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Every close-knit group of friends will develop its own vernacular. Spend enough time with the same people and you’ll share enough experiences and stories that it doesn’t make sense to spell out the entire metaphor—you just quote the line from the movie everyone has memorized, and everyone understands.

Similarly, people who love baseball develop their own semi-secret language around the game—maybe not every Tom, Dick and Harry at the ballpark, but you’re enough of a diehard to read Baseball Prospectus, so you know what I’m talking about. The vocabulary comes from old friends or coaches, or from indelible moments from the past, and every fan has his or her own unique set of idioms.

Sometimes the language isn’t a language so much as a series of names. For instance, after the 1997 NLCS, Alex Fernandez is what I say when a pitcher blows out his arm but won’t leave the mound, flinging low-80s slop as close to the plate as he can manage with his insides mangled and on fire.

Last week, Vin Mazzaro somehow allowed nine runs on 35 pitches in 1/3 of an inning. Mazzaro is the modern patron saint of the disastrous relief outing—the only reason he won’t be remembered only for allowing 14 earned runs in 2 1/3 innings on May 16, 2011, is that he did something arguably just as bad almost exactly five years later.

That’s the Vin Mazzaro in some people’s baseball lexicon. For me, it’s the Jay Witasick.

***

Jay Witasick was an average reliever for seven teams over the course of 12 big-league seasons. He was right-handed, completely nondescript-looking and posted a career 97 ERA+.[1] That’s outrageously average.

On Nov. 3, 2001, three nights after Derek Jeter was carried in the arms of cheerleaders, two nights after Byung-Hyun Kim blew his second save in as many days, Andy Pettitte took the mound with the chance to put the Diamondbacks to the sword once and for all, and he blew it. Pettitte made 44 postseason starts in his career, and of those, his start in Game 6 of the 2001 World Series was the shortest, and tied for the second-worst WPA. He allowed a run in the first, three more in the second, and after a walk to Greg Colbrunn[2] and a double by Matt Williams in the third, Joe Torre pulled Pettitte and inserted Witasick for the first World Series action of his career.

Witasick, entering the game down four runs, with men on second and third and no outs in the bottom of the third, allowed four straight singles. Then he struck out Tony Womack, then allowed another single, a double on which Danny Bautista was thrown out at the plate, another single and another double. Then he struck out Reggie Sanders to end the inning. He recorded one more out in the fourth before Torre came and got him too, and was charged with two more runs.

Witasick’s final line: 1 1/3 innings, 10 hits, nine runs, eight of them earned, four strikeouts.[3]

That’s what’s known as “wearing it” in baseball parlance.

Blowouts are cruel enough in sports when you can just run out the clock, but that’s not the case in baseball. The romantic notion of not having a clock can make playing out the string particularly cruel when you can’t record the outs that advance the game, a fact that became painfully apparent on Nov. 3, 2001.

Surrounded on all sides by three of the most famous blown saves in World Series history, Witasick stood alone on the mound, while the Diamondbacks circled him, tormenting him, like a mob of cruel schoolchildren, and there was nothing he could do to stop it.

And it’s not like his teammates helped out much—Witasick faced 14 batters, struck out four and allowed 10 basehits, all of which stayed in the park, leaving him with a 1.000 BABIP. Yankee fielders recorded one out with Witasick on the mound and gave it back when Bell reached on a wild third strike to lead off the fourth. Witasick would have given up the same amount of baserunners and only one more run if he’d literally been alone out there.

Not like it mattered.

“It's called taking one for the team. The Yankees knew they were headed to Game 7. Previous miracles aside, trailing Randy Johnson 4-0 probably was enough, especially with two more runners in scoring position and no outs. The only managing Joe Torre had left was to somehow keep his bullpen as fresh as possible for the next night,” Paul White wrote in Baseball Weekly after the series was over.[4][5]

Sure enough, for the brutal beating Witasick took, his WPA in Game 6 of the World Series, in which he wore it in front of 49,707 paying customers and a national television audience, was -0.062.

Tens of millions of Americans watched Witasick wear it, for no other reason than that was the only way to move the game along. Because that’s how baseball works. Not that any of it matters.

Watch this video with me. It’s every run the Diamondbacks scored in Game 6 of the 2001 World Series, so while you won’t see every ball they put in play off Witasick that night, you’ll get the idea.

<iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/OaM1m7dL4s4" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

You’ll notice that with the exceptions of the first and last run-scoring hits he allowed—Sanders’ single through the 5-6 hole in the third and Damian Miller’s double in the fourth—every basehit just found a gap. Even Luis Gonzalez’s double was a blooper. It was seeing-eye groundball after Texas Leaguer after cue shot through a drawn-in infield, past a double play combination of Derek Jeter and Alfonso Soriano that, down double digits, simply looked past the point of caring enough to dive.

Witasick got torched, but the Diamondbacks didn’t hit him hard. Witasick threw 49 pitches that night, 36 of them for strikes, and 10 of those 36 strikes came on a swing-and-miss—the same number of whiffs Randy Johnson got in seven innings in which he threw 104 pitches and allowed only two runs.

As far back as we have data, there have been 11 World Series relief appearances of 40 pitches or more, in which the pitcher threw at least 70 percent strikes. For context, the most recent was Madison Bumgarner’s career-making five-inning bullpen stint in Game 7 of the 2014 World Series. Witasick is among them, and of the four outings for which we have data on whiffs versus called strikes—Bumgarner in 2014, Francisco Rodriguez in 2002, Witasick in 2001 and Alejandro Pena in 1991—Witasick’s got the highest whiff rate—20.4 percent, which would have been second among big league relievers last year. We expect pitchers to miss bats, throw strikes and keep the ball on the ground. Witasick did all of those things in Game 6 of the 2001 World Series, and he gave up nine runs in 1 1/3 innings.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say Witasick had the absolute goods that night, since he left a couple balls over the plate, but given the quality of stuff coming out of MLB bullpens nowadays, footage of Jay Witasick in standard definition might as well be newsreel footage of Firpo Marberry.

But I will say that Witasick didn’t deserve to wear it the way he did.

We get into trouble when we think “deserve” enters into the equation at all. Baseball doesn’t reveal character. It doesn’t vindicate the righteous. It isn’t a machine by which moral virtue or even physical skill are the inputs in an equation that produces victory and defeat in any meaningful, direct way. It is chaotic, unforgiving, unpredictable and intractably, mercilessly, resolutely amoral.

Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Sometimes you wear it after the game’s been lost already.

Sometimes you wear it in front of tens of millions of television viewers, for no other reason than that’s the only way to move the game along. Because that’s how baseball works. Not that any of it matters.



[1] His legal name is “Gerald Alphonse Witasick,” making him unusual in that his nickname is a letter that does not appear in his legal name.

[2] Cleanup hitter Greg Colbrunn, for the record. How a team that batted Greg Colbrunn cleanup in an elimination game won the World Series will forever elude me.

[3] He struck out Jay Bell to lead off the fourth, but Bell reached on a wild pitch and scored.

[4] This column was a formative baseball experience for me, and sticks out in my memory every bit as much as anything that happened on the field in that World Series. I was 14 years old and already knew I wanted to be a baseball writer when I grew up, but reading that column only made me want it more.

[5] White’s column also gives examples of the kind of eponymy I was talking about with Alex Fernandez—he mentions Atlee Hammaker and Mitch Williams before predicting Kim would suffer the same fate.