If you enjoy watching pitchers throw baseballs from the mound toward the plate rather than folding chairs from the bullpen into the stands, then Tuesday was your kind of night.
I felt privileged to watch two of the ten best pitchers in the history of baseball, one of the most underrated pitchers of the past 15 years, the favorite to win this year's American League Cy Young Award, and two of the most highly prized pitching arms in the game. All in one sitting. All via MLB Extra Innings.
Roger Clemens. Pedro Martinez. Mike Mussina. Johan Santana. Zack Greinke. Scott Kazmir. You might say some of the most dominant past, present, and future pitchers all before your eyes. Together, these pitchers threw 40 innings, allowing only 19 hits and five runs while walking 14 and striking out 48 batters.
Clemens, who is old enough to be Greinke's and Kazmir's father, hurled seven innings of five-hit, one-run ball against the best offensive team in the National League. Roger is an ageless wonder. Who would have thought a year ago that Clemens would even be pitching, much less 17-4 with a 3.12 ERA?
The Rocket has now won 327 games in his 21-year career and his W-L percentage (.666) is the second highest among pitchers with at least 300 wins. In fact, Roger is just one win shy of having twice as many victories as defeats. Only Lefty Grove (300-141) can make that claim.
Martinez, who just may be the best pitcher ever based on rate stats, struck out 10 Devil Rays in just six innings but was dealt only his sixth defeat of the year against 16 wins. Although Pedro's ERA is higher than what we have come to expect, he is having another outstanding season. How many baseball fans outside of Boston know that Martinez is in the top five in the league in wins, winning percentage (.727), strikeouts (213), ERA (3.43), WHIP (1.11), and BAA (.226)?
Mussina (11-9, 4.76) pitched his best game of the year, shutting out the Royals for eight innings on just three hits and one walk while striking out 11. Don't look now but Mike has pitched a total of 23 innings in his last three starts, allowing only 14 hits and three runs while walking one and striking out 25. While Kevin Brown sits out with a broken left hand and Javier Vazquez wonders what went wrong, Mussina is taking over as the ace of the staff as the Yankees ready themselves for the playoffs.
Santana pitched another nearly flawless game, allowing only two hits, one walk, and no runs over seven innings. That was his third consecutive outing without allowing a run. The only time Santana failed to give up two or fewer runs in 18 of his last 19 starts, he allowed--get this--three!
The 25-year-old southpaw is now 18-6 with a league-leading ERA of 2.76. Santana also ranks first in the league in strikeouts (240), WHIP (0.92), and BAA (.193). He is a shoo-in for the Cy Young Award and should receive serious consideration for the Most Valuable Player Award as well.
Greinke's numbers (6-3-2-2-2-6) weren't quite as impressive as the others, but seeing was believing. He is an artist in the mold of Greg Maddux. The youngster changes speeds, works both sides of the plate, keeps the ball down, and, most importantly, throws strikes. Zack has allowed only 1.6 BB/9 IP this year, a terrific rate for any pitcher--much less one who still isn't old enough to drink alcoholic beverages.
Kazmir had his way with Manny Ortez & Co. last night, shutting down the vaunted Red Sox lineup for six innings while striking out nine--including five in a row at one stretch. I guess no one told the rookie that lefthanders aren't supposed to pitch well at Fenway. Kazmir is now 2-1 with a 4.09 ERA. He has fanned 26 batters in just 22 innings while allowing only one home run.
While on the subject of great pitchers, YES broadcaster Ken Singleton told his listeners last night that Bob Gibson was 22-9 with a 1.12 ERA in 1968 but excused him for a third of those losses because Sandy Koufax had beaten him three times, 1-0. Gosh, I knew Koufax was good, but I didn't know he was thaaaaaat good! I mean, shutting out the Cardinals three times two years after he retired? Boy, I have more respect for Koufax than ever before. Thanks, Kenny, for making my evening complete.