KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Matt Gage is the latest poster boy for it’s never too late in baseball.
A nine-year career minor-leaguer and at the age of 29, Gage got the call Sunday that his time had finally come.
The Blue Jays have been going through relievers like a family of six goes through toilet paper, so perhaps the writing was on the wall for Gage.
But when you’ve spent as long as he has waiting for the call, even when the opportunity looks like it’s coming, you stay in denial.
“You can, but the only problem with that is you start playing GM and you get in your head a little about that,” Gage said, stopping in the dugout to speak with reporters before the game. “I have done it in the past, especially when I was younger.”
Gage didn’t come out and say it, but he clearly stopped doing that at some point.
He readily admitted there were times when it felt like his career would end before he ever made it to the major leagues.
He credits his opportunity today with a willingness to try anything just to remain in the game.
“I just started throwing things at a board,” Gage said. “I was in Mexico in 2019 and I was: ‘OK, if my career is over in the States, how do I get to Asia? How do I get better?’
“OK, yeah, you can play professionally in Mexico and have a decent career, but how do you get better? That was really the goal. I was just throwing things at a wall and seeing what stuck. Luckily, I found what works for my legs, my arms, and my body tempo and it just clicked. It was that A-Ha moment and it clicked for me.”
What worked was completely going away from the big windup and long arm action he had always pitched with, and replacing it with a shorter one, to the target kind of action that somehow gave him more velocity and better movement than the big extended action he had been employing.
“I almost try to throw like a catcher (now),” Gage said. “When I was young, I had a very long arm swing. My mechanics almost looked lazy honestly. During (the height of) COVID I was watching (Lucas) Giolito pitch for the White Sox and I saw him shorten up his arm and he was the ace. Coming up he was 95-97 but he was all over the place. So, I looked at him, and thought: ‘I might want to try that.’ It was the new thing coming into baseball.”
For whatever reason, the short arm action was exactly what Gage needed.
“I was throwing a bullpen and I alternated, long arm, short arm,” Gage said. “My wife was actually standing in the batter’s box, and I asked the catcher, ‘Hey what do you see? They both said every pitch I threw the short arm action was better. “
Gage went from topping out at 91 m.p.h. and levelling off at 86-88 to topping out at 96 and steadily in the 92-94 range.
There is no more trying to create action on his pitches.
He just throws it at the catcher’s mask and lets the normal action take it wherever it goes.
“That’s the new approach the Blue Jays taught me in spring training and it’s working,” a delighted Gage said.
Gage didn’t have a lot of time to plan for his major-league debut, but assuming he gets in at some point over the next three games, he won’t be doing it alone.
On hand for his debut will be his wife, who has been through every step with him, his brother and his wife, both parents, his father in-law, and his agent.
“Once I got the phone call, even though it wasn’t a definite, they all just booked the flight and said we’re coming to see you even if you’re activated or not.”
Gage was officially activated about an hour before the scheduled start of the game on Monday but just like in his career, Gage would have to wait a little longer than usual.
A rain delay pushed the start time of last night’s game with the Royals back, giving Gage a little more time to let the activity of the past day or so sink in.
“It’s very surreal that is for sure,” Gage said of the past 24 hours. “It’s crazy I’ve played this game for a long time and to finally get my chance is amazing. That’s for sure. It’s just crazy to wrap your head around (that) you are going to get the chance to step on this field and be a part of a big-league game.”
Reliever Jeremy Beasley was optioned to triple-A to clear a spot on the 26-man roster for Gage. Nate Pearson, who has been rehabbing from a bout with mono in spring training, was transferred to the 60-day injured list. The move clears a spot on the 40-man roster for Gage, but changes nothing for Pearson, since he has been on the injured list since April 7 and will be retroactively able to return in early June.