a Professor Stone, by writing a paper on the soil consistency of National League infields.)
Palmer devours a stack of pancakes on days when he pitches, a diet that dates from 1966. Stuffed with flapjacks, he won 15 games that season as a 20-year-old. Although many experts now consider high-carbohydrate dishes such as pancakes and spaghetti ideal for pregame meals, Palmer does not continue eating them for any nutritional reasons. He simply is reluctant to brave fate by abandoning a superstition.
If swallowing goldfish or shinnying up flagpoles would ensure longer careers, Palmer and Seaver would happily embrace the practice. After their ordeals of a year ago, they are chillingly aware of the evanescence of the good life in the big leagues.
"It would be very shortsighted to think all this is never going to end, but I would like a long career," says Seaver. "As a pitcher, I feel I'm creating something. Pitching itself is not enjoyable while you're doing it. Pitching is work. I don't enjoy it until I can stand back and look at what I've created. That is something."