Baseball is a game of adjustments, but Joe Kelly took that axiom to a whole different level in the 2016 playoffs.
The hard-throwing reliever was one of the Boston Red Sox’s few bright spots in their disappointing American League Division Series loss to the Cleveland Indians. He retired all 11 batters he faced in 3 2/3 innings of work, striking out three batters in three appearances.
But the story behind Kelly’s postseason success is much cooler than those stats. During a recent appearance on the podcast of WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford, Kelly revealed he actually developed a new pitch before the playoffs started — like, right before the playoffs started.
“In the playoffs, it was all sliders,” Kelly told Bradford, via WEEI.com. “I kind of tweaked the sliders with (assistant pitching coach) Brian Bannister. I think it was the first day in Cleveland, I held the same grip but did something with my wrist, the way I cocked it a little bit different. I played catch with him warming up before batting practice for about 10 minutes. I liked how it spun, and he liked how it spun and how it went straight down and disappeared, kind of like a Chris Archer-type slider.
“So, I got into the game and I shook to it because I wanted to test it out, and got a good swing and miss on it. So I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to keep throwing it.'”
Kelly did just that: At one point in Game 3, the 28-year-old says he threw his new pitch 10 times over a 13-pitch span. That’s a lot of confidence in a pitch Kelly developed literally at the last minute.
Here are two looks at the pitch used against Cleveland shortstop Francisco Lindor, the second getting the young star to swing and miss for a strikeout.
“It was something I learned probably 10 minutes before Game 1,” Kelly told Bradford. “I was like, ‘You know what, why not?’ That is kind of my personality. If I see something I see works, or I think will work, it’s something I’m going to try.”
Kelly didn’t necessarily invent a new pitch as much as he made a tweak to an existing one. But doing so and then executing it in such a high-stakes situation still is pretty impressive.
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images