I have no idea why Justin Verlander and Mark Fidrych have a co-signed baseball card on eBay. But that scary coincidence is far from the tipping point.
Fidrych, who tragically passed away after an apparent accident with his truck earlier this week, made 1976 his year — not just in baseball, but in pop culture — nabbing Rookie of the Year, a Rolling Stone cover and a second-place finish in the Cy Young voting to Jim Palmer. Then, after being overused by throwing many straight complete games in a row, Fidrych's arm just went sour and never regained the magic.
Justin Verlander, 30 years after The Bird's signature season, won ROY by leading the Tigers' youthful pitching staff into the playoffs for the first time since, I think, the Paleozoic Era. The following year he "improved" on his studly 2006 campaign by throwing a no-hitter. The man just couldn't be stopped! Not even by manager Jim Leyland, who regularly leaves him out there to pitch deep into games.
It's gotten worse every year:
2006: 30 games, 15 with 100+ pitches; 99.1 pitches/game
2007: 32 games, 21 with 100+ pitches; 104.8 pitches/game
2008: 33 games, 27 with 100+ pitches; 106.9 pitches/game
In the first two games of 2009, Verlander threw 80 and 97 pitches. (Hooray, moderation!) But Friday night, in the Tigers' 6-3 loss to the Seattle Mariners, Verlander had gone seven innings, allowed five runs, and was still pitching. He finished with 108 pitches on the night, eight of those getting knocked around Safeco Field for hits (along with one wild pitch) en route to another disappointing loss in which his team initially built a 3-0 lead.
Some hurlers can routinely throw 100 pitches and still feel like they're warming up. CC Sabathia. Tim Lincecum. Livan Hernandez. The vastly under-appreciated Roy Halladay. Verlander could be one of those pitchers, I guess. But it doesn't appear to be the case. He's no longer the ace of the staff, and with the way Armando Galarraga — and perhaps Edwin Jackson — have been rolling, he doesn't have to be the guy that "gives the bullpen the day off." Because if he continues to throw 100 doses of 99 mph fastballs to the opposition, Detroit is going to experience a heavy dose of Eddie Bonine mop-up duty in the fifth.
I'm not sure if the Tigers plan on holding any kind of tribute for Mark Fidrych, but perhaps a fitting one would be to implement a quicker hook for Justin Verlander this season.