WHEN JAMIE MOYER turned 30, he'd just spent the previous season pitching at Triple A Toledo after being released by the Cubs in spring training and offered a coaching spot. It was the third time he'd been cut loose by an organization; he'd already been traded once.
At that age, it's usually not hard to read the writing on the dugout wall.
"I saw him twice in the minors back then," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel noted. "And people said he'd never make it back."
There was no reason to suspect at the time that, 16 years later, he would walk in after a hard day's work and find a small cart covered with a white tablecloth, three bottles of Armand de Brignac champagne and his co-workers waiting to toast him.
Much less that the celebration would take place in a major league clubhouse after his 250th big-league win.
Yes, tenacity can trump pure talent.
"I've always felt that I had a burning desire to play. In those years, I really looked at it as, 'You're going to have to strip the uniform off my back.' I've been released a couple times. Well, you know what? That just fueled the fire for me a little bit more," the 46-year-old lefthander said after reaching his milestone in a 4-2 win that completed a sweep of the reeling Washington Nationals in front of another sellout crowd at Citizens Bank Park yesterday afternoon.
Even his father-in-law, former Notre Dame basketball coach Digger Phelps, recommended that he try to find a real job.
"As usual, I didn't listen to him. I'm glad I'm not a basketball player. And I'm assuming a lot of his basketball players didn't, either," Moyer joked.
Phelps wasn't at the game but Moyer's parents, sister and mother-in-law were in attendance.
While he's now in the books as just the 44th pitcher in history to win 250 games, the historical aspect is much less important to the Phillies right now than the fact that Moyer is beginning to show some signs of turning his season around after an ugly start.
After being thumped by the Dodgers on May 13, his earned run average was 8.15. In three starts since, including yesterday when he allowed just one run on three hits in six innings, it's 4.00.
"He did a pretty good job," Manuel said. "He had better command and his control was good all day long. I don't have to tell you, that's quite a few wins. It says a lot about him."
And while he has won 216 games since his career seemed to be hanging in limbo - Life begins at 30? - the Phillies are more focused on the fact that this was his first win since April 26.
It was somehow fitting that catcher Chris Coste, who didn't even make his major league debut until he was 33, was behind the plate yesterday and also contributed offensively with a homer, a single and a pair of walks.
"I had actually forgotten [that Moyer was making his sixth attempt at winning No. 250]. It wasn't until after the game and I saw it flashing up on the video board that I realized it," Coste said.
"With Jamie, success and failure is all about location. Even when he got behind [yesterday] he had enough movement to get weak ground balls. I'd say the most impressive thing about getting that many wins is never having a 95-mile-an-hour fastball. He knows what he can get away with and what he can't.
"When he sees a guy throwing 95, he'll say, 'What I would give to be able to throw that hard just 1 day.' But he's doing pretty good with that 82."
Lefthander Cole Hamels, barely half Moyer's age, has benefited from having the sage veteran around for nearly 3 years now.
"It's definitely a special moment and it shows the type of character he has. Every once in a while, you get into a funk and you have to know how to pull yourself out of it," he said. "Playing baseball is everybody's dream. You never want it to end. So this is a monumental feat. It's special for all of us."
Moyer is only one win behind Hall of Famer Bob Gibson. Among active pitchers, he's second only to Randy Johnson, who tries for his 300th against the Nationals on Wednesday night.
But while he insisted that all he has been thinking about is helping the team, he didn't even want to consider the possibility of trying to pitch long enough to reach that plateau.
"Oh, I don't know," he said with a weary smile. "Let's just try to get through this season."
A homestand that started with concern about the Phillies' losing ways at the Bank ended with a 4-2 record. Most of those wins, however, came in the weekend sweep of the Nationals, a team with the same record (13-36) after 49 games as the 1962 Mets, who lost a record 120 games. In fact, an amazing 10 of the 28 Phillies wins (35.7 percent) have come against Washington. They are 18-18 against the rest of baseball with only six more games scheduled against the Nats this year, all in September . . . The Phillies are 12-14 at home and 16-6 on the road. *