Joe Biagini and the True Awareness of Fun

Following Torontos’ Wild Card-clinching win over the Red Sox at Fenway Park on Sunday, I asked Blue Jays reliever Joe Biagini if he’d just thrown the biggest inning of his life. Before answering, he paused to watch a champagne-soaked teammate traipse across the clubhouse, adorned in only a jockstrap, amid a cacophony of exultations.

“Probably,” mused Biagini. “Yesterday’s, today’s. They just kind of keep getting bigger.”

This one was huge. The 26-year-old rookie right-hander had entered in the eighth inning with the tying run on second base, and Dustin Pedroia — .318/.376/.449 on the season — due up. Two outs were needed to preserve a precious lead. That’s exactly what he got.

Biagini being Biagini — the king of eccentricity — he had a question of his own before I could get him to elaborate on his outing. What was the biggest inning of my own career? I told him that I once struck out the side on nine pitches in a Little League game. He claimed to be impressed.

I pressed on. Given the magnitude of the situation — a postseason berth potentially hanging in the balance — what was his mindset as he strolled in from the bullpen?

“I actually jogged in,” answered Biagini. “The goal is to have it not feel like there’s any more magnitude, or any less magnitude, than any other game. That allows you to focus the best. When you put it in that perspective, and think about the grand scheme of things — think about life and the blessings you’ve been given — it allows you to kind of relax.

“At the end of the day, it’s a game and it’s fun. It’s competitive, so you know it’s not always going to go perfectly. I think that clarity and focus, that simplicity, allows you to take the opportunity you’ve been given and make the most of it without tightening up.”

The confrontation with Pedroia was tense. Biagini ended up retiring the hard-nosed veteran on the ninth pitch of an at-bat that included several two-strike foul balls. A few of them came on aggressive swings. A few came on defensive swings. There was a line drive that hooked foul — not by much — that would have gone into the left-field corner and tied the game.

Pedroia was ultimately retired on a good defensive play by third baseman Josh Donaldson, who backhanded a ball near the bag and made a strong throw that got there in the nick of time. Biagini then fanned Brock Holt to end the inning.

I reminded the righty of his earlier word choice. Was the nail-biting battle with Pedroia “fun”?

“I hope it was,” said Biagini. “It’s hard to have a true awareness of fun when you’re in the middle of it. But if that wasn’t fun, then I don’t know what is going to be fun in this game. I guess the strikeout was pretty fun.

“I try to remind myself of how fun this is. I try to appreciate the fun-ness. I try to appreciate the fact that, if I don’t do well, nobody is going to shoot me. It’s not life or death. It’s just what we’re doing. It’s a game. We’re all trying our best, and I don’t deserve any more, or any less, than the other players on the field. I just try to execute and hope it all works out.”

There is a decent chance Biagini will pitch tonight when the Blue Jays face the Baltimore Orioles in the win-or-go-home Wild Card game. If he does, it will replace Sunday’s as the most important outing of his young career. There will be pressure, but Biagini will be determined to have fun. And regardless of what happens, his life will go on. So will everybody’s. At the end of the day, it’s just a game.





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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Lunch Angle
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Lunch Angle

I like this Biagini fellow.

Thomas Penney
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Thomas Penney

I’m a sox fan, but watching Biagini this year has been a joy.