It's rare that you get to watch a pitcher grow up right in front of your eyes, and even rarer when you can pin point the exact at-bat when he goes from boy, an oft-maligned headcase with good stuff and no idea what to do with it, to man, an incredibly confident complete pitcher who refuses to give in to one of the game's best. In the 5th inning Tuesday night, Gavin Floyd became a man, a real major league pitcher you'd send to the mound with confidence in a playoff game. Ozzie agrees:
"I think that's when this kid starts to be a man now," said White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen of Floyd fanning Giambi to end one of the Yankees' biggest threats on Tuesday. "He never gave up or gave in."
Gavin Floyd needed to work deep into this game. The bullpen is a mess and Ozzie knows it. With only 13 games left, the 4 (real) starters need to head to the mound for 100 pitches, and then run back out there for another inning. So, when Floyd found himself in trouble in the 5th inning--the bases loaded, Jason Giambi, who had just launched a moonshot in his last at-bat, strolling to the mound--it wasn't looking good for the Sox or their beleaguered 4th starter.
But Floyd didn't waver. He didn't back down, even when he dug himself a 2-0 hole. He battled back to even up the count at two, before throwing pitch #6 of the at-bat for ball three.
It's at this point the old Floyd--I'm not even talking about the Philly Floyd, the one who was referred to as "she" by members of the media and lacked so much confidence that he responded to all of his interviewers by staring at their feet and mumbling, but the Chicago Floyd, who would look you in the eye when he spoke, but was still so sure that he wouldn't win even 12 games that he bet his hair on it--would have given in; either missing the strike zone badly and walking in a run or grooving a mistake pitch, as he had on 3-2 to Giambi in his previous at-bat.
So, on 3-2, bases loaded, Sox up by 2, Floyd and Giambi waged a battle in which neither was willing to blink. For 6 straight pitches, with the runners in motion getting huge jumps--a single might have scored all three--Floyd threw strikes, good strikes, to Giambi and challenged him to do something with them.
Slider; foul. Slider; foul. Slider; foul. Changeup; foul. Fastball; foul. Slider; STRIKEOUT!
Floyd's 12th pitch of the at-bat was his best, a slider that I thought was a changeup while watching it live, breaking straight down out of the zone. Giambi was out in front, guessing fastball.
But Floyd wasn't done there. The Sox still needed him to get deep into the game despite his now elevated pitch count. He breezed through the 6th after the offense had a quick 1-2-3 top-half. Ozzie sent Floyd back out for the 7th even though he had thrown 97 pitches, and he promptly gave up a 400-foot ground-rule double to Brett Gardner. Normally, this is where Ozzie would jump out of the dugout and yank his young starter, but with the pen in a sorry state, and after that Giambi at-bat, Ozzie was giving him some extra rope. He needed another 12 pitches to get Johnny Damon and Derek Jeter to line out to second, before Ozzie popped out of the dugout.
Matt Thornton, the lone seemingly reliable reliever in the Sox pen was warm. Floyd was at 112 pitches, and had left-hander Bobby Abreu coming to the plate. I wouldn't have complained in the slightest if Ozzie pulled Floyd there. But when Ozzie got to the mound, Floyd sent him back. He was going to finish this inning; 4 pitches later he did on a fly out to center.
Gavin Floyd has balls; big, hairy balls that would put even Cisco Adler's* to shame.
* Go ahead, look it up. But be forewarned, the results of your search will not be pretty.