The first thing we do, let’s kill all the Moyers.
Not literally, of course. If we didn’t have Jamie Moyer pitching in the major leagues at the age of 49 years, 5 months and 12 days, what would those of us who clock in at a mere 49 years and 4 months have to feel relatively young about? When Jamie Moyer calls it a career, the last vestige of my faded boyishness officially falls away. Hence, I rooted like hell for Jamie Moyer to rehab from Tommy John surgery, for Jamie Moyer to make the Colorado Rockies in Spring Training, for Jamie Moyer to become the oldest pitcher to ever win a Major League Baseball game. I root like hell for Jamie Moyer every time he steps on a mound.
Except Sunday, obviously. That’s when I rooted for his temporary demise; live to pitch another day, Jamie, but live down to the “he’s so old…” jibes, snarks and factoids. There were oodles to go around, but the one that summed it up best from my perspective — besides “he’s so old, he’s older than me” — was when I turned to my wife and told her that guy pitching for the Rockies was pitching in the majors before we met.
We met 25 years ago next month.
The most commonly cited factoid illustrating the length of Jamie Moyer’s career is that his first start, on June 16, 1986, came against Steve Carlton, the lock Hall of Fame lefty whose own storied big league tenure extended back to 1965. Carlton plus Moyer equals a slightly overlapping approximate half-century’s worth of baseball. The last year neither of them was working to get paid as a professional pitcher — including Carlton’s signing as a Cardinal minor leaguer and Moyer rehabbing his left elbow — was 1962, the year Moyer, the Mets and I were born.
Yeah, he’s that old, et al, but never mind that for a sec. Consider Carlton, whose brilliance the Mets regularly and memorably punctured (no pitcher ever lost more games to our team and no team beat him more often than ours), was barely Carlton when Moyer matched his 23-year-old left arm against Silent Steve’s 41-year-old portside wing. 1986 was a great year for us, a gruesome one for Carlton. An ageless artist for so long, with four Cy Youngs joining the countless demons in his closet, Carlton was losing it quickly as titular Phillie ace. He entered his matchup with Moyer toting an ERA of 5.69. It was 5.88 after Moyer beat him, 7-5. It rose to 6.18 one start later…his last start for Philadelphia after 15 seasons of heading their rotation.
I never liked Carlton given his job description as Met opponent and demeanor as mute interview subject, but per Wes Mantooth’s acknowledgement of Ron Burgundy, damn, did I respect him. The classic arms of my National League childhood were on their last legs by 1986. Tom Seaver hung in there in two shades of socks. Phil Niekro was squeezing the last dances from his knuckleball. Bob Gibson and Juan Marichal were long gone. Ferguson Jenkins and Gaylord Perry were more recently gone but just as gone. To my way of mid-1980s thinking, Bert Blyleven was a journeyman, Don Sutton was always a No. 2 and Nolan Ryan was more phenomenon than classic, and besides, he didn’t begin to put it together until I reached the ripe old age of nine and he was in some other league, well after my initial impressions were made. My initial impressions had Steve Carlton — 17-11 in 1969, 20-9 in 1971, a drop-dead 27-10 for 59-97 Philadelphia in 1972 — in the pantheon of pitching.
In 1986, Carlton exited Olympus. The Phillies let him go and he began the hanging-on phase of his career, like some kind of Steve Miller/Terry Mulholland hybrid: 6 starts in San Francisco; 10 on the South Side of Chicago; 14 by the shores of Lake Erie for Cleveland; a final 8 for the Minnesota Twins, the team with whom Carlton ended his 24-season, 329-win career in April of 1988.
I’m all for athletes hanging in and hanging on if that’s what they choose, pitchers more than anybody. Notice it’s mostly hitters who announce retirements in advance and take definitive farewell tours. Few starting pitchers, especially top starting pitchers, say they’re going to be done and stay done without a fuss, a non-roster invite to a warm climate or a key limb falling off. Roger Clemens accepted gifts aplenty in 2003 (and managed to magically haul them back to his Hummer in one trip…such unusual strength!) as the one exception to the farewell rule, yet he kept returning for more. David Cone quit and then unquit. Andy Pettitte did the same. Mike Mussina, who won his first 20th game on Shea Stadium’s final day, may have been the only one of his kind to willingly go out on top and remain out on top.
Pitchers have to be hit over the head — and hit to all fields — to finally know when it’s time for them to go. Carlton was the premier example of this recurring pattern. Stoic, stuck-up, paranoid, whatever, Steve Carlton suddenly humbled himself and joined the rest of us on this planet (at least for a little while) when he wanted to hang on. Suddenly he spoke to the press. Suddenly he smiled. Suddenly his desire to pitch wasn’t matched by his ability to pitch. I won’t call it sad, because eff the guy who tried to beat the Mets in 76 starts as a Cardinal and Phillie, but there was something dispiriting about it nonetheless.
