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Tales from The Baseball Thesaurus: Relief Pitcher

Ballpark Digest squareIf replacement batters are called pinch hitters, why aren’t replacement pitchers called pinch pitchers? They originally were, as explained by Jesse Goldberg-Strassler in this week’s Tales from the Baseball Thesaurus.

Relief pitchers are used in a pinch, and today they’re used in a variety of specialized roles: closers, set-up men, middle relievers, long and short relievers, or a mop-up man. If a relief pitcher pitches poorly, they’re known as a gas can: throwing fuel on a fire by taking a bad situation and making it worse. On the other hand, the best pitcher in the bullpen is the fireman, who puts out that fire. 

Perhaps the finest relief job came in 1917, when Ernie Shore replaced Babe Ruth—who had been thrown out of the game after Ruth punched home-plate umpire Brick Owens in a dispute over balls and strikes for leadoff batter Ray Morgan—and after Morgan was thrown out trying to steal second, proceeded to retire the next 26 batters. Relief for Shore, a no-hitter for Boston.

Goldberg-Strassler shares his insights on the colorful patois of America’s Pastime in this weekly podcast. You can find The Baseball Thesaurus at

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