Friday, October 08, 2010

Strike Out Kings

The Braves went down swinging last night as Tim Lincecum struck out 14 in a complete game shut out. What is more, 13 Braves struck out swinging and most of those pitches were well out of the strike zone. Lincecum's 1.55 K's per inning last night was a dominating performance but it reminded me of a certain other dominant pitcher that I saw pitch at least 150 games while growing up. That would be my brother Drew Tanner, who is two years older than me. Imma brag a little now...

Drew was an extraordinary pitcher in Douglas, Georgia in an era when we had a glut of excellent baseball talent which led to many consecutive youth league State Championships, a long run of High School Region Championships and a run of 3 State Championships in 4 seasons at Coffee High School: 1981 (AAA), 1982 and 1983 (AAAA). Drew was pitching at Navy in 1983, so he can't get any credit for that one.

Drew, a lefty, was a tall kid until around the age of 14 when he stopped growing taller and everyone else caught up or passed him. In High School he was 5'-10" and about 185 lbs. His fastball was in the upper 80's (despite his claim of being in the low 90's) but he had immaculate control (picture Greg Maddux) and he managed to throw his deceptive change up with the exact same arm motion as his fastball. But, his out pitch was a devastating curve ball that came in only about 2 or 3 mph slower than his fastball and would literally dive 18 inches right at the plate. It didn't move as much from left to right as it did from high to low. It was virtually unhittable and he could throw it for a strike. If the batter did make contact, rarely would the ball leave the infield. In other words, if you were going to get a hit, you better get it early in the count, because once the count went to 2 strikes you weren't getting another straight pitch and driving the curve ball was impossible. Often the third strike would hit the dirt in front of the catcher and would require a tag or throw down to first base. On occasion the batter would reach first base after striking out. But, then Drew would use another crafty tool from his bag of tricks and pick them off with the sneaky "balk move." This usually happened to the first man to reach first base in the game and thereafter, any other runners would usually be heading back to the bag while Drew was throwing to the plate.

It was a lot of fun for me to watch my brother pitch for so many years. In fact, when I was a sophomore bench warmer for the baseball team in 1982, when Drew was pitching, I was his de facto database on the opposing batters. Before each inning I would remind him what upcoming hitters had done in their previous at bat in an exchange that might go something like this...

Me: The first guy swung at the first pitch fastball and made good contact so maybe start him out with a breaking ball. The second guy almost fell down swinging at the curve ball and the third guy fouled off several curves in a row so maybe give him some high heat as an out pitch since he will expect the curve.

Drew: Ok. Thanks Brother Rudy. (Long story but has nothing to do with the move "Rudy" which came out later.)

In his senior year (1982), Drew was 16-0, yielding a lonely one earned run in 101 innings - with a stint of 78 consecutive innings without an earned run. But what about strikeouts? After all, the title of this post is "Strike Out Kings." This is the point that made me think of Drew last night after Lincecum recorded his 14th strikeout. In his senior year, Drew averaged nearly 14 strikeouts per 7 inning game with 197 K's in 109 innings (1.8 K's per inning.) A couple of years ago, Coffee High School had a pitcher strike out 12 in a game and one excited fan, upon seeing my brother in the crowd, asked, "Drew, did you ever have 12 strikeouts in a game?" My brother, doing his best to be humble, replied "Yeah, a few times."(Drew was featured in Sports Illustrated's "Faces in the Crowd" on July 5, 1982)

Drew was recruited by Georgia, Georgia Tech, Florida State and Texas A&M but was leaning to go to Navy (where our uncle had recently graduated) and since pro scouts were telling him he was too short to pitch in the bigs. But another reason was that the big schools would not offer a full scholarship as they explained they only had 13 scholarships for the whole team and so rarely did a pitcher get a full ride. As a point of pride, Drew wanted a full ride because he felt he could also contribute as a position player and hitter. When none of the big boys offered anything more than a 1/2 scholly, Drew chose Navy. Regarding his recruitment, I will never forget the day that Ga Tech head coach Jim Morris came to watch Drew pitch against the Johnson High Atom Smashers (out of Savannah.) Drew wanted to impress on this occasion and only threw a no-hit shutout. Later, back at our house, Jim Morris sat in our dining room and told Drew that college hitters won't swing at his curve ball. I heard him say it.

Despite Jim Morris's prediciton, at Navy, Drew continued to win games and strike out batters with his curve ball. In his Junior and Senior years he had a combined 18-2 record and led Navy to the Miami Regional where they lost a close game to Georgia Tech, but not before Drew, in a no-decision, struck out his share of Morris's GT batters in a game that went 11 innings and ironically was ended when our former high school teammate Riccardo Ingram hit a solo homer in the bottom of the 11th.

At the conclusion of his senior year at Navy, Drew was recognized as a Baseball America Third Team All American and was selected to pitch on the 1986 USA Baseball Team that summer before heading off to flight school in Pensacola. After 7 years flying P-3C Orion's in the Navy, Drew joined me at UGA Law School and is now practicing back in Douglas.

Of course, I recognize that Drew was not striking out players in a MLB playoff game. But when it comes to Strike Out Kings, my all-time favorite will always be #22. I love you, bro!


tiffany said...

Love it! I love that you can remember all of those details.

Rob said...

The fact that our children have inherited some of the Tanner family athletic genes almost compensates them for having to look like their father.

I wonder if he's available to pitch Game 4. . .