Newsday’s David Lennon on the hottest accessory sported by a member of the New York Mets since Darryl Strawberry’s anti-drug wristbands.
When the TV camera zooms in close, it’s obviously a mouthpiece, but the clear plastic appliance rarely stays in his mouth. Rather, Mike Pelfrey chomps on it like a great white shark does a walrus on those Discovery Channel specials.
It’s not that Pelfrey prefers the taste and texture of molded plastic over a fistful of classic Bazooka. The mouthpiece is for the pitcher’s TMJ, or Tempromandibular Joint Disorder, and he runs the risk of his jaw locking up right there on the mound.
Only once has that actually happened, during spring training this year, and Pelfrey was lucky that he was able to free up his jaw without a visit to the emergency room.
“It was real tough,” said Pelfrey, who starts tonight against the Braves at Shea. “I had to jerk it back and it kind of popped back in.”
Pointing to an area alongside the right side of his jaw, he added, “This muscle right here gets real, real tight, It’s like a cramp almost. You have to pop it back out.”
The condition, Pelfrey believes, is a souvenir of his trip to Taiwan with Team USA in 2004, when he was part of the group that won the gold medal at the World University Baseball Championships.
Pelfrey struck out 20 in 16 2/3 innings. But in his meeting with Japan, one of the few hitters who did make contact came within inches of ending his career before it really even began. Pelfrey took a line drive off his right cheekbone, and when he points to the spot, it’s perilously close to his eye.
Catcher Brian Schneider joked that Pelfrey just munches on the mouthpiece for show, but Pelfrey insists that he’s not conscious of what going on. And he’s definitely not doing it on purpose.
“I don’t even know,” Pelfrey said. “When I watch video afterward, I’ll see myself doing it before the pitch and then it settles down right when I’m going to make the pitch. I don’t even think about it. I’m worrying about the hitter or the next pitch. But people in the stands see it. When we were in Chicago, they were yelling, ‘What’s up with the mouthpiece, Pelfrey?’ I’m not even paying attention to it.”