What I love more than anything else in the world is a head case pitcher.
I love that guy, you know him, the one that can throw the ball through a brick wall, if only he could hit the wall with any semblance of consistency.
I cannot help but cheer for that guy, I have tried, and I cannot help it.
I fell for him in the spring of 2003. I was playing way too much MVP baseball 2004 (as any real fan of PS2 baseball games can attest, this was the height of baseball games for the platform). I played, and played…and played some more. I created the ultimate franchise, capable of winning 120 games a year.
The fifth starter on that team was a little known left hander from the Pittsburgh Pirates: Oliver Perez.
Oliver’s Head Case-iness was not showcased on the game. I had in fact never seen him pitch in real life. All I knew of him I had divined from his character on MVP 04, a fire balling sidearmer from Mexico.
It wasn’t until the spring of 2005 that I got my first taste of what Oliver Perez had to offer in real life.
It was upon observing this awkward, slightly snaggle toothed lefty proudly displaying the green and red of his homeland, that I began to realize just how obsessed I was with the man I would come to know only as Ollie P.
Time passed, the ’05 season came and went. I continued to know Oliver mostly through MVP baseball, which they stopped making in ’05, meaning I had to keep playing the old version if I wanted to get my Oliver fix (which I did).
Then, in the summer of ’06, disaster struck. Terry’s other favorite head case pitcher got into a car accident in Miami. Duaner Sanchez had been the rock in the Mets Bullpen for the first four months of the season.
On the eve of the trading deadline, Duaner’s taxi was t-boned while he was on the way back from a Mexican resturante. He hurt his pitching shoulder and would require surgery.
It seems the fates had aligned. Mets GM Omar Minaya pulled off a deadline deal for Pirates relief pitcher Roberto Hernandez, sending to Pittsburgh outfielder Xavier Nady.
Thrown into the deal was a disappointing left-handed pitcher toiling away in AAA with an ERA above 6.00, and a record that looks worse. His name: Oliver Perez.
Terry began telling anyone who would listen just how good of a deal this was for the Mets. How Pittsburgh didn’t know what it had given up on. Oliver was set to AAA and was underwhelming in the few starts he did get in the regular season.
Then the playoffs came.
With no one else to turn to in the final game of the NLCS, the game that would decide who would represent the NL in the World Series, The Mets or the Cardinals, Oliver got the ball.
In the sixth inning Oliver gave up a hit to Jim Edmonds. Willie Randolph made a trip to the mound to see how Ollie felt about facing Scott Rolen who was coming to the plate. Ollie, in a terrifically head case-y moment, told Randolph that he could handle Rolen.
Rolen turned on a fastball, I cannot describe to you what that moment was like, let Gary Cohen, the voice of Mets baseball do if for me:
“Pérez deals. Fastball, hit in the air to leftfield – that’s deep. Back goes Chávez, back near the wall…. leaping…. and…. HE MADE THE CATCH! He took a home run away from Rolen! Trying to get back to first, Edmonds; he’s doubled off! And the inning is over! Endy Chávez saved the day! He reached high over the leftfield wall, right in front of the Mets’ visitor’s bullpen, and pulled back a two-run homer. He went to the apex of his leap, and caught it in the webbing of his glove – with his elbow up above the fence. A miraculous play, by Endy Chávez, and then Edmonds is doubled off first, and Oliver Pérez escapes the sixth inning. The play of the year, the play – maybe – of the franchise’s history for Endy Chávez. The inning is over.”
I screamed myself horse. Oliver Perez had delivered the most head casey moment in sports that I had ever witnessed.
Nothing could top this. Not the game that he walked 7 Phillies last April, not the game where he fanned 7 Braves last fall.
Nothing could top that moment, it was like watching my kid get on the bus for the first time, or score the winning touchdown, I felt like a proud father.
As history will show, the Mets ulimately lost the game. Oliver however had nothing to do with that (thank you Aaron Hielman, Guillermo Mota, Yadier Molina, Willie Randolph, Adam Wainwright, and Carlos Beltran).
Ollie is not the third starter in the NL’s best rotation.
And just to prove a point to a Braves fan friend of mine, who like me believes that Ollie is poison to the Braves, here is his average line against Atlanta going back to 2003 when he was with the Padres:
7 IP 6H 2ER 6K