(photo by Matt York/AP)
"It’s a good feeling to lift the team when we’re kind of struggling like this."
—Stephen Drew, on hitting the walk-off homer against Trevor Hoffman that ended the D’Backs losing streak.
Yesterday reminded me of the time Steve Carlton struck out 19 Mets, setting a then-major league record, only to lose the game 4-3, because, in the course of setting the record, he also gave up 2 two-run homers to Ron Swoboda.
But last night’s game was even more dramatic. First of all, San Diego Padres starter Jake Peavy challenged Tom Seaver’s long-standing record of 10 strikeouts in a row. He got nine and struck out 16 altogether. His performance set a new Padres record for consecutive strikeouts and matched his previous career-high total for a game. Lost in the drama was the fact that Diamondbacks ace Brandon Webb turned in a sterling performance of his own; he allowed only two runs in eight innings and walked only one while striking out six. The Diamondback starters have really been pitching well of late, but the lack of hitting has kept them from translating solid pitching into wins.
Unlike the way it was for ace pitchers in the era in which Carlton and Seaver pitched, Peavy did not get a chance to finish the game. Tom Seaver set his record by striking out the last man in the sixth, and then striking out the side in the seventh, eighth and ninth. But nowadays, pitch count rule and Peavy was nearing his maximum by throwing 117 pitches in seven innings. Padres manager Bud Black had no intention of letting Peavy go past seven, even though the pitcher told him he felt fine when he came into the dugout after six.
Earlier yesterday, the Mets announcers interviewed Tom Seaver during the Mets-Rockies game. After Seaver left, they talked about the success he had had with the Mets. They noted that he won 198 games with them, and that he completed 171 games. Unless pitching philosophies change radically, we may never see the likes of that again. I think this is in unfortunate turn of events for baseball. I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that nowadays there is a whole lot more injury and surgery to pitchers than happened in Carlton and Seaver’s era, and I don’t think that’s just because medical techniques are more advanced now than they were then. I don’t think most pitchers, especially those who throw a lot of pitches like Peavy did last night, have the stamina to go nine. Baltimore pitching coach Leo Mazzone asked his young pitchers last year before spring training, how many complete games they had pitched in the minors. None of them had any. Pitchers are coming up from college as closers. Prime example: 2005 AL Rookie of the Year Huston Street. So the chances are very good that we won’t see a pitcher challenge the current strikeouts-per-game record of 20 unless he has the least 10 by the fourth inning.
I think this turn of events is really too bad also because the starter can do an excellent job, but must leave his fate, and his won-loss record, in the hands of someone else. Such was the case last night, fortunately for the Diamondbacks. Scott Linebrink came in and struck out two more batters in the eighth. But he also gave up a home run to Miguel Montero, bringing the Diamondbacks within one. So much for the shutout.
Then it was Trevor Time. But after getting Orlando Hudson out, the all-time leader in saves walked Chad Tracy. Then after getting Eric Byrnes to pop up — Byrnes has yet to get a hit off Trevor Hoffman — up came Stephen Drew, who lined a 3-1 changeup over the right-field wall. So for all of his incredible work over 7/9 of the game, Jake Peavy didn’t even get a decision out of it because of two home runs given up by two other pitchers. That might have happened anyway in Carlton and Seaver’s day; aces in that era didn’t always finish everything they started. But nowadays it’s a likelihood and with some teams often a certainty. Starting pitchers should demand a new statistic called "left winning" that they can point to when fans, media, and especially GMs at contract-negotiation time, have negative things to say about their won-loss records.
But again, for now, lucky for the Diamondbacks. Tony Pena got the win.
As for Eric Byrnes, he went 0-3 and a walk. He batted fifth last night. He just isn’t doing it in the heart of the order. So I hope Bob Melvin will put him back in the leadoff or second spots, as his batting average has fallen below .300, and it will dip below .290 if he doesn’t get a couple of hits today. I wish he’d get comfortable in the middle of the lineup; it’s awfully crowded at the top of the Diamondbacks batting order, so I understand Melvin’s moving him down in the order once in a while. But let’s not extend the experiment so long that it does major damage to his batting average.
That walk, which was his 10th of the year — he only walked 34 times all last season — broke Peavy’s consecutive strikeouts string at nine. Byrnes took two balls and then fouled off the next four pitches. He then checked his swing for ball three; replays showed that was the right call. And then the next pitch was too low. Ball four. Diamondbacks announcers Mark Grace and Daron Sutton had Byrnesie struck out after he fouled off two pitches. Thanks a heap, guys! NEVER count out Eric Byrnes! There’s just no quit in the man.
Eric made a good running, leaping catch in the left-field corner to rob Brian Giles of extra bases in the top of the third. Stuff like that keeps games close enough that they can be won by walkoff homers.