Dallas Braden is never one to be bashful: The Oakland lefty is
certain the Year of the Pitcher can carry on through 2011 and
And he’s not the only one.
From a pair of perfect games only 20 days apart to four other
no-hitters and one gem that should have been, all the spectacular
performances in the Year of the Pitcher last season hardly could
have been expected.
Can baseball fans possibly expect to witness yet another season
of extraordinary outings from pitchers across the league? Oh yes,
say many players and managers. Make it years, plural, if you ask
”I think it’s the era of the pitcher,” said Braden, who threw
one of the two perfect games with a Mother’s Day masterpiece
against the Rays on May 9. ”The era of the asterisk is beyond us.
Now, the playing field is equal on both sides. It’s a lot more
about talent than it is about raw tools anymore.”
With steroids and performance-enhancing drugs no longer in the
forefront, Braden insists pitchers can take the mound without the
worry of juiced-up sluggers stepping into the batter’s box.
Dusty Baker notices a difference.
”There was a while during expansion when they were saying it
was diluted, and then – I don’t know if there was a conscientious
effort by parents or whatever it was – it seemed like everybody
started pitching,” the Cincinnati manager said. ”And now there’s
good pitching in quite a few places. Plus, in the post-steroid era
here, it’s gone back to pitching and speed and defense and
Phillies ace Roy Halladay pitched a perfect game May 29 at
Florida only 20 days after Braden did so, then threw a no-no
against Baker’s Reds in the first round of the playoffs.
And Armando Galarraga, now with Arizona, would have tossed a
perfect game for the Tigers against Cleveland last June had umpire
Jim Joyce not blown a call at first base.
Braden’s perfecto was the first for his franchise since Hall of
Famer Catfish Hunter threw one for the Athletics in 1968, the last
”Year of the Pitcher.” There were five individual no-hitters that
season, when the Cardinals’ Bob Gibson led the majors with a 1.12
ERA, Detroit’s Denny McLain became a 31-game winner, and Don
Drysdale threw six straight shutouts for the Dodgers.
These days, many relievers throw heat.
”I remember saying throughout the season, ‘Where is the guy who
throws 87 with a sinker who used to come out of the pen?’ Even long
guys are throwing 97,” Colorado Rockies star Todd Helton said.
”The game’s kind of gone back to the way it was in the ’80s –
pitching and defense,” new Diamondbacks general manager Kevin
Towers said. ”Teams now are focusing more on their bullpen and the
importance of a bullpen in having a successful franchise. To me,
you can’t win without (pitching). It’s paramount. If you don’t have
it you’re going to have a very difficult time.”
After that spectacular ’68 season by pitchers, Major League
Baseball’s Rules Committee lowered the mound from 15 inches to 10
inches and shrunk the strike zone to its pre-1963 level – from the
batter’s armpits to the top of his knees.
And pitchers followed that up with a strong showing in the
expansion season of 1969 as well. There were six more no-nos that
Could that be a telling sign? Do the pitchers have a true
advantage again in the days minus the monster power hitters such as
home run king Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, all of whom
cleared the fences at a remarkable rate?
”The Year of the Pitcher will continue,” said A’s manager Bob
Geren, whose talented young staff led the AL in ERA last season at
3.56 and in shutouts with 17 while holding opponents to a .245
batting average. ”The pitching seems to keep getting better, not
”Some of the veteran guys, Roy Halladay and guys like that,
they haven’t shown any signs of letting up. And the younger guys
like ours are going to keep getting better.”
Braden went 0-5 in nine starts and dealt with an elbow injury
after his perfect game before finally winning again July 25. He
isn’t ready to predict a repeat performance of his improbable
But start drafting those arms anyway, fantasy gurus.
With former AL Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke moving to the
NL with Milwaukee, improvements in ”Tommy John” reconstructive
elbow surgery helping pitchers like Francisco Liriano, Josh Johnson
and Tim Hudson come back better than ever, and all those aces in
Philly, it’s a tough time to be a hitter for a living.
”I don’t see why not,” Helton said of another season of
dominant pitching. ”All the pitchers we’re referring to, most of
them haven’t even hit their prime yet.”
Like Helton’s teammate, Ubaldo Jimenez.
The 27-year-old Jimenez threw a no-hitter in his third start
last season and was 15-1 by the All-Star break. He wound up at
19-8, just missing becoming the first 20-game winner in the
Rockies’ 18-year history.
”I think we’re going to have a lot of Year of the Pitchers,”
Jimenez said. ”As the years go by, I think we’re going to get
better every year. It seems like everything is working. There are
Two-time NL Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum agrees.
He sees pitchers accomplishing so much at a younger age because
they are doing more to prepare early. He, for one, has worked
harder on his conditioning regimen between starts after a
career-worst five-start losing streak last August – a rare funk by
The 26-year-old Lincecum broke into the majors in May 2007, less
than a year after the Giants picked him 10th overall in the amateur
draft out of Washington. He won 18 games and the first of his Cy
Youngs a year later in his first full big league season. He’s been
an All-Star each of the past three years, too.
”Pitchers are evolving a little bit more. They’ve got four
pitches they can throw for strikes nowadays and they’re coming up
younger and learning more quickly,” said the San Francisco ace,
already picked the opening day starter for the reigning World
Braden and Brian Wilson, San Francisco’s closer who led the
majors with 48 saves last season, talk pitching nearly every day.
They traveled the world together this winter.
These cycles in baseball aren’t always easily explained, though
they make for interesting conversation.
”For some reason in the game, in this little short window of
time, it’s become an age of the pitcher. And we’ve seen how
powerful it can be in our case,” Giants general manager Brian
San Francisco skipper Bruce Bochy picked his next World Series
winner on Day 1 of spring training this year – based on pitching.
His call: Philadelphia, behind its stellar rotation of Cliff Lee,
Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton.
”I think everybody in the National League would tell you the
road to the World Series has to go through Philadelphia, with the
quality of their staff,” Bochy said. ”Because of track record I
think you would have to look at their staff as the best in
San Francisco beat those favored Phillies – minus Lee – in the
NL championship series last season. Then the Giants took out Lee
and the Texas Rangers for the franchise’s first title since moving
West in 1958 and first overall since ’54.
So, everybody realizes anything can happen.
”That’s the crazy thing about baseball,” said Giants catcher
and reigning NL Rookie of the Year Buster Posey. ”It very well
could be the Year of the Pitcher, or it could be the Year of the
Hitter. You never know. It’s constantly changing.”
Jason Giambi has watched enough things turn during 16 seasons in
the majors he is convinced hitters will come around in due
”It’s exciting when the game is cycled to see all these young
pitchers come up. It’s a lot of fun,” the veteran Rockies slugger
said. ”There are a lot in the minor leagues. It’s going to turn
back around, too.”
AP Baseball Writers Joe Kay and Jon Krawczynski contributed to
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