I see that there’s a Free the Bird II. I can only imagine what it must be like for lifelong Oriole fans to go through this stretch. And for those die-hards who actually watched tonight, I can only wonder what they thought. First off all, they got to see their pitching staff give up twelve runs, which has become all too common. On the other side, they got to see Mike through seven shut out innings.
Look, I know that I’m his brother, but I get it. I realize that there is a large percentage of Oriole fans that root for Mike to get pounded every time he pitches. I also know that there are still some Oriole fans who enjoyed watching Mike pitch for all those years and still wish him well, even as they root against his team. But that’s not what I wanted to write about anyway.
Tonight, he looked like the Mike of old, when much of the year, he just looked like and old Mike. He’s 38, he’ll turn 39 in December. (He was the oldest guy on the roster until the Yankees signed Clemens.) The 2007 season has been a struggle. He has had good streaks and bad streaks, but after a stretch of three consecutive bad outings, Mike found himself demoted. After 498 regular season starts without a relief appearance, Mike was now a mop up man in the bullpen. When the rookie that they called up to take his spot, Ian Kennedy, pitched well, it looked like Mike’s season was over.
Then Clemens got hurt, and after one relief appearance Mike was back in the rotation, at least for one start. I told my wife that if things didn’t go well in that start, it could be the last start he would ever make as a Yankee, and there was an outside chance that it would be the last start he ever made. And I don’t think I was being overdramatic.
Forget about the last month of the season or the playoff roster. They certainly looked bleak. Where did Mike stand for the future? What if the Yankees didn’t want him next year? They could always eat the last year of his contract. Or what if they wanted to trade him? Mike has always played in the Northeast, which allows him to get home more often on off days, but what if none of the teams in the Northeast wanted him? Would he expand the numbers of teams that he would be willing to pitch for, or would he pack it in and call it a career? And if he continued to struggle, maybe the choice wouldn’t be his. Maybe everyone would think he was washed up and no one would want him.
So that night seven days ago when he took the mound in Toronto, you can’t imagine what I was feeling. Watching Mike pitch has been such and important and enjoyable part of my life. In ’93 I drove to every home game that he pitched, and from Montoursville, Pennsylvania, it’s three hours each way. Then starting in ’94 when I wasn’t happy with is pitch selection I started charting the games that he pitched. Not the ones when I was in attendance, but the ones I saw on television. I’ve charted every t.v. game ever since. In my house for three hours a week, thirty times a year the world stops, and it has been that way for a long time. Now here it was, all on the line, at least in my mind. The ultimate do or die. How could anyone else know what I was going to through, about to have something you loved so much come to and end?
Then I realized that many of you could relate. Those of you old enough to remember the Colts. Those of you who watched and read about, and listened to, and rooted for, and basically lived and died with every game. Game after game, year after year, then all of the sudden it was gone. The only difference was that you were robbed in the middle of the night. I was actually getting to see what might be Mike’s final game.
Well, as they say, the rest, or at least the last seven days, are history. Mike threw 5 2/3 shutout innings that night in Toronto, and 7 more shutout innings last night against the O’s. While it certainly hasn’t put him in Cy Young contention, (he’s 10-10 with a 5.01), it has brought him back from the brink, so much so that now he has possibly pitched his way into the fourth spot in the playoff rotation. That’s two weeks away though. Right now, I’m happy about two things.
The first is that with his tenth win of the season, he joins a very select list of pitchers to win at least 10 games a year for at least 16 consecutive years. The other guys are Greg Maddux, Cy Young, Steve Carlton, Don Sutton, Warren Spahn, and Nolan Ryan. To be in that list is pretty cool.
But the other thing that I’m really happy about is that I get to see him pitch again, at least one more time this year. And if he wins that, he would join another special list. That would be his 250th win.
I’m sorry for the long winded rant about a Yankee, but I’ve been past of the WNST family for a long time and I know that Nestor would cut me some slack. But being Mike’s brother, and seeing him at hte lowest point of his career, and the to come off of the deck and pitch the way he has for the last two starts, I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud.
For those of you Oriole fans who actually enjoyed, or maybe I should say appreciated, they way he pitched last night, I’m glad you got to see it. For those of you who were mad or upset, then I think Nestor has an event planned for next week that you might be interested in.