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Tuesday, April 29, 2003
Leave 'em in, take 'em out, leave 'em in ...

By Rob Neyer
ESPN.com

Monday night, two 22-year-old pitchers took the mound for Pennsylvania baseball teams.

In Los Angeles, 22-year-old Brett Myers pitched for the National League's Philadelphia Phillies.

In Harrisburg, 22-year-old Seung Song pitched for the Eastern League's Harrisburg Senators.

Both 22-year-old pitchers performed brilliantly. Myers pitched 7 2/3 innings, allowing zero runs on six hits. Song pitched nine innings, and allowed one run on zero hits.

Brett Myers
Brett Myers is averaging 100 pitches per start this season.

That's right: zero hits. Song pitched a no-hitter last night against the Erie SeaWolves, just one day after Kevin Millwood pitched one against the San Francisco Giants.

Both no-hitters came with at least a hint of controversy.

By some accounts -- I saw only the last three innings -- Millwood was assisted by a particularly wide strike zone, courtesy of plate umpire Mike Everitt. I don't particularly consider this a mark against Millwood's no-hitter, because a lot of no-hitters have some help, whether it's from great defensive plays, weather, a bunch of lousy hitters in the other team's lineup, or a bunch of hitters in the other team's lineup who just want to finish the season.

The controversy in Harrisburg was a bit more serious.

In the top of the ninth with one out and nobody aboard, Corey Richardson coaxed a walk from Song. Next up was Nook Logan, who pulled a bunt between the mound and first base. According to the Harrisburg News-Patriot's Roxanne B. Moses, "Song gloved it and then made an awkward throw to first that sailed past the bag."

Catcher Scott Sandusky said, "He picked it up in time, threw it and made a bad throw."

Logan said, "I had already passed the bag when the ball got to the bag."

In other words, Sandusky says Song had time to make the play and Logan would have been out if the throw had been on target, while Logan says that he would have been safe -- thus breaking up the no-hitter -- even with a good throw. But the throw was not good, and so official scorer Dave Wright had a decision to make. He could give Logan a sacrifice hit and Song an error, he could give Logan a base hit and Song an error (Richardson advanced to third because of the wild throw), or he could just give Song an error (with no sacrifice for Logan).

By the time Logan bunted his way to first base, Song had thrown more than 100 pitches. As Moses writes, "If the play was ruled a hit, Senators manager Dave Machemer was going to remove Song from the game. But Machemer and ... Expos minor-league pitching coordinator Brent Strom, who happened to be in town last night, had decided that Song would pitch until he gave up a hit."

Wright chose SF + E. The no-hitter was still alive, and Seung Song was still on the mound.

SeaWolves manager Kevin Bradshaw didn't understand the scoring decision, saying later, "Dave went to the mound, he was going to pull his pitcher because he knew it was a base hit."

It surprised even Song, who said afterward, "I think hit, but they put error."

The scoring decision, in addition to preserving Song's no-hitter, also kept him in the game. As Strom told me Tuesday morning, Song's pitch limit was supposed to be 100, part of a "three-game pitch limit tied to subjective mechanical efficiency, age, strength (as determined by our S&C people), prior history, etc."

Song retired the next two hitters to finish the no-hitter. He wound up throwing 115 pitches, which in some organizations wouldn't even raise an eyebrow. In others, it would earn the manager a stern reprimand from the home office.

I'm not sure where the Phillies would fit into that continuum. They certainly don't have a reputation for being fanatical about pitch counts, and I'm not suggesting that lifting Myers on Monday night was predicated on his pitch count; if he hadn't just given up two hits, he almost certainly would have stayed in the game to face Shawn Green. But it's pretty clear that things have changed. Fifty years ago, and perhaps even five years ago, most managers wouldn't have seriously considered removing a pitcher throwing a shutout, whether the pitcher was 22 or 32.

But that's what happened to Myers. As Marcus Hayes writes in Tuesday's Philadelphia Daily News, "Myers stayed sharp through two outs in the eighth. (Joey) Cora and (Paul) Lo Duca each singled off him, and (Phillies manager Larry) Bowa had seen enough. Myers had thrown just 86 pitches, 61 for strikes; hence no walks. (Dan) Plesac, a lefty, entered to face Green, whose grounder forced Lo Duca."

When Myers was taken out of the game, the Phillies had just a 2-0 lead and there were two runners on base. So if Green had homered, not only would Myers have lost his shutout, he might well have lost the game, too. Which is probably why Bowa took him out.

Still, there's no doubt that starting pitchers, and especially young starting pitchers, are treated more tenderly than ever before. And I think most of us, and even most of us who draw paychecks from baseball teams, think that young pitchers should be treated tenderly.

Not all of us, though. Tuesday morning, I received the following e-mail message from reader Robert Schaller:

I'd like to ... but I can't. There just isn't much evidence there. Baker hates pitch counts, he never bothered with them in San Francisco, and it never seemed to hurt him. I certainly believe that 22-year-old pitchers should not be allowed to throw 130 pitches in a game no matter how well they're pitching, but the proof that they shouldn't be allowed to throw 130 pitches is pretty thin. The Athletics maintain strict pitch limits for their young pitchers in the minor leagues and they've been wildly successful developing young pitchers ... but of course, that's just one team and fewer than half a dozen pitchers.

Teams are making real efforts to keep pitchers healthy, and that's an exciting thing because it's never really happened before. But baseball still has a long, long ways to go, and finding out the "right" pitch count -- assuming, of course, that such a thing exists -- is just one small piece of the puzzle. And until that puzzle's put together, we're still going to see a frightening number of talented young men with shredded elbows and shoulders.

Senior writer Rob Neyer writes four columns per week during the baseball season. His new book, "Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Lineups," has just been published by Fireside. For more information, visit Rob's Web site.