On Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium, it was just like Joe Girardi drew it up in spring training: eight dominant innings from Bartolo Colon, topped by a Mariano Rivera save.
Sure enough, the pinstriped rotation zombies continued to march unabated through the rest of the American League. Colon befuddled the White Sox, a team that admittedly was easy pickings for befuddlement, having scored all of five runs in their previous four games yet somehow beaten the Yankees twice. Relying more on his four-seamer and his sinker than in his previous outing, the 38-year-old righty feasted on the Sox hitters'
brains aggression. Four times, he needed fewer than 10 pitches to retire the side. He didn't blink when he loaded the bases with no outs in the second inning, just calmly chewed through Gordon Beckham (strikeout looking), Omar Vizquel (flyout), and Juan Pierre (another flyout), needing just eight pitches to extricate himself.
That must have demoralized the Sox, who were already in a 3-0 hole thanks to Robinson Cano's first-inning three-run homer. Colon faced the minimum over the next three frames, quickly erasing the one batter who reached (Carlos Quentin, via a hit-by-pitch) on a double play. Three straight one-out singles in the sixth by Quentin, Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn brought home Chicago's only run, but they also spurred Colon to find an extra gear; he threw five straight pitches of at least 94 MPH to get Alex Rios to fly out and A.J. Pierzynski to strike out, ending the threat. He then set down the next six Sox in order, shelving the Seventh Inning Guy and Eighth Inning Guy controversies for at least one night.
Suffice it to say that Colon's not pitching like a 38-year-old who spent five years wandering in the weeds due to shoulder woes, he's pitching like a guy who won the Cy Young last year and aims to keep dominating. You don't need smoke and mirrors when you can locate mid-90s MPH heat the way he can. Colon is striking out exactly nine men per nine innings, which ties him for fourth in the AL, and just as importantly, he has been stingy with the walks; his 4.3 K/BB ratio is sixth in the league. His starts are now must-see TV, and I for one am in awe. It's too good to last forever, but this isn't the barn for looking gift horses in the mouth.
Colon and Garcia have now combined for a 1.01 ERA and 7.1 K/9 in 26.7 innings over their four starts, an average of 6.7 per start. The rest of the Yankee rotation — the quarter-billion-dollar pairing of CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, the mysterious Phil Hughes (about whom, more in an upcoming post), and the young Ivan Nova — has combined for a 4.83 ERA, 6.5 K/9, and 5.6 innings per start. Granted, two of those four starts were against teams that couldn't hit water if they fell out of a boat (the White Sox and Orioles), but the other two came against the Rangers and Blue Jays, both among the league's top five in scoring.
The league or their own aging bodies will almost certainly catch up with Colon and Garcia sooner or later. Only 37 times in baseball history has a team milked two pitchers over the age of 35 for at least 30 starts apiece, and just 21 have done it with both pitchers posting better-than-average ERAs. Raise the baseline to 36 years old — Garcia is in his age-36 season — and the latter list dwindles to 10.
Even among the largest group, it would be tough to find a pair whose wings have been through what these two have. Most of the pairings involved at least one Hall of Famer, a pitcher with significantly good fortune in the health department along with enough stuff to get by late in his career. Twenty-two of those 37 pairings (one of them a trio) featured at least one Hall of Famer or 300-game winner, with Roger Clemens, Tom Glavine, Randy Johnson, Walter Johnson, Greg Maddux and Nolan Ryan part of multiple tandems. Venerable Hall of Very Good hurlers such as David Cone, Tommy John, Al Leiter, Mike Mussina, Curt Schilling, Luis Tiant and David Wells were part of multiple tandems as well. Clemens, Cone, John, Lieter, Schilling and Wells all underwent at least one arm surgery, and it does seem that all of the post-surgical pairs — John and Rick Rhoden (1988), Cone and Wells (1998), Clemens and Cone (1999), and Clemens and Wells (2003) — were Yankees, which says something about the franchise's willingness to take on risk. Or their outright desperation.
The Yanks may not need both Colon and Garcia to provide 30 starts above league average, though the possibility of Hughes being shelved for the season if he is indeed suffering from Thoracic Outlet Syndrome further depletes the team's depth. Whether from their own system or outside, the Yankees are bound to bring in reinforcements to ensure that their playoff hopes don't crumble due to a pair of zombies suddenly going off script. For now, it's probably best not to worry our delicious brains, and instead just sit back and enjoy their rampage.