- Faith and Fear in Flushing - http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com -

Pitcher of Record

Anthony Young [1] died today, Tuesday, at the age of 51, several months after being diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. When he pitched for us, we rarely referred to him as Anthony and basically never called him Young. He was AY to us. He was AY when L’s stuck to him like he and they were made of Velcro, and he was AY when a W blessedly stumbled into his portfolio. L’s and W’s were what we focused on when we focused on AY. We were men and women of letters with him.

I’m inclined to invoke scorer’s discretion and give him a parting W right now. AY had us on his side all the way through a career that, on the surface, shouldn’t have inspired excess affection. He was with us when the contemporary accumulation of Mets wasn’t extraordinarily likable, never mind lovable. But we liked AY a great deal. We looked past the L’s. He helped us see there can be far more to a person enmeshed in competitive endeavors than a bottom line can convey.

AY the person inspired rave-filled scouting reports, when he was playing and when he was retired. You could be given some leeway for grumpiness if you were caught in a vortex of undesirable outcomes. AY didn’t take it. He was, by all anecdotal and observational evidence, one of the good guys. The sadness of the final loss [2] suffered by those closest to him speaks mournfully for itself.

AY the pitcher is inextricable from his record. He went 5-35 from his big league promotion in August of 1991 to his last Met outing in September of 1993. It doesn’t jibe with an ERA of 3.82, nor does it reflect 18 saves collected as a substitute closer. Yet that’s not the record we think of when we think of Anthony Young. No Mets fan who was around in 1992 and 1993 doesn’t know the record or at least the gist of it. No pitcher in the history of baseball had his name attached to more consecutive losing decisions. AY’s total reached 27 before the streak mercifully snapped.

It’s one of baseball’s oft-discussed and increasingly derided quirks that wins and losses are personally assigned to one man per game. Nobody ever talks about the winning second baseman or the losing left fielder. Only the pitcher, and it has to be the pitcher in the right or wrong spot and the right or wrong moment. Sometimes there’s no space for debate — one guy pitched really long and really well and the other guy pitched really badly from jump, and there’s your W and your L, put them in the books. Sometimes, however, a pitcher who winds up with one of those letters affixed to his name is extremely lucky or unlucky. To our custom of thinking, AY was usually the latter.

We understand the context. We didn’t and wouldn’t wish being known as the “loser” of 27 consecutive anythings on anybody (give or take a uniform). Yet associating Anthony Young with that word seemed wrong. Even the “unlucky” part didn’t fully fit. Anthony Young was a major league pitcher, given the opportunity to ply a unique skill again and again. It didn’t work out on a given day? He didn’t give up. Again and again he took the ball. Again and again something found a way to go awry. Again and again he was back on the mound, pitching well enough to earn the next chance. Surely his luck, as we conventionally conceive it, had to change.

Twenty-four years ago today, AY and I were at Shea Stadium trying to avert history’s tap on the shoulder. AY was sitting on 23 straight losses. I was sitting in Loge. He was trying to win. I was trying to root him toward that preferred result. No dice for either one of us. He pitched as he always did — professionally; and I rooted as I always did — faithfully. We each did what we could, yet we both absorbed another loss, the 24th straight for him, the new, unwanted standard. Not visible in that Sunday’s box score was we both gave it what we had and we were both back for more at the first available opportunity. It was as satisfying a transaction as AY and I could muster under the circumstances of 1993.

The streak ended a little over a month later. I strained to listen through static in Penn Station. My train was being called, but I had to wait, had to hear if the winning run was going to cross the plate. It did. The Mets beat the Marlins, by coincidence their opponent tonight, 5-4. Anthony Young was the pitcher of record on the winning side. [3] There was a lot of cheering at Shea Stadium and a little in Penn Station.

AY won one game in 1993. The Mets won 59. Somehow, it was the best of times.