Baseball all-star games are meant for this: The league's most dominant pitcher facing the most powerful hitter. Rear back and uncork your best fastball. Dig in and take your best cut.
Strength versus strength. Fans hanging on every pitch. Tape-measure home run? Feel-the-breeze strikeout?
Monday's Coastal Plain League All-Star Game at War Memorial Stadium could well produce such an encounter as John Tuttle throws to Ryan Cranmer.
Now the baseball gods could intervene. If the East Division coaches hit Cranmer fourth or fifth — he usually bats second for the Morehead City Marlins — and if Tuttle works a 1-2-3 first inning and heads for the showers, we'll miss out.
But let's hope not, because players with numbers this extraordinary should be tested against one another.
A 6-foot right-hander, Tuttle is 5-0 for the Asheboro Copperheads with a 0.50 ERA. He's pitched 36 innings, the first 31.2 of which were scoreless.
The only runs Tuttle has allowed came in his fifth and most recent start, a 12-3 victory over the Forest City Owls, who managed three runs, two earned, in seven innings.
A self-described "ground-ball pitcher," Tuttle's confidence soared during his second start this summer, when he threw eight shutout innings against the Edenton Steamers.
"I felt great out there," Tuttle said. "I went after every hitter, no matter who they were."
He later pitched a complete-game, one-hitter against the High Point-Thomasville Toms, yielding only a fifth-inning single in a seven-inning contest — CPL doubleheaders feature seven-inning contests, as in college baseball.
A rising senior at Catawba College in North Carolina, Tuttle was 10-4 with a 3.92 ERA this past season. But pitching against wooden bats in the CPL, as opposed to aluminum in college, emboldened him.
"With wooden bats, you can get away with a bad pitch," Tuttle said. "With aluminum, you really can't. I try to go (inside) on hitters a lot more in this league because if you get jammed, you're not going to hit it hard anywhere. You're going to roll it over to third or shortstop.
"In college you have to locate a lot better because they'll make you pay for it if you don't hit your spots."
A rising senior outfielder/third baseman at Newberry College in South Carolina, Cranmer is making most pitchers pay these days. His 10 home runs in 30 games through Friday were twice as many as anyone else in the CPL, and he also led the league in RBIs (26), slugging percentage (.667) and total bases (76).
The 10 home runs match Cranmer's total in 51 games for Newberry this past season, when he hit .368. He's hitting .342 for Morehead City, about a 10-minute drive from his home in Newport, N.C.
"It's a hitter's ballpark, for sure," Cranmer said. "The wind always blows out, and you get it up in that airstream, and it's gone."
Cranmer should have good vibes Monday at War Memorial, too. He hit a three-run home run to left there June 29 in a 5-3 victory over the Peninsula Pilots.
As a high school senior, Cranmer tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during an early-season basketball game. While recovering from the reconstructive surgery, he developed blood clots in his leg that moved to his lungs and hospitalized him for several days.
That setback cost Cranmer part of his senior baseball season and tempered recruiting interest. He played two seasons at Pitt Community College before transferring to Newberry.
Turns out that Newberry and Catawba are rivals in the Division II South Atlantic Conference, which brings us to the Cranmer-Tuttle history. In Game 1 of a Feb. 24 doubleheader, Cranmer hit a two-run homer off Tuttle in the first inning of a 7-5 Newberry victory.
Until I jogged his memory, Cranmer didn't recall the encounter.
"I do remember that now," he said. "He hung me a change-up. Change-ups aren't the pitch to hang on me. I'll crush 'em."
Tuttle didn't need prompting. As soon as I mentioned Cranmer — their teams haven't met in the CPL this season — he knew where I was going.
"That game, it wasn't my best outing," Tuttle said. "I was horrible with my command, and he made me pay for it."
The second time through the order, Tuttle retired Cranmer on a pop-up to second base.
With probably only an inning on his plate Monday, Tuttle will have a blissfully basic, fan-friendly approach against Cranmer and others.
"Just light up the radar gun," he said.
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