The Twins NEEDED the win last night. Thanks to Brad Radke, they got it.
Two starts ago, Brad Radke looked like we feared he might actually be: injured. His arm was hurting and the performance illustrated that fact all too well. And as the plague continued to infest the starting rotation, and when the race was getting tighter and not in our favor, and when we needed him the most...it looked as though he might not be there for us.
But, as so often has happened in his career, Brad Radke was underestimated. Summer after summer after summer, the one constant thing you were able to count on was the presence of number 22. He's always done his job, and mostly he's done it very well. He's been a team player, in the most generous sense of the term. When I look back at the days of my youth, when I first started not just watching a Twins game but understanding it, Brad Radke was always there.
Last Thursday, as Radke began to warm up on the mound of Kauffman Stadium, my mind wasn't on the game. My mind, and my eyes, were on Radke's arm. I stared at it as he warmed up, as if something in it's movements could tell me what he was thinking and how he felt. As the game started, and he came out in the bottom of the first inning, I grimmanced mentally with each pitch. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Nothing was showing. Nine. Ten. Eleven. GET OUT OF THE INNING! my mind was insisting to nobody who could hear. Fifteen. Sixteen...
Calm, collected, cool, Brad Radke walked off the mound with no damage done...on the scoreboard, or to his arm. Head down, brim of the cap over his eyes, like always. Whatever he was feeling at that moment, about his arm or the game, he wasn't going to show anyone.
Innings wore on, and pitch after pitch, Radke delivered. Admittedly, it was a success against the Kansas City Royals, but performance is performance. There are no half-pitches, there is no autopilot. He didn't reach for his arm, he didn't take longer between throws, he didn't rely overtly on any particular pitch. Strike after strike after strike, Brad Radke pitched like he has for the last twelve years. Strike after strike after strike, I mentally bit my nails, hoping against hope that THIS wasn't the pitch that ended with Radke bent over in pain, holding his shoulder...
It never happened. Brad Radke pitched eight innings and picked up a well-deserved win. After the start, he said he felt "better", but side-stepped any further elaboration on the condition of his arm. Whatever pain he felt, whatever wasn't right, he wasn't going to let on to anyone. Picking up on a pattern?
Of course Radke knew what was on the line; personally and professionally. He understands pressure, expectation, demand and delivery. As he's done in the past, he didn't guarantee victory or talk about how big of a game it was for him or for the Twins. He came out, pitched a great game, and sat down.
The mark of a great man, or a great woman, is in their action. There is never a promise of victory, there is never a guarantee of success; this reality is what makes Radke's recent performances BIG performances. He found a way to push past the mental battle, physical battle, media battle, any number of battles, and he came out a winner...over more than just the Royals.
You can say it's just a game. You can use all the cliches we've heard before, and you can extinguish the meaning of a situation in sports as some sort of extracirricular hyped event, but you should never forget that greatness comes in many ways. Success can come on many fronts, from the personal to the public, and often times it's the quiet battles that mean the most.
Last night, Brad Radke pitched his second consecutive gem, when his team needed him the most. If you haven't been paying attention to the long-time Minnesota mainstay this year, start now. He's retiring after the season, and sooner rather than later, number 22 will be retired for the Twins. Catch Brad Radke while you have the chance.