When I first saw him pitch in the big leagues on a semi-regular basis back in 1992 I knew he’d be good (and yes, I have multiple witnesses regarding my very rare successful prognostication). As a kid, Hentgen idolized Jack Morris and if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery then Morris should be very flattered.
They had differing styles but had one thing in common--they wanted the ball and they went into the game with the thought that the bullpen was getting the night off whether they liked it or not. I have two very distinct Hentgen memories that cropped up after a moment’s reflection. The first one was the year of the strike. The Jays were defending back-to-back World Series championships.
The Jays opened the season strong, so optimism was running high.
Back in the 1990’s, one pitcher had some serious ‘ownage’ on the Jays--Kevin Appier. Despite a .500 record against Toronto, he posted a career ERA of 2.84 in 171.1 IP. When the Kansas City Royals (who felt they were contenders after signing David Cone after the 1992 season) came in for a series in early May. Appier was to pitch the opener and would face 19-game winner (in 1993) Hentgen.
Both were at the top of their game--going into the bottom of the fourth, the only guy to reach base was Jose Lind who had gotten a dribbler up the middle after Hentgen struck out five of the first seven outs he recorded. Devon White opened the bottom of the fourth with a single and quickly stole second. Roberto Alomar grounded out to the right side of the infield and White was on third. A two out infield single by Joe Carter got Devo home.
Both hurlers continued to put up zeros on the scoreboard. Base runners were few and far between. In the eighth Hentgen struck out the side for the second time matching Appier‘s feat of doing likewise. With the Jays hanging onto a one run lead and Duane Ward out with what would be pretty much a career-ending injury; manager Cito Gaston decided to let Hentgen finish what he started.
He got both Brian McRae and Wally Joyner to quickly pop up to the infield. Mike MacFarlane battled Hentgen before getting him to swing through strike three. Hentgen turned around and yelled in triumph to his teammates. The box score said it all:
Kansas City Royals IP H R ER BB SO HR
K Appier, L (2-3) 8 3 1 1 1 10 0
Totals 8 3 1 1 1 10 0
Toronto Blue Jays IP H R ER BB SO HR
P Hentgen, W (4-2) 9 2 0 0 2 14 0
Totals 9 2 0 0 2 14 0
The other memory was Hentgen’s run to the Cy Young from July 6, -Aug 28, 1996. Hentgen won 10 of 11 starts and the only real blemish on that stretch was on August 7, when Cito Gaston needed to rest his beleaguered bullpen and let Hentgen go the distance at Fenway Park giving up eight earned runs. He went the distance in his very next start at home against Boston but this time gave up a single run.
Despite the Fenway debacle, Hentgen posted 2.24 ERA over the 11 starts and tossed seven complete games including five in a row beginning with the bombing in Boston. Going into the July 6 start Hentgen was 7-6, 4.14 ERA and was on nobody’s Cy Young radar. By the end of August he was 17-7, 3.33 ERA and very much in the hunt, a hunt that would conclude successfully.
Jack Morris would’ve been proud.
Let‘s try again…
The nice thing about deceased cartoon characters is that they can be reanimated. So, after resurrecting Frank Grimes, I have asked him to handle today’s sign off for the good folks at Drunk Jays Fans.
Is there something wrong Mr. Grimes? You don’t look wel…
“Oh, I, I can't stand it any longer. This whole blogosphere is insane. Insane, I tell you! Daahh! Aaah! I can be lazy too! Look at me, I am a worthless blogger, just like John Brattain! Give me a Pulitzer! Ooh, I write like a moron, but nobody minds! I'm peeing on the CPU. Give me a job at ESPN! Now I'm returning to typing without washing my hands. But it doesn't matter, because I'm John Brattain! I don't need to blog intelligently, 'cause someone else will do it for me. Best Regards! Best Regards! Best Regards! Best Regards! Oh, hi, Mr. Studeman. I'm the worst writer in the world. Time to go home to my office and blog incessantly. What's this? "CD Drive?" Well, I can stick my tongue in it because I'm John Bra…”
Um errrrrr … should I call 911?