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September 19, 2000|LARRY STEWART

What: "The Head Game"

Author: Roger Kahn

Publisher: Harcourt

Price: $25

One of the most dramatic moments in sports is the battle between a pitcher and a hitter when a game, a pennant or the World Series is on the line. Roger Kahn, whose 16 books include "The Boys of Summer," examines this aspect of baseball in a readable 310-page book, mainly through interviews with scores of pitchers.

Kahn has the advantage of being able to personalize many of the stories because of his firsthand experiences. He became a Brooklyn Dodger beat writer for the New York Herald Tribune in 1952. In the prologue he writes about his relationship with Dodger pitcher Clem Labine, who became a lifelong friend. Kahn credits Labine with providing the title for the book. And as the title suggests, Kahn mainly examines the mental aspect of pitching. He also, at the suggestion of another friend, John Herman, writes about the metaphysics of pitching.

Kahn quotes the late Don Drysdale as saying, "I had a good fastball . . . and a hard breaking ball, but none of that means a damn thing in the big leagues unless you have mental toughness. . . . I threw spitters and I threw at batter's heads. I'd knock a guy down. He'd get up, I'd knock him down again.

"He looks at me. Am I crazy? Am I a killer? No, I'm just a competitor about to strike him out with a 95-mph fastball on the outside at the knees."

From 300-game winner Warren Spahn: "Hitting is timing. Pitching is upsetting that timing. A pitcher has to know his own arm, his own pitches, his own stuff. All of these vary not only across the years but also from day to day."

Former New York Giant pitcher Sal Maglie says: "You have to make the batter afraid of the ball. A lot of pitchers think they do that by throwing at the hitter when the count is 0 and two. The trouble there is the knockdown is expected. A good time is when the count is two and two. You knock him down and he gets up shaking. Now curve him and you have your out."

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