And in September, in the middle of a pennant race, Yusmeiro Petit pitched one of the best games you'll ever see.
It's the second straight September in which he's pitched one of the best games you'll ever see, both coming against a hapless Diamondbacks team. This year's means something just a touch more, though. It's a pennant race. The Dodgers lost. The Braves lost. The Brewers and Pirates lost. Not taking advantage of an opportunity like this would be criminal. Then Petit pitched one of the best games you'll ever see.
In 100 years, Giants fans with a sense of history will know that the late '00s were something of a golden age for Giants pitching. That's not boasting, not hyperbole. In the same way that "Tinker to Evers to Chance" means something today, Giants nerds will know about Lincecum, Cain, and Bumgarner all existing at the same time, a ragtag band of first-rounders who did good things.
Yet over the last 369 days, Petit might have thrown the two of the best games by a Giant in the last 20 years. Obviously you put Cain's perfect game at the top, and you take that Bumgarner game from last month, mix in a couple Lincecum games and Jason Schmidt games, possibly dig deep for that Shawn Estes game against the Cardinals ... but if you're making a top-20 list from the last two decades, Petit has two strong contenders.
You still think I'm lacing my hyperbole cigarettes with powdered hyperbole. Okay, the last complete game from a Giant under 90 pitches was in 2009. Matt Cain threw it. That's impressive, right? That there hasn't been a complete game under 90 pitches in five years? Except Cain threw that complete game in five innings because it was a rain-shortened game that ended with an Aaron Rowand walk-off walk in the top of the sixth. The last time a Giants pitcher threw a complete game with fewer than 90 pitches, the middle of the order was Clark, Williams, and Bonds.
I'm itching to write an article about Matt Shoemaker, the sole of the 2014 Angels. He was an undrafted free agent with an unremarkable minor league career. His career ERA in Triple-A is 5.38, partly a function of an unfair environment in Salt Lake City, partly a function of being a stuffless control goof. He can fool hitters for a bit, but the second he misses over the plate, kerboom. He was 27 years old when the season started, with exactly one game pitched in the majors.
That guy is 14-4 with a 3.25 ERA for the Angels this year.
That's not to say that Petit is going to continue being good because that guy is good. It's to point out that baseball can get way, way, waaaaaaaay weirder than Yusmeiro Petit turning into a valuable contributor for the next several weeks/seasons. Petit's minor league numbers are a Penthouse letter that was too smutty to publish. He had a strikeout rate of 10 batters per nine innings at every level -- every danged level -- until he got to the Pacific Coast League and its punishing parks. The home run killed him there. There are parks in the PCL -- Vegas, Reno, Salt Lake City, Colorado Springs -- that are all mini-Coors Fields.
Then he got to the majors, and he pitched a majority of his games in Chase Field, which is brutal for a fly ball pitcher. He failed and floated away. When the Giants were in between championships, Petit was pitching for Guerreros de Oaxaca, a Mexican League team with a 38-year-old Benji Gil on the roster. Now he's in the middle of a pennant race, and he just pitched one of the best games you'll ever see. Maybe, just maybe, he needed the right match of ballpark and experience all along.
When you dig up a (short, so short) list of pitchers with complete games under 85 pitches over the last 15 seasons, you get at lot of fringy control goofs. Aaron Cook. Carlos Silva. Jeff Karstens. So this isn't a recap suggesting that this is the dawning of a the Age of Aquarius, and that Yusmeiro Petit is going to usher in a new era of 2:30 complete games using the unstoppable combination of control, command, and electric chinbeards.
It's certainly a recap suggesting that this is a guy worth trusting until he betrays that trust, at which point he's worth trusting for a little more. Forget it, Jake, it's the Diamondbacks, and all that, but record-holding Yusmeiro Petit just pitched one of the best games you'll ever see for the second year in a row. Seems like we should make a big deal about that.
Petit threw a six-pitch first inning that was the quickest first inning that I can remember, Giants or otherwise. I had it at close to two minutes. It was like Rob Manfred slipped Petit a note written in blood that read simply, "For the cause." With Petit on the mound, every game is two hours. For the cause.
Except you know what six-pitch innings every inning would be like? That stupid progression in football that goes touchdown, commercial, kickoff, commercial, run, two-minute warning, commercial. It would be unwatchable. Six-pitch innings are far worse for baseball than four-hour games.
Luckily, Wade Miley was aware of the situation. He took care of it. He basically saved baseball with his 590-pitch, two-inning outing.
Five-hit games in Barry Bonds' career: 0
Five-hit games in Joe Panik's career: 1
Let me tell you a story about the horrible 1996 Giants.
The 1996 Giants were horrible. The farm system was barren, totally barren, and there was no hope. Then an unheralded kid came up from Triple-A with exactly two skills: He could make contact, and he could play a little defense. Those two skills are not exciting in the prospect world, where monster children constantly remind you what they can do as monster men, where dingers fly and speedsters thieve. This unheralded kid hit .330 over 200 at-bats. The skeptical and cynical scoffed and yelled, "Do it again."
He never could. But he finished with a career batting average of .291 and a career OBP of .373, winning a batting title and getting the most important hit in Red Sox history.
That unheralded prospect was Bill Mueller.
And I'm going to keep shoving this Panik/Mueller comparison down your throat for the next 10 years. You've been warned.
My favorite thing about this season is probably Tim Lincecum's no-hitter -- which is odd to note on a night when he gave up a homer to Paul Goldschmidt in a complete game from Yusmeiro Petit -- but my second favorite thing might be the emergence of Panik. He's not this good. Few hitters are. He's not going to hit .327 every year, and he might not hit .327 again.
He has baseball skills, though. He has valuable, if unheralded, baseball skills. And he came along at the perfect time, just like Marco Scutaro before him and Freddy Sanchez before that. "Give me your powerless, your contact-adept, your huddled second basemen, yearning to breathe free," the gigantic mitt in left field cries. But no one listens because mitts can't talk.
I'm listening. I see what's going on here. Don't change a thing, Joe Panik.