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We hear it during every game. No matter the team, the broadcaster or the network, at some point we’ll be made aware that the total number of pitches thrown by one of the game’s hurlers is approaching 100, as if we should expect the guy on the mound to spontaneously combust if he dares to throw 101. It’s the magic/tragic number that’s been set over the course of the last decade as young mound aces secure increasingly higher signing bonuses and franchises seek to protect their investments. Unfortunately, the practice has spawned a generation of pitchers with no experience making late game adjustments in order to finish a game while fatigued.

A generation ago, it was commonplace for a pitcher to log more than 250 innings per season. In 1975, the game’s initial big money free agent, Catfish Hunter, registered 30 complete games over his 328 innings during his first season as a Yankee. Hall of Famers like Jim Palmer, Ferguson Jenkins, Steve Carlton and Gaylord Perry all eclipsed 300 innings more than once. Perhaps the most durable of this or any era was Nolan Ryan, current President of the Texas Rangers, who played until he was 47, even spinning two of his seven career no hitters after his 40th birthday. Of the many eye popping statistics that document his career, my favorite is this: He once threw 250 pitches in a 14 inning complete game win. That Ryan’s career lasted 26 years despite such an enormous workload was a function of his ability to get in shape over 40 rather than an adherence to the limitations of pitch counts. It’s a philosophy he’s passing on to his young charges in Texas.

Since moving into his new office, Ryan has sought to re-educate his organization as to how success on the mound is attained by banishing the use of the pitch count in determining how long a pitcher stays in the game. Coaches will still keep track of the number but will not use it to evaluate whether or not a pitcher should be pulled. Mike Maddux, Rangers’ pitching coach, agrees that you don’t need a pitch count to know when a pitcher is done. “The hitters let you know that”, said Maddux. “The ceiling is off,” continued Maddux. “This is a mental thing we have to overcome. We have to change the attitude of the starters to want to go deep and believe they can.” Ryan also established a year round fitness program for pitchers that will help them get in shape and be able to log more innings. Referring to his own career, Ryan noted that he, “had to develop stamina because it was my intent to pitch a lot of innings.” So far, the plan seems to be working as the Rangers’ staff, expected to be the team’s weak link coming into the season, has registered five complete games in leading Texas to the top of the AL West.

Ryan, a guy whose weight training and conditioning over 40 helped get him to Cooperstown, told the Dallas Morning News what he expects from his staff. “The dedication and work ethic that it takes to pitch an entire season as a starting pitcher and the discipline to continue to maintain his routine all year. And he wants the ball every fifth day and he’s going to go out there with the intent of pitching late into games and not complaining.”

by Moonlight Graham

The HK Fantasy Baseball League

Did he really do that?

Last Sunday morning, having received an absolute gem from Johan Santana the day before, Skippy Shakes owner Bob Carr looked at the HK Fantasy standings and found himself one point ahead of the Mean Street Posse and a point and a half ahead of Ricciardi Brothers Inc. Having waged a two month assault on the top spot from as far back as twenty seven points, Carr had finally grabbed the lead with just one day to go. Unfortunately, he couldn’t leave well enough alone and almost managed himself out of a title.

One of the deals that catapulted his Shakes squad in the last two months was the acquisition of C.C. Sabathia. As the Brewers’ ace carried his squad toward the playoffs, he also carried Carr; allowing the Shakes to make huge gains in the pitching categories. So, with C.C. on the bump for Milwaukee’s finale, Carr was sitting pretty. Santana had given him the slightest of leads in ERA and WHIP. Leads that were crucial to holding on to the top spot. So, what did Carr do? He reserved Sabathia rather than risk a bad outing. The plan was to stay right where he was and allow the others to fall back. Sadly, he paid no mind to the results of his last grand plan to protect his ERA; the ill fated benching of Hideo Nomo on the day he threw a no-no at Coor’s Field. Lightning couldn’t strike twice in the same place, could it?

As Sabathia was holding the Cubbies to just four hits and one run during his complete game, Carr watched in horror as Jerry Manuel summoned Luis Ayala from the bullpen for the Mets. True to form, Ayala grooved one for Dan Uggla, pushing Carr’s ERA just below Ricciardi Bros. and creating a three way tie. That Tim Lincecum and Ubaldo Jimenez had strong outings for RBI only served to drop the Shakes further down in the category. Carr was distraught.

Resigning himself to being the perpetrator of the biggest bonehead move in league history, he flipped through the channels to see if there were any games still going on. That’s when he stumbled across the ninth inning of the Mariners- A’s game and found the now beautiful J.J.Putz standing on the mound protecting a one run lead. Forgetting for the moment that he had cursed Putz’s incompetence for two months, he now begged his fellow redhead for just three outs. You see, Carr was also tied in the saves category and could gain a critical half point if Putz could only close out the A’s. He did and Carr had his league title by the slimmest of margins. He still pulled the biggest gaffe in fantasy league history but at least it didn’t cost him a Yoo-Hoo shower.

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Next week, we’ll start to look back at the 2008 season with Fantasy Awards and readers’ tales of their successes and failures, booms and busts and plans going forward. Enjoy the playoffs as we turn our focus back to the world where the only numbers that count are the ones on the scoreboard. Incidentally, I like a Rays- Cubs World Series so, you might want to put a little money down on any of the other six teams.

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