Jamie Moyer was never Steve Carlton, except for being lefthanded, a Phillie and almost ageless. He was never an artist. He was mostly a craftsman. I remember Jamie Moyer from 1986, from his three starts against the juggernaut Mets. I remember him as an opposing pitcher, anyway. I can’t say he say he made a distinct impression on me other than as one of those specks of dust I expected our guys to effortlessly wipe away on their march to bigger and better tasks. His Cubs beat us twice, which was annoying but inconsequential to the National League East standings. When we prevailed in one of his starts “at last,” in the post-clinch half of September, it was notable mostly because Kevin Mitchell hit the home run that broke the franchise record for most team homers in a season (the old number was 139, set in, of all years, 1962) and the Mets raised their record to 100-53, tying the 1969 Mets’ standard for most wins…a mark 1% ensured when Ron Swoboda ruined Steve Carlton’s 19-strikeout masterpiece with two two-run homers, as every schoolchild ought to know.
Moyer was an American Leaguer by 1989. I didn’t much notice. He landed in Seattle in 1996. I wasn’t paying attention. He was garnering Cy Young votes by 1999. Didn’t pierce my consciousness. He won 20 games in 2001 and 21 in 2003. Had other things on my mind. If you mentioned Jamie Moyer to me much after 1986, my initial reaction would have been, “That guy from the Cubs? Whatever happened to him?”
2006 was the first time since the late 1980s that I had reason to actively take note of Jamie Moyer’s whereabouts on a going basis. He was traded to the Wild Card-aspiring Phillies and, at what seemed like the relatively if not impossibly old age of 43 (remember, we still had Julio Franco back then), pitched against rookie John Maine in a Monday afternoon makeup game at Shea that I remember well for two reasons: 1) there was a really weird Solomonic umpire’s ruling; and 2) I was confident enough after we beat Jamie and the second-place Phillies — placing us 15½ ahead with 33 to play — to usher in the only successful Magic Number countdown in Faith and Fear history.
2007 was the year Jamie Moyer’s perseverance became a most unpleasant fact of my life. His ERA was late-period Carlton bad, but in this era, especially in Citizens Bank Park, 5.01 didn’t seem so unforgivably brutal. That September, when the Mets seemed prepared for another crack at bigger and better tasks, the Phillies visited Shea for three games intended to put them permanently in our rearview mirror. Alas, objects 6½ lengths behind were closer than they appeared. On Friday night, September 14, Moyer faced a lefty who’d been around almost as long as he’d been, someone with more sterling credentials as the kind of lefthander you’d want going for you with something on the line…an artist in his prime, a craftsman by then. As it happened, both lefties pitched well that night. Moyer went seven innings and gave up only two runs. His opponent, a fellow whose name I was a little more than two weeks from permanently spelling “T#m Gl@v!ne,” gave up the same number of runs while pitching until there were two out in the eighth. The 44-year-old Moyer and the 41-year-old Gl@v!ne were evenly matched.
And then they weren’t. The Mets lost that game (with an assist from a crummy home plate ump named Paul Emmel) and their losing ways became a cold they couldn’t shake. The Phillies swept the weekend set and went on what amounted to an uninterrupted five-year winning streak. As important as anybody to Philadelphia’s fortunes was the man to whom they entrusted their do-or-die 162nd game. With everything on the line, Jamie Moyer allowed one run to the Washington Nationals in 5⅓ innings as the Phillies won the game they absolutely had to have. At Shea that same Sunday…ah, you know what happened. Tim Marchman of the late New York Sun put it best among those who didn’t resort to profanity:
“Weeks away from turning 45, Phillies pitcher Jamie Moyer, the off-brand T#m Gl@v!ne, did what the Mets’ Hall of Famer couldn’t do and set down a young lineup with nothing but guile.”
I may have come to overwhelmingly hate all things Phillie by September 30, 2007, but now that I truly knew who Jamie Moyer was, I have to confess I rather liked him. Julio Franco was retired. Jamie Moyer was the oldest player in baseball. Jamie Moyer was the last player in baseball older than me. I was one guileful lefty removed from having no more baseball players to chronologically look up to, so I wanted him to hang in there as gracefully as possible for as long as possible. I rooted for the Rays to beat the Phillies in the 2008 World Series (duh) but I wasn’t sorry Jamie Moyer was a world champion for the team he grew up rooting for in Pennsylvania. All I wanted was for the team I grew up rooting for in New York to be a world champion, and I didn’t have to be on it. I had to admire that my fellow 1962 baby had helped make happen what he wanted when he was a kid.
