The seventh-inning appearance of an Oakland A's minor-league call up does not typically qualify as historic.
But Pat Venditte is anything but typical, and his appearance Friday night against the Red Sox at Boston made the kind of history that could change the way baseball is played.
Venditte is a right-handed reliever. He also happens to be a left-handed reliever, which makes him a switch-pitcher. Venditte is not the first switch-pitcher with the ability to alternate throwing arms on a regular basis, merely the first one since 1894.
Greg A. Harris, a former reliever for the Montreal Expos, showed off his switch-pitching skills in a 1995 game against the Cincinnati Reds. But that was a late-September novelty act for Harris, a veteran who had plans to retire after the season. He threw one scoreless inning, facing right-handed batters Reggie Saunders and Bret Boone from the right side and left-handed batters Hal Morris and Ed Taubensee from the left side.
Venditte worked two innings Friday, allowing one hit and no runs. He was no novelty act. The A's own what amounts to a wild card in their bullpen, somebody who provides consistently favorable matchups against both right-handers and left-handers.
And though Venditte didn't earn a save for finishing the last two innings of a 4-2 defeat, his versatility spared manager Bob Melvin from using another reliever or two in the bullpen. This was beneficial for the A's and a heaven-sent gift for the rest of us.
An emphasis on same-sided confrontations usually begins around the seventh inning of a close game, after the starter has been removed. The crisp pace slows to a stultifying crawl when a lefty reliever is called upon for one batter, and a righty reliever is summoned for another batter: back and forth, la-dee-dah, the meeting on the mound followed by a call to the bullpen, followed by warm-up pitches, followed by a one at-bat sequence.
Venditte, bless him, has the arm — er, arms — to keep things cruising in the diamond lane. A natural right-hander, the son of a physical-education teacher began throwing with his left hand at the age of three.
Humans, as Pat Venditte Sr. knew, are genetically wired to a dominant side. But he also knew how muscle memory can be acquired through practice. Father and son played catch for hours at a time, a labor of love that produced an ambidextrous pitcher whose quirky talent posed an obvious question: What kind of glove would he wear?
Venditte wears a glove specifically manufactured for him in Japan. There are slots for four fingers and — voila — two additional slots for his thumbs, one on the right and one on the left.
Tony Mullane, who preceded Harris as the last big league pitcher to throw with either hand, was not burdened by such an equipment quandary. A 19th century workhorse who won 284 games, Mullane didn't use a glove.
To put Venditte's Friday night appearance for the A's in perspective: His most recent ambidextrous pitching peer was born in 1859, and won 284 games without wearing a glove.
Forgive my fascination about this, but it's personal. I threw baseballs right-handed as a kid, shot basketballs left-handed, thought nothing about it until I began to dread something as simple as playing catch as a participant in an adult softball league. I didn't know where the ball was going, and was tinkering with the idea of overhauling everything — throwing with my left hand, erasing all the terrible experience from my muscle-memory bank — when it occurred to me that I was a 40-year-old father with more pressing concerns.
That Pat Venditte can throw a fastball, changeup and slider with either hand puts him on my list of all-time favorite athletes. He also makes me wonder: How valuable is ambidexterity in sports?
Boston Celtics' great Bob Cousy fell from a tree as a teenager, breaking his right hand. During his recuperation, Cousy was forced to rely on his left hand, and the rest is basketball legend.
Hook shots are rarely attempted these days, but watching film clips of players who were as adept using either hand on that shot — the sheer, fundamental beauty of floating a ball over a defender — still enthrall me.
Would an ambidextrous quarterback pose problems for a football defense? I wonder. The passer could roll out in either direction, liberated from the difficult task of attempting a throw across the body. And there would be no such thing as a blind side.
Faking a pass with the right hand, then faking a pass with the left hand, seems like a blueprint to create confusion in the secondary. Then again, it also might be a blueprint to create confusion among the receivers.
We won't see an ambidextrous quarterback any time soon. Thinking out of the box is not encouraged in the NFL and, for that matter, it's not encouraged in any pro sports league.
The Oakland A's are the defiant ones. They've got a reliever who, as his minor league pitching coach Don Schulze recently said, is "one in a million. You don't have to worry about matchups ... just bring him into the game and he's ready to rock and roll.
"The percentages are always in his favor. It's like playing with house money."
Pat Venditte's ability to throw with either arm minimizes the laborious micro-managing that turns two-hour games into three-hour games.
May he rock and roll forever.