One of the reliably entertaining things about baseball is that pitchers you think are done -- because they must be done, must have absolutely nothing left in the tank whatsoever -- surprise you, because they don’t really agree with what you or I think. They’d rather keep giving it a go, and whether you want to celebrate small sample sizes, selective situations or honest-to-god comebacks, they make it happen.
Enter Jason Marquis stage right, a perfect example of why -- to quote with former Cardinals ace Joaquin Andujar’s “favorite word” -- with pitchers youneverknow. With Saturday night’s two-hit shutout of the Pirates, Marquis provided yet another reminder that as long as someone is still willing to let you play, you have a chance to make your career a going concern.
Using Bill James’ fast and fun metric, Game Score, Marquis’ start grades as an 86 against the Pirates, which ties exactly with a career-best mark he’s achieved three times before, for three different teams: in 2005 for the Cardinals against the Nationals; in 2007 for the Cubs against the Pirates; and in 2009 for the Rockies against the Dodgers.
Matching that with the Padres makes Marquis four-for-four in personal excellence in different team togs, which is perhaps no surprise since Marquis’ career has featured so many resurrections that it’s an open question over who envies him more, cats or zombies. The Braves, disappointed with the former first-round draft choice who’d failed to show consistent control, bundled him to the Cardinals with Adam Wainwright in a five-player trade that briefly made J.D. Drew a Brave. Three years with the Cardinals saw Marquis provide inning-munching adequacy and was followed by his washing up with the Cubs, who used him in the same role -- as an adequate rotation round-out for a contending club.
That might have defined him, if not for a single-season spin with the Rockies when he defied expectations and thrived (getting an All-Star invite for his troubles), becoming a much more pronounced sinkerballer and improving his command. That earned him a $15 million, two-year deal with the Nationals, just in time for him to hurt his elbow, get dealt a year later to the Diamondbacks and get hurt again when an Angel Pagan line drive cracked his fibula and ended his shot at helping a seventh team in eight years make the playoffs.
The Twins took an early look at him, but he was awful with a team that was arguably even worse. At which point the Padres, desperate as well as willing, gave him a go, and he’s given them few causes for regret. Not that he’s excellent, but because he takes the ball every fifth day, gives a weak team a fighting chance and accumulates a body of work for his next bid to get a better deal. For the Padres and for Marquis, it’s a win-win relationship on the margins of the game.
Admittedly, the Padres have a competitive advantage as far as retreading veterans go. Thanks to pitcher-friendly Petco Park, they have a great venue to help any veteran starter trying to bounce back from injury and recapture some part of his market value. And, should they ever build a genuinely great win-anywhere offense, they’ll be able to make winners of some of the re-rinsed washouts they put on the mound.
Don’t laugh the notion off any more than you should giggle over the notion that a winning Padres team is that much of an impossibility. It worked quite nicely for the Athletics in the ’80s, when GM Sandy Alderson snatched up Dennis Eckersley, Dave Stewart, Rick Honeycutt, Storm Davis, Scott Sanderson and more for pennies on the dollar, saw all of them rebound in the pitcher-friendly Coliseum and wound up with more than enough pitching to make the Bash Brother A’s win three pennants and a World Series. As formulas for success go, good-enough pitching in a pitcher’s venue plus top-shelf offense that can outscore anybody, anywhere works pretty well.
So here’s hoping that Padres fans enjoy this Marquis event, not because it’s singular, but because it’s another hopeful note in a franchise that ought to get turned around. If the O’Malleys do wind up with the team, San Diego might not bring the same sort of free-spending franchise renaissance that the Dodgers are now enjoying with the end of the age of McCourt-driven Frankruptcy, but the former Dodger moguls ought to bring with them an honest commitment to fielding a competitive team. And that won’t herald an end to the age of inviting in guys like Jason Marquis to man the rotation. If the Padres are smart, they’ll keep dumpster-diving, exploit their home park and reap rewards like what they just got out of a pitcher already given up for dead too many times to count.
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