When Moyer went out with an injury in the summer of 2010 and it was reported he would require surgery and a long road back to ever pitch again, I rooted for the surgery and the journey. I rooted for Jamie Moyer, the concept as well as the person, to be a 49-year-old pitcher when I was a 49-year-old fan. His mission to make the Rockies became my mission. His start against the Padres in which he became the oldest pitcher to earn a W became my start and, sort of, my W. He did all the work and deserves all the glory. I’ll take the most infinitesimal sliver of empathetic afterglow.
Then, Sunday, Jamie Moyer was pitching against the Mets for the first time since May 25, 2010, the series that we might remember as producing the Goose Egg Sweep. We spanked Moyer pretty good that night, which was swell, since Moyer’s Phillies uniform was still visible from the Promenade and, admiration or not, screw the Phillies. Sunday was the first time since stray Interleague matchups against the Mariners in 2003 and 2005 that Moyer approached us as something less loathsome than a Phillie, and otherwise it was the first time since 1988 that he wasn’t an A.L. novelty or part of a detested rival.
It was the first time he was fully the Jamie Moyer of my middle age admiration. He’s 49 while I’m 49. We 49-year-olds have to stick together in endeavors where 49 is considered ancient, I figure…most of the time, anyway. My age-related empathy for Moyer was necessarily blacked out Sunday because the only lefty starter I could wholeheartedly root for was Johan Santana, who if not yet ageless is certainly timeless and surely an artist in the Seaver/Carlton mode. He’s a Met lefty for the ages, and it had been ages since the Mets scored for him.
Until Sunday, that is. The Mets jumped on Jamie in the first, with Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Ruben Tejada and David Wright each crossing the plate, and it was as satisfying as Gary Carter and Rafael Santana scoring the first two runs of September 25, 1986. The 2012 Mets compiled five hits in the first inning, two hits in the second, two more in the third and another in the fourth. That’s ten hits in four innings. Yet it wasn’t until Josh Thole’s solo home run in the fifth that the Mets padded the lead for Santana (6 IP, 0 R, 2 H, 3 BB, 5 SO), who didn’t appear to need much help but experience (0-2, 2.25) shows could always use more.
The Mets should have knocked Jamie Moyer out of the box in the first. Or the second. Or the third. But at a stage of his life when guile is his best pitch, Moyer lasted through five and kept the Rockies in a game in which — Coors Field or no Coors Field — they had no business remaining. Jamie Moyer’s final line wound up being 5 innings, 4 runs, 11 hits, 2 walks, 7 strikeouts and 8 Mets left on base. We had him, and we led him, but between Rockie glovework and Met baserunning blunders, we couldn’t quite finish him or his teammates off.
Which is why I say the first thing we do, let’s kill all the Moyers. Let’s step on the throats and kick the spit out of the replaced ligaments of crafty lefthanders when it seems they’re begging us to. Let’s not permit them to stick around and leave games within the reach of mile-high air, Paul Emmel’s mysterious strike zone and Todd Helton’s heretofore rarely tapped pinch-hitting prowess. Let’s not let Johan Santana take a seat with a 4-0 lead and make him shower and dress amid a 4-4 tie. Let’s not hold the breath the thin atmosphere demands we lose in Denver and let a game like this go into a tenth, then an eleventh inning. Let’s not let a storyline like Johan Santana versus Jamie Moyer devolve into Ramon Ramirez versus Matt Belisle. It was statistical shame enough last week that Santana versus Josh Johnson went into the books as Jon Rauch trumping Edward Mujica.
Oh, by all means, celebrate that we overcame missed offensive opportunity after missed offensive opportunity — and Emmel — and won in ultimately heartening fashion (Ike! Kirk! Ruben!), 6-5 in eleven innings, but if we can do anything about it, let’s not make it any more difficult on ourselves than it has to be.
Let’s stick it to Jamie Moyer next time, assuming there is a next time against the last pitcher active who’s older than I am and keep it stuck on Jamie Moyer. We built a lead on him on September 25, 1986, but let him escape with a no-decision. The Cubs got the winning run on base against Jesse Orosco 26 years ago before we could win that record-tying 100th game. On April 29, 2012, Marco Scutaro came within a couple of feet of sending this one to a twelfth and maybe a twentieth inning the way things were going. That, I suppose, is why they refer to crafty lefthanders as they do. They really know how to ply their craft.
The craftsman may not be an artist, but damn I respect Jamie Moyer.