Humbling time for Moyer, Nelson
Phillies starter kicked around; Sox reliever kicked to the curb
BOSTON -- While career journeyman Joe Nelson was on his way to Logan Airport to catch a flight home after the Red Sox designated him for assignment Friday, longtime big-league pitcher Jamie Moyer was just arriving at Fenway Park.
This was a case of two completely different pitchers with two completely different careers. But the goal has been the same for both.
The day could be the last of Nelson's playing career. The night was the worst performance of Moyer's.
The Philadelphia Phillies arrived here for a three-game set with the veteran left-hander making his 621st career start in the majors. He lasted only one inning (plus four batters in the second), allowing nine runs on nine hits with one walk and one strikeout as Boston pummeled Moyer and the Phillies en route to a 12-2 victory.
It was only the fifth time in Moyer's career that he has gone one inning or less. It was his shortest outing since July 4, 1998, at Texas while he was pitching for the Mariners.
It gets worse.
Moyer is winless in his last 10 appearances against the Red Sox since May 8, 2001, posting an 0-8 record with a 10.64 ERA during that span.
Even though he had one of his worst starts of his career Friday, Moyer has been the model of perseverance during his 24-year career. Like Nelson, Moyer, 47, has never taken anything for granted in this game.
"You can't," Moyer said after the loss. "Just as soon as you're going good, you can be going bad. That's part of the game, and it's a humbling game. You battle each and every day, and you try to prepare mentally and physically. It's a grind. Every season is a grind. You try to get through it."
Without knowing the specifics of Nelson's situation, Moyer was quick to point out that this game is a business and there are 29 other teams out there that could use a relief pitcher.
"In situations like that, you have to stick with it and you've got to have faith in yourself and your ability. That's the most important thing," Moyer said.
One in a million
There are a million Joe Nelsons in the world of baseball, but there truly is only one Joe Nelson.
There aren't too many guys who bring a glove and ball with them to the winter meetings, ready to throw in a hotel hallway for any general manager, manager or scout if it means getting an invite to spring training.
Nelson, 35, has done that several times in his career. This past winter, a conversation he had with Red Sox assistant general manager Ben Cherington (minus the hotel side session) led to an invite to camp.
A right-handed reliever, Nelson was impressive during spring training and seemed a lock for the spot in the bullpen. However, in the final week of camp, the Red Sox signed pitcher Scott Schoeneweis, and he took Nelson's roster spot.
Nelson, a minor-league journeyman for the majority of his 15-year pro career, was sent to Triple-A Pawtucket where he made 16 relief appearances, posting a 3-2 record with one save and a 2.49 ERA. He struck out 21 and walked 14 in 21 2/3 innings of work for the PawSox.
He was recalled to Boston on May 19 and made eight relief appearances, posting a 9.72 ERA with nine strikeouts and six walks in 8 1/3 innings.
On Friday, he learned the inevitable.
Nelson was called into Terry Francona's office and told he had been designated for assignment.
"In all likelihood, if I clear waivers, I've probably thrown my last pitch," Nelson said. "I don't anticipate myself going back to Pawtucket, but that's emotion talking right now, and we'll probably reanalyze it when I'm not as disappointed."
If he clears waivers and accepts his assignment to Pawtucket, he will receive a pay raise. But it's not always about the money with Nelson; he just loves to play the game.
After his last outing Wednesday in Cleveland when he surrendered four earned runs on five hits, including a home run, in one inning of work, Nelson spent a little more time in the clubhouse than normal.
"I kept my uniform on an extra hour after that night in Cleveland, just because I thought it might be the last time I ever put one on," he said. "I'm very realistic with my own ability, and this game doesn't owe me anything. There are times I pitched really well and times when I pitched poorly. The latter outweigh the times I threw well. That's the nature of the beast.
"It's a business. It's a job and I didn't do it well. When you don't do your job, they fire you. That's the reality of it. I tried to get the outs; I just didn't do it."
Nelson said the thought of going back to the minors, where he's pitched in 318 games, does not appeal to him.
"I had every opportunity and I didn't produce," he said. "The thought of going to Triple-A doesn't sound that great. We'll wait and see what options present themselves. As a whole, you've got to perform better. That's what it comes down to. They gave me every chance to succeed and I didn't make the pitches. There's not a hard feeling in the world between the Red Sox and me. Every day I got to spend up here was a blessing and not taken for granted. I need to do a better job."
When asked if he would continue to pitch while he's on waivers, Nelson said he plans on doing only one thing.
"I'm going to throw my kids around for a couple of days," he said. "I don't think I clear until Wednesday because the weekend and stuff. I'll be going to the beach with my kids and the wife and trying to be a real dad for a couple of days. I'm sure Monday I'll pick up a baseball and throw it around, but for the next couple of days I'm going to enjoy life."
Before he left Fenway Park for his 7:15 flight from Logan to his home in Florida, Nelson said his goodbyes to his teammates and friends.
Given his love for the game, it's likely he will pitch again. If he decides to finally hang up the glove and spikes, it won't be long before he lands a job in baseball operations. He's always said he's wanted to work on that aspect of the game and now could be his opportunity for his second career to begin.
Either way, he's respects the game and has earned respect in it.
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"I cherish it," Nelson said. "These guys are a first-class organization and first-class people in it. The bullpen is a tight-knit group, and I'm going to miss that. I'll be watching the game, and when I get home I'll check the box score and see what happened. You miss little things here and there, but it's a good group of guys. There are going to be some tough hugs here in a minute."
The hugs were plentiful before Nelson quickly left the premises in jeans and a T-shirt. The first to offer an embrace was reliever Daniel Bard. The two became friends during spring training, and it was interesting to see them communicate. After all, Bard is the present and future of the Red Sox.
That's not to say Nelson is the past, with just three years and 61 days of service in the big leagues.
"He's easy to talk to and he knows the game," Bard said. "He knows everything there is to know about what to do in certain situations -- on and off the field. He's a fun guy to be around. He's thrown the ball well for us, eating up some innings and he'll be missed."
Bard and the rest of the young pitchers on the staff will miss more than Nelson's presence and advice in the bullpen.
"These guys are my teammates, but they're my friends too," Bard said. "You think about them, you think about their families and kids and how it's going to affect them. I hope the best for him first and foremost, and once you get past that, you think about how it's going to affect the team. It's tough though, because you're consistently reminded it's a business."
If there's anyone who knows this adage well, it's Joe Nelson. He also knows there's a possibility he could get claimed by another club or even end up back in the Red Sox organization.
"I haven't burned that many bridges in this game. A lot of people respect the way I go about my work," he said. "There's a lot of bullpens that need help. If that happens, great. If it doesn't, I don't think I would have a bad memory of ever playing this game."
Two different pitchers with two different careers each experienced how humbling the game of baseball can be on any given day.
Joe McDonald covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.