Over 35-plus years in this business I've spoken with, oh, I don't know, a couple hundred big league pitchers, both current and former - Some Hall of Famers, some All-Stars, some cup of coffee guys, the whole gamut, so to speak, of righties and lefties. And somewhere along the line I've asked every one of them the same question:
"Did you ever had a day where you thought you had great stuff and still couldn't get anyone out?"
I've yet to have a single pitcher tell me no. Every single one had days where they took the mound, thought their stuff had velocity and movement and went where they wanted it to, and they still got hammered.
We spent several minutes talking about it on "Wall-to-Wall Baseball" last Saturday morning on MASN. I brought it up to Dave Johnson before the show started and he insisted on bringing it up on the air.
"In my case, it might've happened more often," he said in his usual self-deprecating way, "but it's just a fact. It happens. If a starter stays healthy and gets 30 starts in a season, there will probably be 4 or 5 starts where he feels good, his bullpen session goes well, and his stuff is solid - but it gets hit over, under, around and through your defense."
When you hear postgame comments from the pitcher, catcher, manager and pitching coach to that effect, it's not hyperbole. It's the way it is.
One of my best friends in the world is Dick Bosman, currently the minor league pitching coordinator for the Tampa Bay Rays, but a long time big league pitching coach, who worked with guys like Tom Seaver, Steve Carlton, Mike Mussina, and most of the young Rays' current starters.
As a major league pitcher, he threw a 79-pitch no-hitter against the World Champion A's in 1974, with his error the only thing that kept it from a perfect game. He told me, flat out, he had better stuff in other games he pitched and won, and some that he lost.
"It's one of the things you have to preach to the young arms," Bosman said. "Some days you're gonna feel great, your stuff will do what you want it to, and they hit it anyway. Other days you go out there and feel lousy, not all of your stuff is working, and you coast. Baseball's like that."
Some people want to believe that baseball is a very black-and-white game with concrete truths. "Hey, I know what I saw..." or "I played this game when I was a kid, I know what's going on..." I used to think that way myself, but it's just not so. On its highest levels, the game is extremely complex. Think whatever you want, but if it was easy, you'd all have done it yourself. Stuff I thought was true in 1980, I know isn't so today. There's a lot to this game that will never meet the eye.
In baseball, you can pitch very well and get hit very hard. You can also pitch lousy and pitch a shutout. It goes both ways.