What do you do with an ace who has emotional problems?
If anyone should know, it would be the Seattle Mariners, who have specialized in that species over the last two decades.
Think Felix Hernandez lost his focus Sunday and cost Seattle a game?
Randy Johnson did that for two years before harnessing what became a Cy Young Award-winning career that will land him in the Hall of Fame.
Freddy Garcia won’t get to the Hall, but he would storm around the mound after bad calls, scream at teammates after bad games and – occasionally – finish off a few 44-ounce margaritas after absorbing a tough loss.
Both Johnson and Garcia eventually found some inner peace.
Bet Felix will, too – but not before completely growing up.
At 21, it’s easy to say he should be a complete pitcher now, but anyone who’s ever been 21 knows that it can be an age where you only think you’re mature.
Now add in these factors: You’re young, you’re adored by family, friends and the Mariners nation.
By any standards, you’re immensely talented and doing well, financially.
And now you’re asked to deal with things like bad calls behind the plate and teammates who cover the wrong base on bunt plays.
Roy Halladay out-pitched Hernandez on Sunday, although that may not be as easy the next time Hernandez gets matched up in one of these pitching duels. Winning games isn’t simply a matter of talent – Hernandez threw 98 mph fastballs, biting sliders, knee-buckling changeups against Toronto.
The difference was simple. Halladay was unflappable on the mound, whatever the situation.
Hernandez wasn’t. A bad call went against him, a third strike that could have totally changed the game had it been called.
What shouldn’t happen next time is what followed – Felix coming unglued, grooving two pitches and giving up five quick runs.
No one has to remind Hernandez what happened, although oth his manager and pitching coach did so.
What Hernandez needs isn’t another pitch. What he needs is to leave behind that part of his youth where emotions roam freely – from joy to outrage. It’s nothing any of us enjoy losing, that freedom.
But no great pitcher ever became great until he did it.