FEELING BETTER now? Staying up late Tuesday night to watch the major league debut of Phillies lefthander Antonio Bastardo was worth it, right? Hope you were in bed counting sheep or Raul Ibanez RBI by the time Chan Ho "Duck!" turned the 10-1 lead the Dominican rookie handed him into a nails-on-blackboard adventure that forced Charlie Manuel to reluctantly bring weary Ryan Madson out of the bullpen in the ninth to clean up Chad Durbin's two-out, bases-loaded mess.
I started the Bastardo bandwagon in April 2008 after watching him bury a hapless Florida State League opponent. I remember writing Antonio had nothing left to prove in the FSL after the compact lefty from Hato Mayor del Rey, Dominican Republic, powered to April Phillies Minor League Pitcher of the Month honors for the Clearwater Threshers.
Today, I am selling standing-room-only tickets for a ride on the streetcar named Bastardo.
Hato Mayor del Rey loosely translated means "the King's major cattle ranch," and Bastardo showed future Cattle Baron stuff against the San Diego Padres. What he did during his rite of baptism was organizationally epic.
I've covered or tracked every starting Phillies lefthander dating to Chris Short in 1965. As a kid, I saw Curt Simmons pitch in his prime. The prelawn-mower accident Simmons (he lost part of his left big toe in August 1953 and his velocity was never the same) was the hardest-throwing Phils lefty I've seen. I have no radar evidence to support that claim, only a Willie Mays claim that Simmons was the toughest pitcher he ever faced.
The 95-mph heat Bastardo lasered through San Diego's chilly marine layer was the most electric I have seen by a Phillies lefty starter. Short could hump it up to the low 90s, but movement was the signature of his fastball. Woody Fryman was around 90 with more late life than Hugh Hefner. Hall of Famer Steve Carlton served a four-seam hummer catcher Tim McCarver described as "light as a feather." But Lefty was low 90s, tops, which was more than enough to set up his pelvis-locking slider. More important, what Carlton took to the mound in the first inning, he still had in the ninth - about 125 pitches later. Kenny Brett was an 88-90 guy, ditto Bruce Ruffin and Randy Lerch. Randy Wolf? A sneaky-fast high 80s. Cole Hamels finally is back to his 91-93 norm, which optimizes his world-class changeup. With 102 pitches on his chart, Bastardo was still tickling 93-94. The first three innings, he pounded a steady 94-95.
The Phillies did some nice sandbagging, by the way, informing the media and broadcast crew they could expect a pitcher in the 88-92 range with a plus changeup. Which led to the most impressive aspect of his four-hit, one-walk, five-strikeout coming-out party. For three innings, he fired fastball after fastball. Catcher Carlos Ruiz could have told the hitters what was coming. But there is something special about a lefthander's fastball thrown so hard that gives it special status and enhances the pitch's late life - the "tail," as it were - that has fostered the age-old hitter's opinion that southpaws should have been drowned at birth.
Bastardo was matched with an ill-and-infirm Jake Peavy, but the kid's butterflies didn't know that. He won't be able to sneak up on America when he makes his next start Sunday night against the running-away-with-the-NL-West Dodgers. It's ESPN's game of the week, Jon Miller and Joe Morgan at the mikes, and a large audience riveted on a compelling matchup between two dynamite teams. Pressure? Under "Notable Residents" of Hato Mayor Province, there is a single Wikipedia entry recently updated: "Antonio Bastardo (major league baseball pitcher, Philadelphia Phillies)."
The "Brett Myers is done for the season and woe is us" laments will continue, of course. General manager Ruben Amaro will be urged to mortgage the farm system to find a contractually unacceptable and unwilling or overpaid and underachieving "name" starter out there in a cesspool of pitch-count era mediocrity.
Tenga cuidado con lo que usted desea . . .
Be careful what you wish for . . . *
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