One good or bad inning does not make a baseball career, of course, but the confidence gained or lost from that one inning can go a long way towards making the start of a career more positive or negative.
Tuesday night, Detroit Tigers' rookie Robbie Ray was the recipient of some horrible baseball luck not 20 minutes into being a major league pitcher. First, there was a soft-serve hit down the first base line by Jose Altuve that turned into a double. Then, Ray was a bit slow covering first base, allowing speedy Dexter Fowler to leg out an infield single.
In the blink of an eye, there were runners on first and third with nobody out. The pitcher's nightmare had come to fruition quickly.
At that point, there were two different directions Ray could have gone. He could have let nerves take over and imploded, giving up several runs in the midst of a long and painful inning. Thankfully for the Tigers, Ray was able to overcome the nerves and chose the second option.
He simply got tougher.
Ray blew away Jason Castro and Chris Carter with strikeouts, then induced a weak groundout from Jesus Guzman to calmly end the threat. Houston had scored no runs off the rookie, which was bad news for them. The crowd roared.
From that point on, as expected, Ray was nearly unhittable, retiring ten straight batters before a walk stalled the momentum in the fifth and Houston finally caught on in the sixth, collecting a few louder hits and scoring a run thanks to a miscue by Ian Kinsler.
The damage had been done, however. Ray had settled into a groove, allowed his offense to support him and gotten confidence. Most of the time, the first few innings represent defining moments for young pitchers. Ray passed his test, and as a result, he had the confidence to motor through the subsequent innings. He'll also have the confidence to hit the mound again for his next start.
Had things gone the other way, Ray might have silently begun to doubt his own abilities or major league readiness. Pitchers are funny like that. Even when luck conspires against them, they believe it's still their responsibility to get the needed outs. He may have struggled through the next innings, letting the Astros build a lead, perhaps casting a pall over his career.
Instead, Wednesday morning, the narrative became how Ray simply shut down a Houston lineup better suited for the minor leagues. Credit Ray for battling back after the bad luck and making the best possible first impression.
Without tap dancing around stomach butterflies in the first inning successfully, that would have never been the case. If Ray manages to have a fantastic career, it will be impossible to forget the inning which may have kick started everything.
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