Lance McCullers Jr. was the first pitcher to give up five homers in a World Series game, which has fans and sports analysts wondering: Did his body give him away?
In baseball, tipping a pitch can be described as telling a pitcher for a specific pitch. It’s something teams are watching because of the catastrophic effects it can have on games. If the opposing team picks up the differences between a curveball or fastball setup, players at bat have a better chance of responding to the pitch.
READ MORE: The night Lance McCullers made his way into Phillies history
Speculation that McCullers had a tell identified by the Phillies surfaced early in Tuesday’s Game 3 as Bryce Harper called Alec Bohm to the circle on deck to whisper something in his ear.
Bohm would go on to respond to McCullers’ pitch with a home run.
McCullers was quick to shoot down tipping rumors in post-game interviews.
“I got booed, end of story,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Phillies haven’t let on whether they found a flaw in McCullers’ performance.
When reporter Ken Rosenthal asked what Harper told him, Bohm replied with a cheeky, “It’s between us.”
That hasn’t stopped internet sleuths from trying to piece together McCullers’ possible stories. Like the Astros’ co-pitching coach, they’re empty.
Some fans joked that the Phillies never found anything and that Harper was toying with the Astros’ head when he called Bohm.
Former Temple baseball pitcher Ed Molush — pitcher for the Owls in the 1972 College World Series and former baseball coach at Haverford College — said the tipping could be as subtle as kicking a leg or the angle of the mid-court throwing arm. Sometimes players forget to make sure their glove covers the entire ball when readjusting their grip.
“Smart hitters watch this stuff from the circle on the deck and from the dugout, and they can pick something up,” said Molush, who also spent a few years in the Phillies’ minor leagues. “The average or even above-average TV viewer won’t see this just because the camera is mostly center field looking behind the pitcher as he delivers toward home plate.”
But sometimes tipping is obvious. Take a June game between the Los Angeles Angels and the Chicago White Sox. The stories from Angels relief pitcher Elvis Peguero were so clear that Angels center fielder Mike Trout could see them from the outfield — announcers were also able to break down Peguero’s tip in real time. For example, Peguero would set up his fastballs by placing his hands lower to his chest and then bringing them up before throwing the ball, but he would start higher to break balls.
MLB Network analyst and former Hall of Fame pitcher Pedro Martinez said he noticed McCullers holding his glove high during off-speed pitches, and noticeably lower for fastballs.
“I’m surprised to see it so drastic,” Martinez said on MLB tonight following the game.
So why would McCullers credit the batters for beating him? Molush said it comes down to strategy and embarrassment. Molush said the coaches wouldn’t want an opposing team watching their pitchers more carefully. Additionally, Molush said coaches and players work to shed these signs as they progress through competitive baseball.
“For a guy at the major league level, and McCullers was a very successful pitcher in the major leagues, for suddenly something to happen very slowly and without thinking over the course of a game or two, maybe even during the warm-up – no pitcher would want to admit that in public,” Molush said.
Writer Rob Tornoe contributed to this article.