FOR ALL THE tantalizing promises, for all the teases, for all the glimpses of brilliance, when last season ended in disappointment in the Bronx, the Phillies looked at Brett Myers and saw a pitcher they were convinced they could live without.
So, last November, with Yankees fans still fighting their morning-after world championship hangovers, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro tersely informed the former No. 1 draft choice, three-time Opening Day starter, and closer on the first Phils team to make the playoffs in years, that he wouldn't be coming back.
They may have focused on an earned run average that had gone up for 4 straight years. Or a velocity that had begun to decrease. Or a soon-to-turn 30-year-old who carried more baggage than an airport skycap.
That wasn't the only reason Myers was so excited about pitching against his former team last night at Citizens Bank Park, though.
"It's always satisfying to beat a team that gave up on you," he said after pitching seven strong innings and getting the win as the Astros beat the Phillies, 3-2. "But there were 29 other teams that gave up on me. This is the only team that called me in January and gave me a shot. It's always good to go out and prove people wrong."
Still, he admitted, this was a little different. The Phillies were the only organization he's known. Except for a meaningless exhibition game in Clearwater, this was the first time he would be pitching against them.
"[Sunday] night I could see the city from my hotel room. It kind of felt strange not to be on I-95 on my way home. It was kind of difficult and weird. I just sat there and looked out the window for a good hour or so," he said.
"It was big for me to be able to come here and control my emotions as best I could and be able to pitch. You just have to go out and pitch like it's any other team, but before the game I was definitely anxious and a little jittery."
Now, it's impossible to say what would have happened if Myers had come back to the same old same old. But with his career at a crossroads after a significant cut in pay and a fresh beginning with a new organization, he has blossomed.
He has a 3.08 earned run average - lower than any Phillies starter not named Roy Halladay - and has completed at least six innings in each of his 26 starts, the only pitcher in the majors to do that. Last night he scattered nine hits and struck out nine. His only walk was intentional.
New pitching coach Brad Arnsberg was in the opposite dugout during 5 years of spring-training tussles between the Phillies and Toronto Blue Jays. "I'd seen him from across the field and I loved him," he said. "I liked his tenacity on the mound. He had a little bit of piss and vinegar in him, too, you know?"
Astros general manager Ed Wade knew Myers during his Phillies tenure and was well aware of what he referred to in spring training as his "pluses and minuses" but ultimately decided he was worth a low-risk contract. "Hopefully we all learn from our mistakes," he said the day pitchers and catchers officially worked out for the first time this past spring in Kissimmee, Fla.
He has pitched well enough to have signed a 3-year extension just before the trading deadline. But, he said last night, he wouldn't mind pitching for the Phils again before his career is over.
"I put it behind me for at least the next 3 years. I'd like to have another chance to play here, but right now I have to focus on the team I'm on now," he said. "But how respectful [the fans] were to me in the bullpen just shows that this city has a big heart for players who have accomplished something for them. It kind of makes you want to come back and play in a city like this."
What's perhaps most surprising is that Myers is regarded as a team leader. "He's the best thing to happen to our clubhouse," Arnsberg said. "The only thing he cares about his winning.
"He has a lot of Halladay in him," the pitching coach added. "It seems at times when he gets his back against the wall, he gets better. And that's a true, true sign of a No. 1 guy."
Said Myers: "I think I'm still the same guy. I felt like this team needed a little bit more of a leadership role. I felt like over there I was treated like I was still a newer guy. I never really felt like the veteran I've become now. All those guys were established. When I came over here, they treated me more like a veteran, so I was a lot more comfortable."
And a return in 2014? Who knows? Stranger things have happened in baseball. The Phillies could take another look at him then and see something entirely different.
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