Helsley's 104 mph heater fastest pitch in '22

September 23rd, 2022

SAN DIEGO -- There are times, when he’s alone and away from baseball, that Cardinals All-Star closer thinks about how everything has come together for him personally and professionally over the past few months -- and he shakes his head at the surreal nature of life.

A first-time father and a first-time All-Star, the owner of an immaculate inning and now the holder of the crown for the fastest pitch in MLB this season, it’s been a pretty significant six-month stretch for the 28-year-old Helsley.

"I’ve had a pretty solid year, but my main goal throughout has always been to stay healthy," Helsley said referring to his best season as a professional. "I feel like my preparation before the game helps with [staying healthy] and it helps me during games. I see this as something to build off, and I want to be able to do it year in and year out."

Pitching on four days' rest helped Helsley regain the throne of the fastest pitch of the MLB season in Thursday afternoon's 5-4 win over the Padres at Petco Park. When he cut loose a 104 mph fastball, per Statcast, in the eighth inning against San Diego slugger Josh Bell, it allowed him to eclipse the 103.8 mph pitch that teammate Jordan Hicks threw on July 8.

Helsley said the combination of his rest, the anger he had about surrendering a leadoff home run to Manny Machado and his desire to blow a ball past Bell led up to his latest radar-popping pitch.
"Bell had seen a lot of heaters and I think at that time it was [3-2], so he had seen like four in a row, so I tried to reach back and give him a little more [velocity]," said Helsley, who would go on to walk Bell.

Helsley held the title of the fastest MLB pitch of the season early in the year when he fired a 103.1 mph pitch to D-backs outfielder Ketel Marte on May 1. Hicks, who has a 105 mph pitch to his credit early in his career, supplanted him in early July -- only to have Helsley take over that mantel once he went to work against the Padres.

"Throwing 104, in the shadows, and putting it on the black [corners of the plate], that’s pretty nasty,” said catcher Andrew Knizner, who also caught Helsley’s nine-pitch, nine-strike immaculate inning last Friday against the Reds.

Resting for the past four days as the Cardinals' offense went through a 31-inning scoreless stretch, Helsley came into the series finale ready to go. He surrendered a solo home run to Machado when he hung a slider, but the right-hander rallied to strike out Brandon Drury on three pitches that clocked in at 101.5 mph, 102.9 mph and 103.2 mph.

Helsley, whose immaculate inning was just the third in Cards history, threw 15 of 21 pitches in the eighth inning at 100 mph or faster.

"I felt good and felt like the ball was coming out well," said Helsley, who has notched nine of his 18 career wins and 18 of his 20 saves this season. "Obviously, if I could take one pitch back, we all know which pitch that would be. But I felt like I pitched pretty well and I was able to hold the game where it was at."

The Cardinals snapped a three-game losing streak -- and that lengthy scoreless streak -- by beating the Padres, 5-4. Rookie Brendan Donovan hit the first grand slam of his career to put the Cards into the lead in the seventh inning. Albert Pujols registered his fourth hit of the series, but he failed in his bid to move closer to 700 home runs. He will take the quest for 700 to Dodger Stadium, where St. Louis will play a three-game series this weekend.

As for Helsley, he was eager to get out of the clubhouse on Thursday to check on his wife, Alex, and new daughter, Eliana, who was born on Aug. 19. Being away from his family for the Cardinals' eight-game, nine-night road trip to the West Coast has been difficult, he said, but he’s found ways to work around it.

"I ask my wife for a picture [of Eliana] like every 10 minutes, I feel like," Helsley said with a laugh. "I’m always asking, ‘How’s she doing? What’s going on?’ It’s been nonstop. She’s an awesome baby and I can’t imagine life without her."