Monday, July 29, 2002
Grizzled veterans put on a show
By Rob Neyer
On September 4, 1916, two of the National League's greatest pitchers faced off for the 25th time in their long and storied careers.
Starting for the Cincinnati Reds: Christy Mathewson, who had won 372 games while pitching for the New York Giants in a career that began in 1900. Mathewson had just recently come to the Reds in a trade, and taken over as manager.
Starting for the Chicago Cubs: Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown, who had won 208 games in the National League, mostly while pitching for the Cubs. Brown spent 1914 and '15 pitching in the upstart Federal League, but returned to the Cubs in 1916 for one last go-round.
On September 4, Brown was 39 years old; Mathewson was 36. Neither of them were ancient, but in those days not many pitchers were still effective into their late 30s. Not even the best pitchers, and from 1903 through 1911 Matty and Brown were the best pitchers in the National League.
By 1916, though, both were clearly at the end of the line. It was, as Lee Allen later wrote in The Cincinnati Reds, "probably the most sentimental hurling duel every staged ..."
Both pitchers went the distance, but the game was far from an artistic success. The fans at Weegham Park - Wrigley Field - saw Mathewson win a 10-8 decision despite allowing 15 hits, as Brown permits 19 safeties. Neither future Hall of Famer would ever start again.
This all came to mind yesterday as I watched the duel between Kevin Appier and Jamie Moyer.
No, Appier and Moyer aren't Mathewson and Brown. Neither Appier nor Moyer are going into the Hall of Fame. Appier entered yesterday's game with 155 career victories, Moyer with 160. Together, they don't have as many major-league wins as Mathewson all by himself.
But I lived in Kansas when Appier was at his peak; for the eight seasons from 1990 through 1997, Appier just may have been the second-best pitcher in the American League. And I lived in Seattle when Moyer came out of nowhere to become one of the league's top pitchers; since turning 34, he's won 89 games while losing only 42. He turns 40 shortly after this season, and looks like he could go on like this forever.
And watching that game yesterday, I wanted it to go on forever, because both Appier and Moyer looked as good as ever. True, Appier doesn't throw nearly as hard as he used to. But when he's keeping his fastball and his slider and his splitter below the knees, it doesn't really matter that he can't break 90 any more. As for Moyer ... well, he probably wouldn't know what to do with 90; 82 is plenty for the smartest pitcher in the American League.
It was (as they say) a shame that both couldn't win. But they gave us eight scoreless innings, and we couldn't have asked for any more.
The Angels wound up winning, of course. They were able to scratch out a run against Kazuhiro Sasaki after Lou Piniella removed Moyer, who had thrown only 87 pitches. And Troy Percival, fresh off the DL, blew away the M's in the bottom of the ninth.
And now the Angels and Mariners are tied for first place. I still think the Mariners are going to finish the season on top, because I still think the Angels' lack of power is going to be their undoing.
I'll say this, though; the Angels do have the better bench, and they've also got the manager who's better at using his bench.
Yesterday, it's the bottom of the ninth, two outs with nobody on, the Mariners trailing by just one run, and due up next is ... Desi Relaford? The 28-year-old middle infielder with the 670 career OPS?
Relaford had pinch-run for Edgar Martinez in the seventh, but got stranded. And when Relaford's turn came in the ninth, Piniella's options on the bench were:
C. Gipson 834
L. Ugueto 694
J. Cirillo 613
B. Davis 586
Don't be fooled by Gipson. He's a utility type with only 46 at-bats all season, and his career OPS is 663. And Ugueto is a Rule 5 pick who's batted only 13 times all season.
Cirillo is the regular third baseman -- and a complete disaster this season -- while Davis is the backup catcher. So with Gipson and (especially) Ugueto, the Mariners are essentially playing a man or two short.
And you know what? If you're the 2001 Seattle Mariners, you can afford to play with a 23-man roster. But if you're the 2002 Seattle Mariners, maybe you can't. Maybe you need a guy or two on the bench who can actually hit. And the fact is that the M's don't have that guy (or two), and it might end up costing them a division title.
Speaking of 2001, it's a matter of faith in the Northwest that Piniella pushed all the right buttons last season, and he probably did. But isn't it funny how a manager can look like a genius one season, and like any other manager the next? Oh, it's not that Piniella's done anything particularly stupid. But Friday night, Mike Scioscia made a great move that I just can't imagine Piniella making.
The Angels entered that contest trailing the Mariners by just one game, and they held a 4-0 lead after five innings. That wasn't enough for Scioscia, though; he's seen the M's come back too many times. In the top of the sixth the Angels loaded the bases with nobody out, but reliever Doug Creek got the next two guys with no runs scoring.
That brought up Adam Kennedy. Remember, there are two outs. In the same position, Piniella would almost certainly let the left-handed-hitting Kennedy bat against the left-handed-pitching Creek, considering Kennedy is his best defensive second baseman.
Not Scioscia, though. He saw a chance to finish off the M's, and he took it, replacing Kennedy with Wooten -- Seattle could use a guy like Wooten, by the way -- who walked to force in a run. David Eckstein followed with a shot that Carlos Guillen couldn't handle, and the Angels owned a seven-run lead that was a lot safer than a four-run lead.
As it turned out, the M's didn't score at all Friday, so Wooten pinch-hitting was probably superfluous. But not irrelevant, because it showed us that Scioscia may have an understanding of the modern game that Piniella doesn't.