It’s not as rare as Jason Bay homering in a Mets uniform, but we saw something else we don’t see very often as the Mets beat the Braves in Atlanta Monday night. And we saw it at the exact moment the Mets beat the Braves.
With two away in the bottom of the ninth, Tim Byrdak struck out Eric Hinske. Game over, Mets win, 6-1. Just bookkeeping, right? The game wasn’t in doubt at that point. Dillon Gee saw to that with seven superb innings, particularly the seventh when he got out of a little in-Thole-rable trouble. Ike Davis saw to that as well when he truly blasted his second home run in two days, this one a three-run shot that made Gee’s efforts pay off for all concerned. Bay played a vital role, too, with an Endyish catch at the wall in the fifth and one of those four-base hits he used to get quite a bit with Pittsburgh and Boston in the top of the ninth.
Byrdak? He wasn’t exactly mopping up with a five-run lead, but he’d be the last guy you’d think of as having done something fascinating as he pitched the final inning. That’s the thing, though. It was the final inning. And in the spirit of what comes last, take a close look at the man’s last name.
Byrdak. Notice anything? At the end, specifically?
The last letter in Byrdak — or BYRDAK, per the back of his uniform — is a big, blue and orange K. I stared at it as the ninth began and decided what I wanted to see next, beyond a simple filing away of the Braves’ chances, was the man whose last name ends with a K end the game with a K.
That’s a strikeout, for you fans who are new to baseball.
Once Jason Heyward struck out for the second out of the inning, I began to feel good about my/Tim’s chances. When I saw the next batter was Hinske, whom Gee struck out after Thole committed catcher’s interference in the seventh, I figured this could happen.
These are the things you suddenly root for when your team is ahead by five with two out in the ninth.
Byrdak worked Hinske to oh-and-two. Then a couple of balls evened the count. Then, at last, the last pitch of the game…a swinging strike three.
Score it a K for BYRDAK.
Gee, Davis and Bay were the conventional stars of the game. Me, I was zipping upstairs to examine my lifetime Met roster to determine how many pitchers we’d ever had who had names that ended in a fashion similar to Byrdak.
There have been 18, in case you were wondering (and even if you weren’t). Had any of them done what Byrdak had just done to Hinske? Any other Met pitchers ending in K end a game with a K?
You weren’t wondering, but I sure was. So a little exploration of Baseball Reference ensued and this is what I found out:
Yes. Yes, it’s happened before. But not that much. It’s happened 32 times, courtesy of 11 of the Mets’ 18 last-K pitchers.
The last time it happened before Byrdak did it to Hinske was last July 26 when Byrdak did it to Jay Bruce in Cincinnati, preserving an 8-6 lead in what turned out to be Carlos Beltran’s last game as a Met. Anybody who’d followed Byrdak’s career closely — and that wouldn’t include me, someone only vaguely aware of him as yet another transient middle reliever before he arrived here in 2011 — understood it was a big deal because Bruce homered off Byrdak (then an Astro) to clinch the N.L. Central title the previous September. It was also noteworthy considering the K sealed Byrdak’s fourth career save, each coming with a different team, dating back to 1999.
When you think of pitchers ending games with a strikeout, you tend to think of a closer or, less frequently, an ace starter wrapping up his own complete game. If things are going to plan, a Tim Byrdak doesn’t get the chance to finish with a flourish. It has nothing to do with the K at the end of his name, though once a person starts digging into the possibilities, one appreciates why the last-K equation has so rarely added up in Mets history.
Who are your closers? As it happens, they haven’t been guys whose names end with a K, though not everybody entrusted with protecting a Mets lead since 1962 has been the so-called closer. Who are your aces? As it happens, they haven’t been guys whose names end with a K, though complete games aren’t (weren’t) just the province of so-called No. 1 starters.
Before Tim Byrdak — or Tim ByrdaK, for our purposes — the last Met pitcher to end his last name with a K was Chan Ho ParK, in 2007. He endured exactly one start as a Met, which should imply that he wasn’t bounced immediately thereafter because he recorded a 27th out with a K.
Before Park, there was 2005 reliever Tim HamulacK, who briefly launched a flurry of painful puns about pork products and not having enough of them. No K-K business there.
Before Park is where we find our most recent pre-Byrdak last-K recorder. His name was Jason MiddlebrooK, and except for remembering we had a guy named Jason Middlebrook (and finally getting it straight long after he left us that he didn’t resurface as Jake Westbrook), I recall nothing about him. But he struck out Craig Wilson of the Pirates to end a Mets win on April 17, 2003, nine years ago today.
Craig Wilson I used to confuse with Jack Wilson. Jack Wilson is who Jason Bay robbed in Atlanta Monday night. Ah, the circle of life…
Before Middlebrook, there was Mike BacsiK, whose one shining moment as a Met occurred on July 15, 2002, a seven-hit complete game victory over the Marlins that ended on a K of Andy Fox. Five years later, Bacsik would be way more famous for not striking out a batter who was sitting on 755 home runs.
Before Bacsik, there was Eric CammacK, who batted once as a Met and tripled. By comparison, Cammack finishing up an easy pre-playoff win over Montreal by K’ing Tomas de la Rosa on September 29, 2000, seems almost trivial.
