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Right Place in at right time

April 24, 1999|By BOB PARASILITI

In most cases, Eric Place enjoys a good stretch as much as the next guy.

But on Friday, Place's stretch made him do anything but relax.

The Hagerstown Suns reliever came on to protect a 3-1 lead in the seventh inning against the Delmarva Shorebirds. And as it turned out, pitching out of the stretch almost tightened things up for Place and the Suns.

"I don't know what it was," Place said. "I'm a reliever. I come in and pitch out of the stretch all the time. (Friday) was the first time anything like that has ever happened."

The stretch is the shortened windup pitchers use when runners are on base. Pitcher bring their hands to their waist, where they pause, before coming to the plate. The motion is shorter than the full windup and helps keep the runners from getting big jumps off base.

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But in Friday's sequence, runners didn't have to run against Place. They were able to walk.

Place took over for starter Taylor Smith after sitting in the bullpen for six innings on a frigid, blustery night. The right-hander easily recorded the first two outs before issuing consecutive walks to Maikell Diaz, Ashanti Davison and E.D. Johnson.

"(Pitching coach Hector Berrios) came out and told me, 'It's the bottom of the batting order. Just throw strikes and make them hit them. You have to get these guys in the order out.' But everything was moving up and out of the strike zone."

Suddenly, he was the wrong Place for the situation.

But with the bases loaded, Delmarva's runners weren't going anywhere. Using the stretch was a stretch.

"With the bases loaded, I got to go back to the windup," Place said.

In the windup, Place put down Craig Daedlow on strikes to end the threat. He backed it up by striking out the side in order in the eighth as the Suns pulled away to a 5-1 victory.

"I've struggled before and walked people, but never like that," Place said. "I couldn't find the control. In the second inning, I felt a lot more comfortable. I kind of have a heavy front leg when I pitch. I went out in the second inning and was trying to land lighter on it."

Of course, there are some relief pitchers known for an inability to pitch without the adversity of baserunners. They are the ones who put a Maalox bottle in a manager's back pocket.

But down worry, Suns manager Rolando Pino. Place isn't one of them.

"Really, I want to pitch with no one on," he said.

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