Let's hop in a short-track time machine, flash back just a few days to Sunday afternoon, to the minute Chris Salamida came off the Shaw Park field.
The Goldeyes ace was still flushed from the work, hurling nine innings in a complete-game win. So, he took a moment to savour the achievement and to share a few words with catcher Luis Alen. "He had an awesome day that day," Salamida said on Tuesday. "I let him know how good he did. If it wasn't for him, we probably wouldn't have been in that game."
'I'm not afraid of any hitter. It doesn't matter who's up there. But that's just me'
Oh, but if you remember, the Wichita Wingnuts have hitters, have a bunch of guys who can hurt a pitcher, if the ball stays even a hair too high in the zone. On Sunday, Salamida took them one by one, and one by one he cut them down. Four hits, no runs, and the Fish found their first win of the series off the strength of his left arm. "I'm not afraid of any hitter," he shrugged. "It doesn't matter who's up there. But that's just me."
There is this, too -- the season is racing now, running to its close, 19 games and then, maybe, a playoff series to go. At the end, Wichita could be waiting again. That's then, though, and Salamida doesn't like to think that far ahead. Still, this much is beyond dispute: If the Goldeyes are to take the American Association banner again this season, then Chris Salamida will be the pitcher that's going to lead them.
"Sal's one of those guys, where the bigger the game, the better he pitches," Goldeyes pitching coach Jamie Vermilyea said. "He's just clicking on all cylinders. This is the time of the year where you want your No. 1 guy to be throwing the ball well."
That's putting it mildly. At 30, Salamida has been nothing short of sensational this season. Sure, he started with a stumble, handing the Amarillo Sox eight hits and eight runs in just 1 1/3 innings in the season opener. His second game wasn't too great either: His bicep felt tender, he'll admit now. And maybe he was shaking off the memory of slightly softer hitters in the Australian league, where he played through the winter.
Then, in his third start, he went out in Lincoln and allowed just four hits and two runs in seven innings. His next time out, at home in Winnipeg, he shut out the Saltdogs through eight.
"I don't really know what happened, but something snapped and I kind of turned it around," Salamida said. "The bicep problem went away and everything kind of fell into place."
In July, he hurled five games, won two, and never got tagged for a loss. He held a 1.49 ERA through that month and struck out 33 while only walking six. He smashed the franchise record for career strikeouts, soaring past Ace Walker and his 380 Ks. He's now sitting at 440 through five seasons with the Fish, and counting.
On Monday, he was named the league's pitcher of the week, the second time in three weeks. Even after that slow start, he's now holding a rock-solid 3.21 ERA. Against him, batters have swung for just a .238 average, and his WHIP -- walks plus hits per inning pitched -- is 1.10, the lowest of any regular starter in the league.
All that makes Vermilyea's job pretty straightforward. "You definitely don't want to overcoach," he said. "Right now, it's just a little thing here or there, where I give him a little adjustment on his motion. For the most part, I just try to stay away as much as I can... Especially with Sal. I know he's got such a good feel for what he's doing out there, and how his body feels... he gets the job done himself."
But for how long? Twice now, Salamida has tried to retire, to settle down in upstate New York and become a firefighter. Twice, baseball has pulled him back. But it's too early to know if he'll play in 2015.
"Who knows?" he mused. "Every year I try (to retire), but keep coming back. In the end, I do want to become a fireman. I don't know when that's gonna happen, but hopefully soon. When that time comes, it'll be time to hand baseball down to the younger guys."
Besides, he's right in the middle of some unfinished business. "I see us winning a championship," Salamida said, bluntly. "Me, (Josh) Mazzola, Luis, the guys that have been there and know some of the past teams, kind of said that to ourselves. Yeah, we got the team this year."