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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

is to 'W' as

is to 'BS'

One of the charms of Major League Baseball is the witnessing of a statistical anomaly that occurs during a single game resulting in a win for the team you root for. Some of these events, like the triple play, involve multiple players. Most of them, however, are associated with a single player. While batters have walk-off home runs, hitting for the cycle, the golden shower sombrero, and others, it is the starting pitcher who has the most control over the game and can achieve the most impressive single game feats, such as the no-hitter or the perfect game.

In no other sport is there an equivalent to the perfect game or no-hitter, because in most cases there is no upper limit to a single player's performance. Wilt Chamberlain could have scored more than 100 points. Red Berenson could have scored seven goals against the Flyers (sorry Dolores) in 1968. It is usually possible to kick further, run faster, throw more touchdown passes, or catch more fish. It is certainly possible for someone to win every single point in every single game of a tennis match, but if it has ever happened in professional tennis, it hasn't happened frequently enough to have developed a catchy name. Bowling certainly does have the perfect game, which is an amazing accomplishment, but every bowling alley in the US has a board with a long list of bowlers having bowled a perfect game, so it's probably not going to get you more than a few sentences in your local paper.

The baseball pitcher has one goal: to retire twenty-seven batters in a game, and while doing so, limit the batters that are not retired from crossing home plate as many times as the batters on his own team cross the plate. You play to win the game. If the pitcher is exceptionally dominant, he may record a shutout, a no-hitter, or a perfect game. A perfect game implies a no-hitter and a shutout. A no-hitter does not imply a shutout, but it almost always happens that way. Strangely, it is possible for a pitcher to accomplish all three of these feats without recording a win. Thankfully, the no-hitter thrown by Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander last week did go along with a win (Poor transition sentence, you say? Fuck you. And fuck me, because you're right).

This was the first no hitter thrown by a Tigers pitcher in Detroit in several decades. When I started following baseball closely again in the late nineties, I would sometimes wonder what it would be like to watch a Tigers pitcher throw a no-hitter. In those years and the first five years of the 00's, Tigers fans were subjected to Justin Thompson, Brian Moehler, Jeff Weaver, and other such pitchers being the opening day starters, representing the best of the staff. The starting pitching was atrocious, the bullpen was a disgrace, and the farm system offered no hope. Thankfully, Randy Smith was fired and things began to change for the organization starting with the acquisition of great young pitching prospects through the draft and via trades. No player represents the 'new Tigers' more than Justin Verlander, and it was fitting that Dave Dombrowski, the man who drafted him, stood clapping along with the fans as Verlander put the finishing touches on his girlfriend no-hitter.

Unfortunately, there is one unpleasant reminder of the 'old Tigers' lingering on the 2007 team. Dean Palmer. Damian Easley. Bobby Higgenson. If you are a Tigers fan, you may be reaching for a stummies bottle of Tums after reading those names. They had a few good seasons, got big contracts, and sucked for the rest of their years on the team when they were healthy enough to suck. Thank god they are gone. Remaining, however, is Todd Jones, who came back to the Tigers at the beginning of last year when there was no experienced closer on the team. Despite having a number of great young arms in the bullpen (who all suck ass right now, incidentally), we're still Jonesing.

Last night I watched the Tigers play in DC for the first time. It was a hot, humid, windless night and I hoped that the Tigers would blow the Nats out so Jones wouldn't have a chance to fuck it up and cause more sweating than I already was doing. It was looking good for a while, as the Tigers jumped out to a 9-1 lead. Then Maroth got shelled for four runs and was removed, handing the four run lead over to the roulette wheel in left field. Somehow Grilli and a couple of whodats held the lead. Actually, De la Cruz looked to have some good stuff in the eighth despite some wildness. Then the Marlboro Man inexplicably handed over the four run lead to Jones in a non-save situation and he of course gave up three runs on five straight hits before eking it out with two on.

Todd Jones averages three runs more per nine innings than Verlander. Jones tops out at around 93 miles per hour in the ninth inning. Verlander has throw the ball 102 miles per hour in the ninth inning, after pitching, ummm, eight innings. Jones tries to get batters out by getting them to make contact and hoping it goes at someone. Verlander makes batters look foolish trying to make any contact. Watching Jones get a save feels like you're watching a sixty year old woman give birth to a 12 pound baby. It's ugly, nauseating, and downright painful to watch. Watching Verlander pitch makes you think that it's so easy that you could do it. Jones is old. Verlander is young.

The shitty thing is that with Zumaya out and the rest of the bullpen in shambles, Leyland has no option but to keep sending To-Jo back out there. Jones continues to be the crusty old man hanging on to the job in your office because of his institutional knowledge and the lack of interest in the position from anyone else. So pull the safety bar down tight, Tiger fans, and get ready for another roller coaster ride tonight. Just don't forget your barf bag.

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