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Saturday, May 1, 2010
Old man Moyer and the Mets

By Mark Simon

Phillies starter Jamie Moyer, scheduled to pitch against Johan Santana on Sunday Night Baseball is so old.

All together now: How old is he?

He's both the oldest starting pitcher to win a game and to lose a game against the Mets. He accomplished both last year at age 46, edging out former Marlins starter Charlie Hough in both categories.

Moyer isn't the oldest pitcher to either win, lose or face the Mets. That distinction belongs to Hall of Famer Hoyt Wilhelm, who both won and lost against the Mets at age 48 in 1970, then faced them at age 49 in both 1971 and 1972.

Moyer is old enough to have faced the 1986 World Series-winning Mets. Moyer's third big-league win came in the second game of a doubleheader on July 29, 1986.

Thanks to a Moyer bunt and an error by current hitting coach Howard Johnson, Moyer won for the third time in his career, allowing just one run and six hits in 7 2/3 innings. He was described in the following day's Chicago Sun-Times as “baby-faced.” Every Met that Moyer faced that day ended his playing career by the end of the 1998 season.

"I do remember," Johnson, who went 1-for-10 against Moyer from 1986 to 1988, told Adam Rubin. "He had a little curveball and a good changeup. I had the hardest time sitting back on that changeup."

A week after that first start against the Mets, Moyer faced them again, striking out seven and recording a no-decision in an 8-5 Cubs win. Moyer survived a game-tying home run by current Mets broadcaster Keith Hernandez after which he was pulled as part of a double switch. The coinciding move -- left fielder Gary Matthews (Senior, father of the current Met) replaced teammate (and now Red Sox manager) Terry Francona.

Johnson is usually the one passing on wisdom to David Wright about opposing pitchers. In this case, they might want to flip-flop roles. Of the 79 major league batters that Moyer has faced at least 40 times (a list that includes Wade Boggs and Cal Ripken Jr., two of 20 Hall of Famers that Moyer has pitched to), no one has a better batting average than Wright's .426.

Moyer struck out seven that day 24 years ago (Johnson was not among them). In 23 starts against the Mets since then, Moyer's never recorded that many whiffs. In fact, in five starts against the Mets in 2009, he totaled seven strikeouts.

As noted on Friday's Mets telecast, Moyer was pitching before Mets rookie Ike Davis was even born. But consider this: Moyer's big-league debut came on June 16, 1986. Davis was born on March 22, 1987, approximately nine months later, meaning his "conception" likely came right around the time of Moyer's major league “birth.”

For the record, Moyer is also older than Friday's Mets victor Jonathon Niese (born in 1986) and reliever Jenrry Mejia. Moyer had 32 career wins before Mejia was born in October, 1989.

The beauty of a site like the Baseball-Reference.com Play Index is that it allows us to figure out just how well the Mets have fared against geezer pitchers, which for the purposes of this piece, we'll define as being 40 years or older.

Moyer's start will mark the 337th time that a 40-plus-year-old pitcher has faced them, either as a starter, or in relief. The combined totals: In 1,019 innings, they've managed a very respectable 3.65 ERA, and the Mets have hit just .257 against them.

Thirty different pitchers have beaten the Mets after turning 40 years old, and it's a pretty good club: One that includes Nolan Ryan, Gaylord Perry, Greg Maddux, and Tom Glavine. But Moyer is one step away from the top rung.

Since turning 40, he's beaten the Mets six times, the same number as Hall of Famer Phil Niekro. The only 40-plus pitcher to beat the Mets more -- Warren Spahn, with seven wins.

There's a flip side to that as well, likely of greater significance to Mets fans. The Mets have beaten 30 different 40-year-old pitchers, a list whose names include Roger Clemens, Don Sutton and Niekro. Moyer's one step away from the top there as well.

Since turning 40, Moyer has lost to the Mets four times, the same number as Niekro and Spahn. The only 40-plus pitcher to lose to the Mets more -- Randy Johnson, five times.

Win or lose, so long as he gets a decision, Moyer's performance will be historic from a Mets perspective.