Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
October 4, 2003
BASEBALL: Fool Me Again
As late as the end of last season, you could fairly ask whether Mark Prior had advanced to the same class as pitchers like Greg Maddux. By tonight, you felt bad for Maddux trying to keep up with Prior. In fact, either Prior or Jason Schmidt is probably the leading starting pitcher in the NL Cy Young race, although their slim workloads (30 starts, 211.1 IP for Prior, 29 starts, 207.2 IP for Schmidt, 32 starts, 211 IP for Kevin Brown) probably means the award will rightly pass to Eric Gagne (77 games, 82.1 IP).
You could tell how "on" Prior was by how many hitters in the fearsome Atlanta lineup were swinging at pitches that were way, way out of the strike zone - pitches at their eyes, pitches a foot outside. The fact that Prior's control was off in the early going made him that much more unpredictable, and the hitters that much more defensive, by the end of the game. You know the saying, "fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me"? Well, with good pitchers it's almost the opposite -- see hitters hack at a few bad pitches it's probably the result of impatience. But see a whole lineup of guys do it all night, and that's almost always because the pitcher's got something special going.
That said, my initial reaction was that leaving Prior out there to throw 133 pitches once the Cubs had an insurance run seemed foolhardy. The biggest risk isn't hurting his arm -- although with a once-a-decade ace like Prior, that's a constant worry. And it's not Prior blowing the game -- he was going too good to think that bringing in Joe Borowski was a surer bet. The biggest risk is wearing him down for the postseason, which isn't a sprint anymore so much as a quarter-mile run.
There is a counterargument, though: it's Game 3, and Game 5 is in two days. Prior won't pitch again until the NLCS, so he may get an extra day's rest. And though our knowledge of pitching injuries and fatigue is still largely anecdotal, there's a lot of people who would agree that it's not the muscle-tearing long outing that does you in so much as the trying to bounce back before the arm had healed up from it. As statheads have been conceding all season, maybe Dusty knows more than he sometimes lets on.