Best In The Show We went to the supreme master of each type of pitch to answer this question: How do you do that?

March 31, 2003

Zito's Curveball

Barry Zito
OAKLAND ATHLETICS

PCT. OF TIME HE MOST EFFECTIVE
AGE CAREER W-L CAREER ERA THROWS CURVEBALL AGAINST

24 47-17 3.04 30%-40% LH HITTERS

"A lot of times it's high in the strike zone and you give up on
it. You may think at first it's a high fastball and then it drops
in on you." --JASON GIAMBI, NEW YORK YANKEES 1B

"Pulling down with the middle finger is the key," Zito says,
"because all a curveball is is rotation." His goal is to change
the batter's idea of what a strike is. "If I can throw a curve
that starts at his eyes and drops in for a strike, the hitter
processes that as a strike," he says. "Then I can throw a high
fastball, and he thinks that's a strike too."

Martinez's Changeup

Pedro Martinez
BOSTON RED SOX

PCT. OF TIME HE MOST EFFECTIVE
AGE CAREER W-L CAREER ERA THROWS CHANGEUP AGAINST

31 152-63 2.62 15%-25% LH HITTERS

"There really aren't words to describe it. Filth comes to mind.
... The hamate breaker." --DOUG MIENTKIEWICZ, MINNESOTA TWINS 1B

Facing Martinez is a game of Red Sox roulette: What's coming--the
mid90s fastball or the low-80s changeup? His arm action on the
changeup is no tipoff: It's the same as if he were throwing his
heater. "By the time the ball gets there, the batter has got to
be ready to adjust to it," he says. "Otherwise it's too late."
Even if the hitter guesses correctly, he must still deal with the
late-breaking movement of the pitch. "It tails away from lefties,
in on righties with a drop at the end," he says. "Nothing
special."

Johnson's Slider

Randy Johnson
ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

PCT. OF TIME HE MOST EFFECTIVE
AGE CAREER W-L CAREER ERA THROWS SLIDER AGAINST

39 224-106 3.06 55%-65% LH HITTERS

"You're thinking fastball and that rotation is so tight that by
the time you pick it up it's too late. There's no pitch close to
it in this league." --BRIAN JORDAN, LOS ANGELES DODGERS LF

Sliders, like witches, are nothing if not wicked, and Johnson's
is the nastiest of them all. "Its sharpness is a matter of
velocity," he says. "The harder you throw it the harder it
rotates, and that's what makes the ball cut down." Once he's
ahead in the count and has established to the hitter that he can
throw the pitch for a strike, he'll throw another slider off the
plate. "It's an illusion that it's going to be a strike, so he
swings at it," he says. "I've hit several hitters in the foot."

Rivera's Cutter

Mariano Rivera
NEW YORK YANKEES

PCT. OF TIME HE MOST EFFECTIVE
AGE CAREER W-L CAREER ERA THROWS CUTTER AGAINST

33 38-27 2.60 55%-65% LH AND RH

"Great velocity and control--and he's fearless about when he
throws it." --ALEX RODRIGUEZ, TEXAS RANGERS SS

You can gauge the movement on Rivera's cutter by counting the
number of broken bats. When it's working properly, the pitch
approaches like a fastball, then seemingly takes a lefthand turn,
sawing off lefty hitters. "I want ground balls," he says.
"They're better than strikeouts." And hitters better be looking
for the cutter from the time they step into the box. "I'll throw
it the first pitch of the at bat or the last pitch," he says. "It
doesn't make a difference to me."

Colon's Four-Seamer

Bartolo Colon
CHICAGO WHITE SOX

PCT. OF TIME HE MOST EFFECTIVE
AGE CAREER W-L CAREER ERA THROWS SPLIT-FINGER AGAINST

29 85-49 3.85 45%-55% RH HITTERS

"I know physics says there's no way a ball can rise, but with this
pitch you have the perception that it does."
--NOMAR GARCIAPARRA, BOSTON RED SOX SS

It's not just the speed of Colon's four-seamer that intimidates
hitters, it's the variations--inside or outside, up or down, fast
or faster. "For righthanded hitters I throw it to the outside,
either high or low," he says. "For lefthanded hitters I throw it
inside mostly and to the outside every so often." Depending on
the situation, he'll bring the gas between 93 and 100 mph. "I can
throw it at that high speed, or I can take something off and
paint it," he says.

Smoltz's Split-Finger

John Smoltz
ATLANTA BRAVES

PCT. OF TIME HE MOST EFFECTIVE
AGE CAREER W-L CAREER ERA THROWS SPLIT-FINGER AGAINST

35 163-118 3.34 35%-45% LH HITTERS

"He uses that splitter more like a sinker. It's firm, and as hard
as he throws it, you don't have much time to react."
--CRAIG BIGGIO, HOUSTON ASTROS CF

Before his right-elbow surgery in 2000 Smoltz threw the splitter
exclusively to lefties. Today the Braves' closer doesn't
discriminate and strikes out hitters on both sides of the plate
with this nasty pitch, which is thrown like a fastball and looks
like a fastball but is not a fastball at all. "It's thrown hard
and has such late-breaking movement that it gives guys less
chance to recognize it," he says. "I want the splitter to start
where my fastball ends up and then disappear."

SIX COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY WALTER IOOSS JR. SIX COLOR ILLUSTRATIONS: ILLUSTRATIONS BY JOE ZEFF COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY WALTER IOOSS JR. ILLUSIONIST Martinez sets up his circle change with a heater thatbarrels in at 94 mph. COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY WALTER IOOSS JR. PITCHCRAFT Johnson began working on his slider as an Expos minorleaguer in the 1980s. COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY WALTER IOOSS JR. CUTTING 'EM DOWN RIVERA HAS AVERAGED NEARLY a strikeout perinning over the past two seasons. COLOR PHOTO: V.J. LOVERO (2) KILLING HEAT Colon's fastball can hit triple digits on the radargun, even in the late innings. COLOR PHOTO: V.J. LOVERO (2) COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY WALTER IOOSS JR. ANYTIME SMOLTZ HAS SUCH CONFIDENCE IN HIS SPLITTER, HE'LL THROWIT ON A 3-AND-0 COUNT.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)