Bradford: A Red Sox reminder for LeBron James

Rob Bradford
May 15, 2018 - 2:10 am

USA Today Sports

"What happened? Um, the first possession ..."

And so it began. LeBron James delighting the assembled media with a blow-by-blow account of the Celtics' run to begin the fourth quarter run Sunday. It was a verbal timeline that would be punctuated with a not-so-modest shrug and a "There you go," from the King. And then there was, of course, the applause.

Being there, the whole thing was truly uncomfortable. Why? Sure, the clapping was bizarre. But really what made the headline-making account of a few plays kind of stomach-turning was what a big deal James, and some of the assembled media, wanted to make it.

This didn't make James special. It made him a professional athlete.

I figured the best way to confirm my instincts was to put a few Red Sox players to the same test over at Fenway Park about 24 hours after James' display. So a collection of relievers who had pitched the day before in Toronto were asked to execute a similar sort of exercise displayed by the Cavaliers' star.

First up, Matt Barnes.

"Started [Justin> Smoak off with a curveball. He fouled it off. Then we threw a curveball down. He took it. We went heater up and he flew out to center. Next at-bat was (Yangervis) Solarte. Solarte we went back-to-back splitters to start. Back-door curveball, fouled off. Curveball down and away, singled into left-center. (Kevin) Pillar we started off with a fastball, came middle-in, strike. He took that one for a strike. Splitter he fouled off down the left-field line. The next pitch we went fastball and he fouled it back. Spitter in the dirt, he took it. Splitter in the dirt -- doubled it up -- he swung and miss. Russell Martin we went first-pitch curveball, missed up and then we went heater away, but it ran middle-in and he hit a double down the line. Benny (Andrew Benintendi) threw it to Bogie (Xander Bogaerts). Bogey threw it to Vazqy (Christian Vazquez) and he was out at the plate. That was it. Every pitch."

That was 14 pitches, to be exact.

Then there was Heath Hembree, who had a 15-pitch outing.

"First pitch in to Kendrys Morales, missed for a ball. Second pitch was a fastball that ended up middle-middle. Then I went slider down and he check-swung, swung through for Strike Two. Then I went curveball down and away, below the zone, and he hit it to right field for a single. Then I threw (Curtis) Granderson two curveballs for balls, then I went slider down and in for a strike and fastball up, above the zone. Checked swing for a strike. Then I threw a slider that was kind of middle of the zone for Strike Three. Then I threw (Richard) Urena a slider in and he hit it to third and we got the out at second. Teoscar Hernandez I went first-pitch fastball away, kind of down, and he swung through it. Second pitch fastball up and away for a ball. Then two fastballs up and away, swung through them, strikeout. That’s that."

The execution of the pitchers wasn't surprising. This is what professional athletes, and particularly baseball players, do. It's a reality most everyone in that Red Sox clubhouse confirmed, with the James' press conference serving as a conversation piece leading up to Monday night's game.

"Nah, not at all," said Red Sox manager Alex Cora when asked if he was surprised James was able to rattle off that Celtics' run.

"We have very detailed memories," said the guy who was pitching at the time of James' beatdown at the TD Garden Sunday afternoon, Drew Pomeranz. "We record everything in our head."

The relievers' ability to swiftly and succinctly recall their outings from a day before was just a small example of where these guys are coming from. Even the starting pitchers can at least come close to remembering each and every one of their offerings, with David Price confirming that he not only could draw upon every one of his 93 pitches from Saturday but could also identify the pitches from each reliever who came in after him.

"It definitely is going to help you, being able to remember what you did against certain guys with certain pitches," said Price, who was identified, along with Rick Porcello, as the two Red Sox who most likely had the best recall. "Now you obviously have video and all that stuff, but to be able to remember on your own, being able to see it and replay it in your mind, it definitely helps."

This is why what James did shouldn't add to any legend, but should only remind us why this memory stuff is so important. And maybe that's why the moment was so off-putting. We should expect he would remember a few possessions because such a trait is what often times makes successful athletes so successful.

Ask anybody. Ask Jonny Gomes.

"It was the 2013 World Series. We’re facing St. Louis in the at-bat I hit a home run. So in comes Seth Maness, who I had never faced, like ever. We do a little video and reports and stuff, but being able to see the guy is way more valuable than video or paper. I have the stuff in my head and he throws a pitch and I go into my hitting Rolodex and I pull out Luke Gregerson, a home run I hit in 2012 in Oakland. I needed that pitch and that swing to succeed in that at-bat and the exact same thing happened."

In the words of LeBron James, there you go.

"Everybody knows," said Barnes regarding each and every moment in a professional athlete's performance. "You just know."

(Insert clapping here.)

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