Jake Peavy, the Giants’ starter for Tuesday’s Game 6, was sitting on the bench during one of his starts earlier this season. The TV camera zoomed in on him, because TV directors love them some Peavy.
He picked up a plastic water bottle, unscrewed the cap, held the bottle under one nostril and sniffed. Then the other nostril, sniff.
Smelling salts? Could it be?
Smelling salts are so old-school. They used to be used to revive fighters, football players and other athletes who got their bell rung. One whiff is like a sharp slap in the face. Smelling salts can hide concussion symptoms, though, and have fallen out of use.
One sniff can give you a peppy jolt, but why would Peavy need that? He doesn’t seem drowsy or groggy on the mound. He looks like someone just dropped a toaster in his lap in the bathtub.
I asked Peavy if he uses smelling salts.
“Yeah,” he said, “I like doing the smelling salts, yeah. Gets you locked back in, just helps me lock back in. Just kind of gives you the last little kick, where you don’t go back out there comfortable, nice and easy and relaxed.
“Especially when you’ve had some good innings and you got in a good rhythm, you can get relaxed on the mound at times, and when I’m relaxed on the mound and comfortable, that’s when you can not have the full concentration, and slip up, and guys get you.”
So comfort, the state to which every other pitcher in the world aspires, is uncomfortable to Peavy. Feeling good is a bad feeling. There’s got to be a country song here.
Madison Bumgarner on the mound looks placid as a fellow planting roses while sipping chamomile tea. Peavy looks like he’s gathering himself to rush back into the saloon brawl.
“To each his own,” Peavy said with a shrug. “In this game there’s no blueprint. . .I like to feel on edge. I’m an on-edge guy, I don’t want to be comfortable.”
In Peavy’s first start with the Giants, back in July when they got him from the Red Sox in trade for two pitching prospects, pitching coach Dave Righetti noticed a couple of the Giants’ young players laughing as they watched Peavy scream at himself on the mound.
Righetti sidled over the youngsters and said, “You think it’s funny? Tell you what, when he comes back to the dugout, why don’t you go over and tell him it’s funny.”
Peavy chuckled when I told him Righetti’s story. By the way, when Peavy isn’t pitching, he’s not a lunatic. He’s the best talker on the ballclub, as open and accessible as anyone in the game. He doesn’t rage, he converses.
Peavy said every time he gets traded, it takes his new teammates a while to get used to his style. If they laugh, but they do so behind his back, because it’s clear his act is not for laughs.
“Yeah, it’s not funny,” Peavy said. “There’s nothing funny about it in the moment. It’s a tough league, and you better be ready on game day, especially when you’re a starting pitcher and you only get to get out there every five days, that day is very special and serious.”
He stresses that he tries not to cuss or show disrespect for his opponents or for umpires. But during one Peavy start with the Giants, the first base ump called “safe” on a checked- swing appeal, and Peavy reacted in a highly-agitated fashion.
Righetti, who minds his pitchers’ heads as carefully as he does their arms, was immediately on red alert. He knows that umpires, being almost human, tend to react in kind to volatile anger. From the dugout, Righetti appealed to both men to cool down.
Peavy’s rage is almost always directed at himself, unless it’s the positive rage he saves for a teammates making a great defensive play behind him. Instead of a subtle nod, the teammate gets Peavy’s killer-face thank-you, with gestures.
Peavy said he inherited his intensity from his father and grandfather, cabinet-makers, blue collar guys with a ton of pride in their work. Working with them, Peavy quickly picked up on the determination to build better cabinets than anyone else, to do it right.
My guess is that his dad and grandfather didn’t rage like crazy men as they worked. That’s a tool little Jake developed himself. I asked Peavy if coaches and managers over the years tried to cool him down.
“Of course,” he said. “And even in the big leagues I’ve had times where it’s been tried. . .It’s a fight I’ve been fighting for 13 years now in the big leagues, and I feel I do a pretty good job of managing my emotions. Yet at the same time, being myself. What you see is what you get. It’s also an honest approach, and that means something to me as well.”
Scott Ostler is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter @scottostler