08/24/2012 12:27 AM
Bill "Spaceman" Lee pitched a complete game, leading the San Rafael Pacifics to a 9-4 win over the Maui Na Koa Ikaika at Albert Park in San Rafael, Calif., on Thursday, Aug. 23, 2012. Photo Brandon Davis/Pacificsbaseball.com.
THE SPACEMAN LANDED at Albert Park on Thursday night. And so did about 1,200 fans thirsty for some extraterrestrial entertainment.
Bill "Spaceman" Lee — the 65-year-old, white-haired, Terra Linda High grad — moseyed his way to the mound, then mowed down the first-place Maui Na Koa Ikaika in a 9-4,
94-pitch complete-game victory.
After this one, they may start calling him the "Wizard."
Lee didn't allow a hit until one was retired in the fourth, and faced the minimum, Dumbledoring his way through the first 12 Maui hitters.
Lee, whose only caveat in his one-day contract was that he bat for himself — though the North American League uses a designated hitter — drove in the first Pacifics' run on a fifth-inning RBI single to right, wielding his homemade bat weighing in at more than 3 pounds.
The Spaceman worked quickly, was economical: didn't strike anyone out, didn't issue any free passes. Agrees with Bull Durham's Crash Davis, "Walks are fascist."
He hit one batter. It likely didn't hurt. He was throwing better than his age however. A radar gun caught a fastball at 70 MPH.
As the innings added up, Lee used his left index finger to let the planet know he had enough in the tank for one more hitter. That left index finger made a few appearances — about seven over the last two-plus innings.
29-year-old catcher D.J. Dixon, born in 1982 — the same year Lee last pitched in the big leagues with Montreal — doubled in three runs with a seventh-inning meteor to right that proved to be the game winner. Boon Maeda put one into orbit in the sixth, giving San Rafael a 4-3 lead. Splendid timing for his first as a Pacific.
Lee's carriage never turned into a pumpkin, though midnight seemed poised to strike on a few occasions for this senior Cinderello. It never did.
He outdid himself — and anyone's sublunary expectations — besting his 2010 record-breaking start with the Brockton Rox when he went 5 1/3 for the win. Lee danced through trouble, saved his arm on warm-up pitches, limited the damage and let his defense do the work. He threw 69 of his 94 lobs for strikes. That's a 73-percent strike rate — better than some NBA free-throw percentages.
After San Rafael added a pair in the eighth, Lee signed some autographs from the dugout, intermittently taking a pull from a frosty replenisher. He laid down a sacrifice bunt to a standing ovation.
Hardly an earthling left early.
He needed just three pitches in the third. Only 10 in the ninth — feeding off the stupefied crowd that stood through the better part of 2 hour, 21 minute magic show.
"You did a great job, awesome job," Lee told his battery mate, Dixon, holding a 16-ounce can of Budweiser (perspiring only slightly more than Lee himself) in his right hand, signing autographs with his left amidst a postgame pool of fans, photographers and the team's mascot, awaiting an autograph.
Also sitting in his locker? His game-worn pants.
"I was going to change these pants, I hate these (expletive) pants," Lee said. "But they work pretty good."
His bat, jersey and the lineup card are off to the Baseball Hall of Fame. That's fine by Bill.
It's not likely he would have kept them. He's not a collector.
"Don't collect anything you can't keep in the back of a Chevy," Lee delivered like a stump speech line he's used a hundred times. "Mini storages are ruining America. … That and cell phones."
Lee doesn't own a cell phone, but he does own the only Pacifics complete game win in franchise history.
He did keep one memento.
"I've got your ball (you hit for a double) in my locker right now," he told Dixon. "That's the ball I'm keeping from this game."
Lost in his bow-legged gait, the "Leephus" pitches and two strained bottom buttons on his navy blue No. 31 Pacifics jersey? San Rafael pulled even with Maui as the two teams start a best-of-three playoff Friday to decide the division champion.
"That's amazing," Pacifics manager Mike Marshall said. "One of the greatest performances I've ever seen on a baseball field."
Marshall won two World Series titles with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
"I've done a lot of stupid things in my life," said team President and General Manager Mike Shapiro, "This was not one of them."
Lee was probably the least surprised.
"I'm able to still do this," Lee said, "Because I've never quit."