What to do?
As the T-Bones batted in the top of the 14th inning of an already wild game on Saturday night in Winnipeg, Manitoba, manager Joe Calfapietra contemplated who should pitch the bottom of the frame.
The T-Bones’ bullpen had been exhausted and center fielder Kyle Petty had pitched the previous two innings.
Calfapietra then noticed that right-handed starter Matt Sergey was loosening up in the bullpen. Sergey had started two days earlier, but something was different on Saturday.
“He was throwing left-handed with the right-fielder, so I’m watching him do this while the game was going on,” Calfapietra said. “He was kind of letting me know, ‘I’m ready. I’ll be ready if you need me’ in his own way, instead of coming up and telling me.”
Sergey, who was in the A’s system in each of the last two seasons, didn’t try his hand as a lefty as a total lark. A decade earlier, he’d started tossing the ball as a southpaw while in high school. And he’d been working on it on the side with the T-Bones.
“I wasn’t born ambidextrous,” Sergey said. “But I taught myself through multiple injuries to start working on the left hand. ... I threw a bullpen the day before I went in and felt like if I got the opportunity, I’m not going to miss out on it now.”
The T-Bones had blown leads of 5-0 and 7-2 in the game and trailed 9-7 in the ninth when Tyler Horan hit a two-run homer to tie it. Both teams scored twice in the 13th, but it was 11-11 going to to bottom of the 14th when Sergey was summoned to try something he’d never done in a game.
The first batter Sergey faced walked on five pitches. Sergey got to a 3-2 count on the next batter and tried to put him away with his fastball. Trouble is his fastball topped out at 76 mph when he tested his left-handed throws with a radar gun present on Friday. That’s nearly 20 mph slower than a fastball he throws right-handed.
The batter fouled off three pitches before drawing a walk.
Inexplicably, the Winnipeg manager then called for a bunt and the runners moved up a base. The T-Bones’ plan now was to intentionally walk the next batter and hope to get a double play to end the inning.
Sergey threw the first pitch with his left hand and it didn’t feel comfortable. He wanted to toss the next three as a right-hander, but the rules say a pitcher has to complete an at-bat throwing with only one arm. It’s the Pat Venditte rule, named after the ambidextrous pitcher who has pitched for three teams in the majors and is now with the Phillies’ Class AAA team.
The next pitch from Sergey was wild and Winnipeg walked off with a 12-11 win. At five hours and 25 minutes, it was the longest game in American Association history.
It was the latest chapter in Sergey’s interesting baseball career. In 2007, he was drafted in the 45th round by the Milwaukee Brewers but didn’t sign. He went to a junior college and the Padres contacted him after the 2008 draft, but he didn’t sign.
Instead he attended Campbell University, and had Tommy John surgery as a senior. He started pitching in the Independent Frontier League in 2013, and threw a perfect game while with the Washington Wild Things in 2014.
Sergey, 27, got a chance to pitch for Oakland’s Class A-advanced team last season and again this year. He was released by the A’s in May and signed with the T-Bones last month. Now, he might be the only professional pitcher in baseball history to throw a perfect game and pitch in a game with both hands.
Although he took the loss, it wasn’t a total disaster because Sergey recorded an out.
“It was something on the bucket list and the game worked out to the point where it was like, ‘Why not?’ ” Sergey said. “I was definitely a little rusty doing it. It wasn’t as clean as I was hoping it would be, but it worked out the way it worked out.”