OAKLAND – Trevor May was gearing up to face Shohei Ohtani in a save situation over the weekend when the ruling came in from the Oakland A’s dugout: In a one-run game with a runner on third and first base open, the Los Angeles Angels superstar was going to be intentionally walked.
May understood the decision by A’s manager Mark Kotsay to issue the free pass to Ohtani, Major League Baseball’s home run leader at that point with 44. But May – as he’s done for most of his career — would have welcomed the challenge of trying to retire Ohtani, the likely winner of this year’s American League MVP award.
“Those are the types of guys you want to face in the big spots,” May said Sunday, a day after he finished off the A’s 2-1 win over the Angels for what was then his 16th save. “If you’re going to get a save, getting the best player in the league out probably sticks in your mind a little more.”
May’s approach illustrates how far he’s come with the A’s since mid-April when he went on the injured list to help deal with issues related to anxiety — issues he had held for years but kept under control. MLB’s new pitch clock, though, exacerbated May’s problem, and his fear of failure had him contemplating retirement.
“Before, I had this big strong dude, a guard, and anxiety was trying to get in the doorway and the guard wouldn’t let it,” the nine-year big-league veteran told this news organization in May. “Now that anxiety is quick. The guard is too slow. The anxiety is just getting in there.”
May, though, has once again adapted, and is pitching as well now as he has all year. Since the All-Star break and after Wednesday’s game with the Toronto Blue Jays, May is 2-0 and has converted 12 of 13 save opportunities.
May’s fastball has historically been his most effective pitch but said his ability to throw sliders in the strike zone right now is probably the best it’s ever been in his career.
“To assume that (closer) role, really take over that role and have the success he’s had, it’s awesome to see,” Kotsay said. “I couldn’t be happier for anyone else on this team to have this type of success, especially going towards the end of the season.”
“I think that whatever the outcome ends up being, I’ve kind of found a way to be at peace with it and just be a little more accepting of the way things go,” May said. “I think that’s helped a lot because if you kind of take the same mindset every time, you can kind of flush outings a little bit quicker.
“Historically, maybe I let a tough outing kind of bleed into one or two more after that, and when you’re a reliever, a big part of having a successful season is isolating those clunkers. It’s worked.”
Oakland Athletics pitcher Trevor May (65) reacts after San Francisco Giants’ Brandon Crawford (35) grounds out at first base for the final out in the ninth inning of their MLB game at the Coliseum in Oakland, Calif., on Saturday, Aug. 5, 2023. The Oakland Athletics defeated the San Francisco Giants 2-1. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)
That’s what May has done since a forgettable appearance on Aug. 13 against the Washington Nationals. May gave up three hits, two walks, and three earned runs as part of a disastrous ninth inning for the A’s in which they gave up six runs to lose 8-7.
Since then, and leading into Friday’s game in Texas, May has enjoyed 7 1/3 straight scoreless innings with one win and six saves.
“It just wasn’t my day that day. It wasn’t going to be my day,” May said of the Nationals Park appearance. “I didn’t feel incredibly good before the game and I didn’t feel incredibly good warming up. So, it was like, ‘You’ve got to go find something somewhere in yourself to get it done.’ And sometimes it’s just not there.”
May has been open and honest about his mental health struggles since he returned from the IL roughly three-and-a-half months ago. He said that in the past, his experience on social media has been 50 percent positive and 50 percent “vitriol.”
This year, though, May said he has found a lot more acceptance. He knows he’s far from alone.
“There’s been a lot of people thanking me for talking about it,” May said. “Thank you for saying that it’s real, that it’s okay to acknowledge pressure and how easily that can turn into misery if it’s all day, every day.
“Because I think everyone in every industry, every job, and every life, there’s some level of that or a time when that’s happening, and it’s just hard sometimes to (say), ‘Hey, I don’t want to just be mentally tough.’ I actually just want to say, ‘Hey, I’m miserable right now. Can you lay off me?’ And people should feel safe saying that to people, and their managers and people above them should be a little bit more empathetic because everyone’s been in that situation.”
May has saved 18 games this year, six more than he had in his previous eight MLB seasons combined. He’s set to become a free agent in the offseason, and although he’ll turn 34 in less than three weeks, it stands to reason that his recent success will lead to a contract for 2024 — albeit likely with another team.
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May has been on one-year deals since he broke into the big leagues in 2014 in Minnesota. So May right now is focused on the present, and like his approach to pitching, will deal with whatever happens.
“Honestly, letting go of that a little bit too has been helpful, and not worrying so much about it,” May said of his contract status. “Especially if you go year to year, a lot of times, it’s hard to enjoy it when you’re stressed about setting yourself up for the next year. If you do that every year, when are you enjoying it?
“So I’m just trying to enjoy it and haven’t really thought much about what that looks like, or what’s going to happen. I’m aware of it, but it’s just not really bleeding into my day-to-day, which is nice, for once. It’s nice.”