At first, right fielder Jayson Werth thought right-handed reliever Carlos Villanueva’s pitch was headed for the screen above the backstop on Wednesday night. Villanueva was ahead 0-1 in the count. Werth has mashed nearly everything in sight this season and in the previous at-bat drilled a three-run home run. Villanueva wanted to slow Werth’s bat down after starting with a 90-mph fastball.
So, Villanueva uncorked a pitch that elicited a comical response from Werth. The curveball curled into the strike zone and fell in for a strike. The eephus pitch was only 57 mph. Catcher Dioner Navarro caught the ball and fired it back to Villanueva, but Werth stood locked in his stance unmoved. He was completely lost.
“I immediately figured out what it was and stood there and thought to myself, ‘Here it comes,’” Werth said of his reaction. “Just lost in the abyss, really. About how it looked.”
Werth said he saw a Web site refer to his reaction to the pitch as “an existential crisis.” He didn’t deny it.
“I had to Google ‘existential crisis,’ ” he said, smiling. “It was an existential crisis. It really was. I was just getting myself standing back upright. Took me a second. Had to reboot the system after that one.”
Why did Villanueva change speed by 33 mph from one pitch to the next?
“Werth’s numbers are impressive,” said Villanueva, who entered the game having held Werth 0 for 6 in their previous meetings. “I’ve faced him before. I was trying to speed him up, slow him down. The pitch isn’t designed to get strikeouts. It’s to throw a slow pitch and then throw a fastball. I don’t plan for it. It just happens in the situation.”
Villanueva’s pitch was the seventh-slowest pitch recorded in the majors this season. Texas’ Yu Darvish fired a 45-mph eephus pitch on June 8. Villanueva threw another 57-miler in April. Werth has seen former teammate Livan Hernandez throw pitches in the 60s. But never had he seen one in the 50s. He looked to the radar gun on the scoreboard at Wrigley Field and couldn’t see a reading. The Pitch F/X data used by Major League Baseball listed the pitch an eephus pitch.
“All I know is that I’ve never seen a pitch that slow,” Werth said. “Except when I struck out in slow-pitch softball.”
Werth said Villanueva’s eephus pitch wasn’t on the scouting report. But video coordinator Erick Dalton had warned Werth that he had seen Villanueva throw one on film. Werth later lined out to right in the at-bat.
“He didn’t put it on the scouting, because why would you?” Werth said. “It didn’t really matter. Was good for good entertainment.”
Villanueva smiled when relayed Werth’s amusement over the pitch.
“I’m not a power pitcher so I have to mix up my repertoire,” Villanueva said. “It came out well on yesterday and I have to pick my spots. It came out slow. I don’t throw it hard but I can move my wrist well enough to throw those breaking balls.”
In a long baseball season of hundreds of thousands of pitches, at least one provided some humor between opponents.