DAVID GREENE, HOST:
This week, pitching sensation Mo'ne Davis became the youngest athlete ever to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated. And last night, the youngest has suffered the SI Jinx, which holds that being on the cover doesn't bode well for you next time on the field. A team from Las Vegas steamrolled Davis and her Philadelphia Taney Dragons 8 to 1 in the Little League World Series. Now, since the series began, the 13-year-old Davis has been firing pitches past the boys and calmly handling the media frenzy around her. NPR's Tom Goldman reports on the girl with the 70-mile-an-hour fastball.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Last night was Mo'ne Davis's first start since her hello-world shutout victory to open the World Series. The 34,128 fans and more than 300 credentialed media at the game in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania hoped for more. She had her moments - she struck out six, including Las Vegas' Ruthian left-hander Austin Kryszczuk. But there was only so much even Davis could do against the juggernaut from Nevada, which beat its first two opponents by a total of 25 runs to 4.
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UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Dallan Cave - left centerfield and it is deep - and it's gone - a two-run homerun for Dallan Cave.
GOLDMAN: That second-inning homer, as heard on ESPN, gave Las Vegas a 3 to nothing lead. The next inning, Davis was switched to first base to save her arm so she can pitch later in the tournament. Even though she gave up those three runs, Davis still showed the toughness and guile on the mound that have prompted questions to her, like this one from ESPN's Karl Ravech.
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KARL RAVECH: So given where you started and where you are now, what you think that the limit is for Mo'ne?
MO'NE DAVIS: To go as far as I can. That's...
RAVECH: We don't know where that is?
GOLDMAN: But it's become part of the narrative to wonder - could the first female pitcher to win a game in the Little League World Series achieve another first - playing in Major League Baseball?
DAVID EPSTEIN: I don't think we should dismiss it.
GOLDMAN: But sports science expert David Epstein acknowledges the deck is absolutely stacked against Davis. Epstein wrote "The Sports Gene: Inside The Science Of Extraordinary Athletic Performance." He says there is baseball reality and science working against her. The reality - there are boys who, like Davis, throw 70-miles-per-hour from a Little League mound but never get a sniff in pro baseball - even the minors. The science - Epstein says long before puberty when boys go on what he calls a natural steroid cycle, making them bigger and their bones more dense to support more muscle, they actually gain an advantage specific to pitching.
EPSTEIN: Boys already in the womb start developing a longer forearm proportionate to the total arm than girls do, at that gives them a more efficient sort of throwing whip and that becomes exaggerated even more through puberty. So you won't expect Mo'ne Davis to experience some of the benefits from that natural steroid cycle that a boy would.
GOLDMAN: Still, Epstein says Davis already has proved herself an outlier, so why not give her the benefit of the doubt? If she's careful not to throw too much too young, if she keeps playing against boys and developing herself smartly in the weight room, maybe she'll have a chance. Epstein says one thing that bodes well - she still is, in his words, sports sampling with soccer and basketball.
EPSTEIN: Mo'ne Davis looks like someone who has a high degree of physical literacy. She just knows how to use her body. And I think a lot of that comes from playing multiple sports.
GOLDMAN: And doing that, says Epstein, actually is the typical path to elite status in a single sport.
EPSTEIN: It's kind of counterintuitive compared to the popular messages of today, which are to specialize early, early, early, but that's absolutely the opposite of what the sports science said.
GOLDMAN: For Davis however, the future is today. The Taney Dragons play Jackie Robinson West of Chicago in an elimination game in which she won't pitch. If the Dragons win they get a rematch Saturday with the big boys of Las Vegas, a team the Dragons hope to counter with their big girl on the mound. Tom Goldman, NPR news.
GREENE: It's NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.