Pressure Pitcher

April 19, 2001

By Mike Kreiger

There is nobody on and nobody out in the top of the seventh inning. In fact, there has not been a base runner yet today.

The fans get on their feet after the first out. They continue to cheer when the next batter grounds out. You're only one out away from a perfect game. Are you nervous?

For Washington State pitcher Justin Cayetano, this scenario is just another day at the ballpark.

Cayetano is a junior transfer from Laney CC in Oakland, Calif., but a native of Hawaii. He pitched the only perfect game in the history of his high school. Twenty-one batters went to the plate to face Cayetano that day, and the same 21 players walked back to the dugout shaking their heads asking, 'What just happened?'

Cayetano knew exactly what happened, and he although he was the only man on the mound, he was not out there alone.

'My dad told me from the third inning on, if I got the next three batters out without giving up a hit, he'd give me $20,' Cayetano said. 'I didn't even realize that nobody reached first base until the last inning when all the fans stood up for the first out. I was like. `Wow, nobody has even reached first base yet.' That's when my heart started pumping.'

The result was the first perfect game in 26 years at Mililani High, and Cayetano received a $200 dollar payout from his father, Alfred.

'Boy, I really got paid that day,' Cayetano said. 'He was just really happy that I accomplished that because it's not easy to do.'

Alfred Cayetano was also a pitcher in high school, and played a huge role in turning his son into a Pac-10 pitcher.

'When I was small, he always used to throw the baseball with me,' Cayetano said. 'He was always there by my side. When I was little, I had the strongest arm on the team, and they put me at third base as a lefthander. I was the only guy who could throw it to first base. Then they made me a pitcher.'

The move to pitcher proved to be a wise move. In a high school legion game, Cayetano fanned 19 hitters. He also threw a few no-hitters. Cayetano claims his mentality enables him to own an advantage on the hitters.

'I just go out there and throw strikes,' Cayetano said. 'If they hit the ball, I try to have them hit it on the ground so I have my defense behind me. My job is to throw strikes, and sometimes they just can't hit it.'

His success has continued at the college level. In the second game at Cal, Cayetano held the Bears to three hits through seven innings as the Cougars won their second straight Pac-10 Conference game with a 7-6 decision. Cayetano improved his record to 2-1 and worked into the eighth inning for the Cougars while holding the Bears to three hits and three runs, striking out three and walking three.

Cayetano also pitched a complete game in February against Gonzaga where he struck out five and only gave up one run as the Cougars cruised to a 6-1 victory.

'My coach likes me to get ahead of batters and throw a strike for the first pitch,' Cayetano said. 'I was doing that the whole game. I know I have a solid defense behind me, so I just threw strikes. I kept it down low in the strike zone, so they just couldn't hit it. It was a fast game.'

Coach Tim Mooney has been impressed with Cayetano's pitching all season.

'He's not overpowering, but he's very successful when he locates the baseball and changes speeds,' Mooney said. 'Against Justin, hitters get themselves out. He also has to refine and win with his tools, and he has done a good job of that.'

Cayetano's has many tools in his bag of tricks, but his best pitch is his changeup. The funny thing is Cayetano never threw a changeup until he attended Laney College in Oakland.

'I never could throw a changeup until I came to my junior college,' Cayetano said. 'I was just a fastball, curveball, and slider pitcher in high school. My coach, Rob Wilson, helped me develop a changeup, and it is very effective.'

In fact, Cayetano's changeup led to his selection as an All-American pitcher while at Laney.

'It was a shocker to me,' Cayetano said. 'They only select three or four pitchers. I couldn't believe I did it. The changeup has helped a lot because it's about eight miles per hour slower than my fastball. The batters lean to get it and the ball just dies in the dirt.'

After spending two years in Oakland, Cayetano is glad to be in the friendly surroundings of Pullman. 'It is a big difference from Oakland. When I came here, it was real nice and peaceful. People are friendly and I seem to get along with everybody. It's just too cold here,' he said with a laugh.

Cayetano has a goal in sight when his baseball playing days as a Cougar are over.

'I was really close to my high school coach, Glen Nitta,' Cayetano said. 'He was also a counselor. I want to follow in his footsteps because I want to be around baseball my whole life and I like to listen to peoples' problems.'

Cayetano is even a counselor for the WSU baseball team.

'When people are having rough times, I try to pick them up,' Cayetano said. 'Whether it is school or girl problems, I am always there to listen to them.'

Listening, and the sound of his ukulele on the road trips.

'He loves playing the ukulele on the road, and it is good to see them having fun,' Mooney said. 'The guys enjoy it. The Hawaiian culture is different, and what he brings with him is good for the team.'

There are only a few things Cayetano likes as much as baseball but his home in Hawaii is tops on the list. 'I miss it a lot,' Cayetano said. 'After baseball gets over, I'll go home and eat some Hawaiian food because they don't have it over here. I'll call my friends, and we'll go to the beach.'

In the meantime, the Cougars will gladly use the services of Cayetano. At 5-feet, 7-inches tall, he isn't the most imposing presence on the mound, but when he starts throwing chin-music at 85 miles per hour, follows with a changeup in the dirt and batters swing without a prayer, would-be hitters gain instant respect for the power-packed Hawaiian.

And then, Alfred Cayetano can be seen reaching for his checkbook again.

Now on Pac-12 Network
8:00 AM PT

Airing on:

  • Pac-12 Network