A daily accumulation of history and present as I follow the 2011 year through the baseball season and reflect on the glories and disappointments of the greatest game on Earth.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Matt Garza

On July 26, 2010, the Rays finally got a no hitter from one of their own instead of one of their opponents. Matt Garza was at the helm for the game as Tampa Bay defeated the Tigers 5-0. In the year before that, they were no hit four times (three in a year). This figure includes two perfect games (Dallas Braden on Mother's Day and Mark Buehrle) and a no hitter from one of their former players (Edwin Jackson, who managed to walk 8).
When the season was over, they had been to the playoffs, but were defeated by Texas in the opening round. Two years previously, they had been the unimaginable transformation team, blowing it against the Phillies, but making it to the World Series all the same. Now, their team was at a crossroads that exorcising the "Devil" from their woes couldn't help.
Carl Crawford was leaving because he wanted too much money and the Rays weren't willing to insult him with an offer (instead, the Red Sox nearly killed him when he freaked out hearing their incredible offer, but alas... baseball money has a way of doing that to people).
Carlos Pena and his 158 strikeouts in 484 at bats (gaining 28 home runs while batting .196) seems more memorable than he actually is (like that former lover who ends up in the all time greatest hits for a few nights of passion and / or a few awesome dates in the early days but ends up being more re-memorable for her antics and failures to live up to expectations when a better significant other comes into the game).
Jason Bartlett seems to be pretty important now, but it must be for intangibles because his stats scream average as he is only a 1.5 WAR player, and in looking to get those replacement wins, they can come cheaper through the minors and development.
Dioner Navarro is also a wash.
Dan Wheeler was a part of a lot of team's bullpens through the last decade or so, and there is sadness to Joaquin Benoit and Rafael Soriano packing up their bags and leaving, but in all honesty, besides Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman, name some relievers that have lasted for more than a few seasons. I dare you. Past the K-Rod adventure outing (as much for father in laws as for opposing batters and for his own teammates), there is this fine list to check out. Trevor Hoffman doesn't rank on that list. Look at the all time saves list. Whose rookie card are you plunking cash down for? I have Gossage's card, had Eckersley's card, and would like Sutter and Fingers' cards. If I wasn't a Red Sox fan and it was about the value, I'd take Rivera, but as for the rest... largely forgettable players. That said, Jeff Reardon's note about his gun got him $170 and a permanent place in the memories of baseball fans, but all the same, that's not a good notoriety.
Most of these guys who are currently hurling from the bullpen are getting to the point where they're figured out. Why the Sox don't send Papelbon anywhere really is beyond me. Dan Bard is ready. Bobby Jenks is there just in case and he's an implosion as well.
Other former notables like Joe Nathan (who I have as good a chance as he does to make it unscathed through a game with the Yankees as he does) are done. Why pretend that closer is such a long-term big money position? There's only one man who has been clutch (it's paining me a hell of a lot to say that by the way) and deserves cash. The rest should be able to do 3 outs and done. This is closer 2011 - not in the days of Tug McGraw, Kent Tekulve, Dan Quisenberry, Rich Gossage, and Bruce Sutter.
As a result, Tampa Bay is calling the season to lose Carl Crawford and some other guys that could probably be worked around. With their revenue, they could make some signings, but instead, they call the game because their team is largely changed.
Hmm.... so let's think about that. Are they really that done.
Are they Pittsburgh who has not had a winning season since 1992 when they were 96 and 66. Barry Bonds still played for them and until Sid Bream motored home, there was still hope to relive 1979. But that said, they're done in 2011, too.
Last year, I wrote this article. It pretty much holds true now:
In 1909, the Pittsburgh Pirates brought a largely “forgettable” Dutchman named Honus Wagner to the plate while putting Howie Camnitz on the mound. They won 110 games with a rotation of starting pitchers that didn’t have an ERA over 4.0. It was a different time in baseball as Honus Wagner only had 5 home runs that year despite batting .339, which was only 11 points better than his career average, which was once bested with a .381 average. The Pirates went 110-42 that year and decimated their opponents in baseball, which eventually included the American League Champion Tigers and their “emotional” star Ty Cobb, who did pathetically in his only World Series.
