The story was that John Ely not only came up challenging hitters, but that he convinced the tentative Chad Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw to do the same. Ely the golden child, Ely the student as master.
It’s all so simple, right? Just throw strikes.
Maybe Ely gave his two teammates something to think about. Maybe. But the real story is that throwing strikes isn’t a matter of simply choosing to do so.
Pitchers don’t will themselves to have command. Command comes from something far more nebulous, a combination of ability, mechanics, faith and fortune. And if just one piece of that puzzle is missing, the whole thing falls apart.
No one issues a four-pitch walk to start the second inning because they think it’s a good idea. It happens because pitching is hard. Just because you can throw strikes one day doesn’t mean you’ll throw them the next.
Ely seemed like he might have a preternatural or even supernatural ability to harness those mysterious forces. Now, we find he’s just like everyone else – except that, as we knew before, he has a thinner margin for error than everyone else.
Ely might bounce back. We’ll see. We’ll hope. If he isn’t as good as he was at the outset of his career, he’s not as bad as he was today.
But just remember this the next time you see a pitcher struggle with control. Don’t be that guy that asks, “How could he walk the pitcher?” Don’t be the one asking, “Why doesn’t he just throw strikes?” Don’t be that person. Because if you’ve ever watched baseball, you know the answer.
Pitching is hard.