Before Cammack, we have — with no offense to everybody else we’ve catalogued as preceding Byrdak — a real pitcher, Dennis CooK. In the mind’s eye, Cook is (angrily) getting the Mets out of a jam in the sixth or seventh, setting up various combinations of Turk Wendell, Rick White, Armando Benitez and John Franco. But Cook found himself ending games here and there in three-and-two-thirds Met seasons, and five times in 1998 and 1999 he ended them with K’s. He holds the distinction of being the only last-K pitcher to K an Interleague opponent to put one in the books, striking out Tampa Bay’s John Flaherty on July 16, 1999. Dennis is also the last Met reliever to strike out an ex-Met to end a game, plastering a K on Tim Bogar on August 25, 1999.
Incidentally, Dennis Cook is third all-time in appearances on the list of pitchers whose last names end with a K, trailing Eric Plunk and Rod Beck.
Before Cook, we have another multiple last-K fellow, which shocked me since I remember John HudeK as being trusted by Bobby Valentine to close only in Mop Up City. Sure enough, Hudek brought down the decisive K’s in situations where he couldn’t create a Met mess, striking out the Cubs’ Scott Servais to end a 6-0 win on April 14, 1998, and Bret Boone to resoundingly slam the door on a 14-0 Mets triumph against Cincinnati five days later. That April 19 game tied the Met record for largest shutout margin of victory. Hudek struck out the side in the ninth that afternoon, so impressing the Reds that they traded for him by July.
Before Hudek, there was Rick TrliceK, who could have used an extra vowel during his noncontiguous 1996-1997 stays, but never collected a closing K.
Before Trlicek, there was de facto 1996 ace Mark ClarK, author of one complete game — his final start in a Met uniform, in 1997 — but it a CG he failed to punctuate with a final K.
Before Clark, there was Mike BirkbecK. No, really, there was. But his 1992 and 1995 Met sightings revealed no closing K’s.
Before Birkbeck, there was Pete SchoureK, and Schourek knew how to please a curious researcher…once. Working in relief (having been one of many to lose Dallas Green’s easily shaken confidence), the erstwhile starter struck out Tracy Woodson with two out in the ninth on August 1, 1993, to assure that season’s edition one of its 59 precious wins.
Before Schourek, there was Doug SisK, and you’re not going to believe this if you’ve been carrying around a quarter-century grudge against the righty reliever who inspired widespread dissemination of the words “you” and “suck” at Shea Stadium, but Sisk ended seven games with K’s during a career that commenced with genuine promise. The first of his final K’s was thrown to a future Hall of Famer, the Phillies’ Tony Perez, in what is otherwise remembered as Tom Seaver’s return to the Mets on April 5, 1983; Sisk was the winning pitcher that sunny day at Shea. The seventh of his final K’s was thrown to a probable future Hall of Famer, Barry Bonds of the Pirates, on September 27, 1986. (Mike Bacsik take note.) One of Sisk’s other last-K victims was Nick Esasky, in 1984. Before Hinske, Esasky was the only batter with a K anywhere in his last name to fall victim to a last-K Met pitcher’s last K. And before Bogar fell to Cook, Claudell Washington was the previous ex-Met to meet our parameters, against Sisk in 1985.
With so much going for him in the realm of last-K action, it’s hard to fathom that people didn’t cheer Doug Sisk more.
Before Sisk, there was Mark BombacK, and despite his status as the only 10-game winner on the 1980 Mets, Boom Boom saved his K’s for situations that preceded two out in the ninth.
Before Bomback, there was Bob MyricK, who turned the tricK against Gary Alexander of the Giants on August 5, 1977. Also, I just learned the other day that Bob Myrick is the grandnephew of highly regarded 1925-1941 American League shortstop Buddy Myer. So now that’s two things I know about Bob Myrick besides his having worn 44 so effectively that every other Met 44 gets in line behind him when I run my occasional digit double checks.
Before MyricK, there was Jon MatlacK, who would have been a great pitcher even if he’d gone by his middle name of Trumpbour. He is the Mets’ all-time last-K leader, with 10 strikeouts to end games the way he ended his last name between 1972 and 1976. Mind you, Matlack did that sort of thing as a starting pitcher, when men were men and complete games weren’t cause for shaving cream pies to be smushed in faces during postgame interviews. Among those who waved or looked at Matlack’s last Ks were future Hall of Famer Willie McCovey, former Met Tommie Agee and two repeat victims, each a Dodger: Ron Cey and Steve Yeager. Matlack wasn’t the ace on a staff headed by Tom Seaver and supplemented on the port side by Jerry Koosman, but he was plenty acelike every fifth day.
Before Matlack, there was Dick RustecK, who came out of the shoot like no Met starter before or since in 1966, but didn’t last-K any batter in his injury-shortened career.
Before Rusteck — before just about anybody — there was Original Met Jay HooK, who not only registered the first win Mets history, but was the first pitcher whose last name ended in a K to engineer a game-ending K when he struck out Ed Bailey of the Giants in the opener of a doubleheader at the Polo Grounds on July 15, 1962.
Bailey was caught looking at Hook’s last K, the same way I was caught looking at Byrdak’s name and grew curiouser and curiouser on a subject that I’m pretty sure wasn’t a subject until it crossed my mind. Watch baseball long enough, and you can be caught looking at just about anything.