Steve Tolleson unlikely pitching hero for the Blue Jays
Infielder called to pitch 11th inning against Red Sox Tuesday
For a moment, Steve Tolleson was Everyman. Who hasn't wondered what it's like to pitch a major league baseball game?
Tolleson, an infielder with the Toronto Blue Jays, got a second shot at taking the mound Tuesday night in an 11-7 blowout at the hands of the Boston Red Sox.
The 30-year-old from Spartanburg, S.C., whose throwing background is more beer league than big leagues, had a hit, scored a run and registered a strikeout — an unlikely triple threat.
Tolleson describes his pitching experience as "zero." But throwing balls in the low 70s in terms of miles per hour, he struck out Will Middlebrooks and induced Mookie Betts to fly out in the 11th inning.
He had come into the game in the ninth inning as a pinch-runner with the score tied at 4-4.
Given the fact that Tolleson was sent to the mound two innings later signalled that the Jays — with six relievers having already seen action in the game after starter R.A. Dickey — had thrown in the towel in the ugly loss, it was hardly a night to celebrate.
But the soft-spoken Tolleson, who came on as a pitcher to register the final out in a 15-4 loss to Cleveland on May 14, admitted to having fun.
"The last time I was kind of a deer in the headlights, not really knowing know what to do," said Tolleson. "This time I just tried to embrace it and enjoy it for what I could and just go out there and try to help move the game along a little bit. It was fun."
Tolleson becomes the third position player in Jays history to pitch multiple outings in a season (joining Bob Bailor in 1980 and Jeff Mathis in 2012).
"We're not proud of that," manager John Gibbons said of having Tolleson pitch twice.
Tolleson said his high school coach wouldn't let him pitch, saying "you're never going to do that past high school."
"I guess we're all kind of laughing at that," he added.
Still, overall Tolleson termed the evening a tough night and another unfortunate loss in what has been a dire August for the spiralling Jays.
Tolleson says he throws "a good batting practice in the off-season with some of my buddies that play." Otherwise, it's been mopping up in a few blowout games in the minor leagues and two with the Jays this year.
He saw his job Tuesday as essentially to protect the other pitchers.
Asked whether he had a repertoire, Tolleson laughed.
"I could say I have a repertoire but it wouldn't be true," he said. "I told Navi (catcher Dioner Navarro) fastball, curveball, knuckleball and I wanted to throw a knuckleball but I figured they saw Dickey's all day today, they'd probably just light up if they saw mine."
He threw one curveball that was nowhere close to where it was supposed to be.
"I just decided then to just throw it over (the plate) and hopefully, they hit it at somebody."
In a strange way, Tolleson may have had a bit of an edge against the batters. Jays slugger Jose Bautista, who pitched in college, says facing an occasional pitcher can be odd for a batter.
"At times it's effective just because it's a rare feat to have a position player pitching," said Bautista.