They won against Walter Johnson and the Washington Senators in 1925, which wasn’t a stretch despite the fact that Walter Johnson is undeniably great. Washington was always said to be first in war and peace and last in the American League East, but that year and the year before were different as Washington went to the series with almost no pitching (save Johnson). And the 2nd year, he wasn’t able to hold the gates closes at the end. In 1927, the Pirates made it to the World Series again, but were no match for the Yankees offensive juggernaut and were dispatched of 4 games to 0 in much the same way that a cat toys with a mouse and ends him.
A guy named Bill Mazeroski made 1960 special with an “afterthought” home run (as Mickey Mantle put it, the only time that the Yankees were the better team and lost the World Series), and in 1971, the Pirates did the deed again beating the Orioles in another 7 game series. The last time the Pirates had glory was in 1979. The radio waves were blasting Sister Sledge and Willie Stargell and Dave Parker were family. The Allegheny, the Monongahela, and the Ohio’s convergence came alive for baseball in the same way that it did for the football dynasty that brought the steel town to sports prominence. Brooks Robinson wouldn’t be standing on third for that Orioles loss, but it was another cross state rivalry between Pennsylvania and Maryland decided in favor of the Quaker’s state.
Since that time, the sun hasn’t shined on the Pirates. The last good year was 1992 and despite being a baseball God with a relatively small head (physically at least), Barry Bonds couldn’t throw out Sid Bream at the plate and the Atlanta dynasty ended and the dreams of Pennsylvania’s other team seemed to die. Bonds went to San Francisco and made bank. Pittsburgh went to seed and traded pretty much everyone away to build for the future every time it seemed like they were going somewhere.
In the relatively small space of time since 1998, the Pirates have traded away Jason Bay, Tony Womack, Sean Casey, Kris Benson, Jason Kendall, Brian Giles, Matt Stairs, Bronson Arroyo, Pokey Reese, Jason Schmidt, Matt Capps, Ian Snell, Xavier Nady, Freddy Sanchez, Nate McClouth, Rajai Davis, Adam Laroche, Jon Lieber, Jose Guillen, and Mike Gonzalez + Derek Bell (but those last 2 were good trades). When Bonds left, he left Andy Van Slyke on the team and little else. The Pirates were never the same again. The Pirates have not won the division since. They did come 2nd in 1997 despite being 4 games under .500. That said, that was their best record since that time of Atlanta's rise to glory. They are now a record 17 straight seasons under .500 and this year doesn’t appear to be any better.
In fact, the real question is how long until Zach Duke, Andrew McCutchen, and Garret Jones, the current National League home run leader leave for greener pastures? Will it be in July? Will the Pirates fold in May? Right now, they’re 3-2 and Jones is hitting dingers (POST NOTE - he finished with 21), but how long can the team continue to win when the door is going to slam shut and the lights are going to go off. Can we hope for resurgence like the Tigers had when they went from 42-112 in 2003 to the American League Championship in 2006? That said, neither team has been as lowly as the 1899 Cleveland Spiders, but still… how bad can it get? Will the Royals come up for air first?
That said, I think of my cousin’s children who are still too young to understand consistent futility like the Pirates have seen. There is a history, but it’s just that – a history before even I was born (save the final months of 1971 and that magic 1979 season). How do you tell kids not to pin their hopes on the hometown team? For that reason alone, I want to give these kids hope, so I give them Garrett Jones, who has hit three mighty bombs past the wall.
Sage and Miranda, they’re still over .500. There is a chance.
Chances always exist, but let's be honest... the chance is for over .500 - not to make the season work.
For that, the Cubs have another pitcher, and now they have a chance for the first time since 1908.
Who knows?
This could be the year, Tampa Bay. Why are you calling it over before it started?
That said, Chris Archer's 15-3 with a 2.34 ERA between A and AA ball looks pretty nice in making us forget a guy with an upside of a just under 4.0 ERA.
And if this isn't the year, is it time to cry in your beer? Your fans didn't really support you anyway. You had Evan Longoria and still have him (as well as Ben Zobrist). You have David Price. You built for the impossible once. You can do it again.
So why are you quitting?

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