I remember when Vic Raschi, who would become one of the Yankees’ fabled Big Three rotation, first came up to the Yankees. It was late in the 1946 season, and he started a game against the Philadelphia Athletics, I believe it was. For the first three innings he was all right, but in the fourth he ran into trouble, and there he was, runners on first and third, one out, and he couldn’t get a handle on his stuff.
He was standing there on the mound, trying to figure out what to do next, when suddenly he heard a disembodied voice coming from somewhere near him. That voice said, “He can’t hit a high fast ball.” (The “he” may have been Elmer Valo, who was a tough cookie up there at the plate.) So Raschi stepped off the mound and looked around, trying to determine where the voice was coming from. Now, in those days they used to have just three umpires working the game, and when there was a runner on base one of the umps, usually the first base guy, would take up a position between the mound and second base. Raschi looked around and saw Bill Summers—the first-base umpire—bent over behind the mound, tying his shoelaces. Other than that the guy didn’t move—but Raschi heard the voice again: “Yeah, you heard me right. He can’t hit a high fast ball.” And this time there was no mistake—the umpire was talking to the pitcher! After a couple of seconds Summers continued, “We Massachusetts boys have to stick together.” (Raschi was from West Springfield and Summers was from somewhere near Boston.) So Raschi returned to the mound, struck out the next two batters and got out of the inning without being scored on.
And there are other things pitchers have done to recover their composure and their focus. Lefty Gomez, when he ran into a tight spot, would call time and step off the mound, look up at the sky and watch an airplane. Allie Reynolds used to go to the rosin bag and futz around with it for a minute or so. These are just a few examples. Very often, just this kind of interruption can get a pitcher back on the beam. And at times the catcher can go out to the mound and talk to the pitcher, tell him a funny story and crack him up—this too can break the tension. Or he can get the pitcher momentarily riled up: one time Yogi Berra went out to the mound, thinking that he would tell Raschi something like “I think you’re losing it”, only to be greeted by His Royal Surliness: “Give me the goddam ball and get back behind the plate, you idiot!” And Yogi liked that because it told him that the Springfield Rifle was back on the beam.
So, however you do it, you can regain your focus and resume what you’re good at—throwing strikes and getting outs. 8)