Commentary

Only number that matters to ageless Moyer is Game 3

Originally Published: October 4, 2008
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

MILWAUKEE -- For some reason, the world always seems to forget about Jamie Moyer when the topic turns to the walking history museums of baseball.

Greg Maddux always comes up. Randy Johnson always comes up. Tom Glavine tends to nudge his way into these conversations. Heck, you might even hear names like Mike Timlin or Kenny Rogers or Tim Wakefield before someone gets around to saying:

"Hey, what about Jamie Moyer?"

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But on Saturday in Milwaukee, the Phillies' 45-year-old ageless virtuoso will head for the mound at Miller Park with a chance to do something no 45-year-old starting pitcher has ever done before:

Win the clinching game of a postseason series.

He'll be 45 days from his 46th birthday. His team holds a two-games-to-nada lead over the Brewers. So Moyer has the opportunity to seal a postseason series for a franchise that hasn't exactly perfected that art. The Phillies have been around for 126 seasons -- and have won just four of those postseason series in all that time.

But Moyer also has another opportunity -- the opportunity to hold history in his hands. All kinds of history, in fact.

• He could become the oldest starting pitcher to win a postseason clincher -- by five years. The current record holder, according to baseball-reference.com, is Curt Schilling, who was 40 years, 327 days old when he won Game 3 of last year's ALDS sweep for the Red Sox.

• Moyer also could become the oldest starting pitcher to win any kind of postseason game -- by more than two years. Roger Clemens was 43 years, 72 days old when he beat the Cardinals in Game 3 of the 2005 NLCS. Clemens, incidentally, is the only 43-year-old starter to win a postseason game -- not to mention the only 42-year-old.

• And, finally, Moyer could become the oldest pitcher -- starter or reliever -- to win a postseason game. Dennis Martinez holds that distinction, having vultured a win in relief in the 1998 NLCS (a game in which he threw exactly three pitches), at 43 years, 150 days old. The only other 43-year-olds to win a postseason game in relief were Dolf Luque, in the 1933 World Series, and Clemens, in that madcap 18-inning NLDS game between the Astros and Braves in 2005. Both Luque and Clemens, by the way, won clinching games -- but not as starters.

So now it's Moyer's turn. He's a one-hour History Channel special waiting to happen. But as his rendezvous with history approaches, Moyer would rather pitch than reflect.

"I probably haven't had any chance to look back," he said Friday after the Phillies' off-day workout in Milwaukee "because I choose not to take that opportunity to look back at it right now. I feel like I need to take advantage of the moment. …

"This is a great opportunity to pitch, period. And … to me, at this stage, it's an honor to come here every day just to put the uniform on, just today to come here to work out. I look at that as a huge honor."

[+] EnlargeJamie Moyer
Steve Mitchell/US PresswireJamie Moyer carries with him a lot of knowledge, which he is willing to share with his teammates. Right now, though, his sights are set on Saturday's Game 3 start against the Brewers.
But when you talk to the men who play with this guy, you get the sense that they're the ones who feel honored to play with him, not the other way around.

"Jamie, he's tremendous," Geoff Jenkins said."He's 100 [years old], and he just keeps doing it. … Obviously, I've played against Jamie for a number of years and kind of seen him. But now that I've actually played with him and [gotten] a chance to see his work ethic, how he carries himself, how professional, how he's helping out the other guys on the team, the other pitchers, he's just as valuable when he's not pitching as when he is pitching."

If you watch a Phillies game -- any Phillies game -- we can almost guarantee that sooner or later, the TV cameras will zero in on the Phillies' dugout. And somebody will be locked in deep conversation with Moyer. On the art of pitching. On the art of professionalism. Or on just about anything in between.

He holds a place on his team that's unique -- a fascinating cross between Warren Spahn and Gandhi. Moyer draws teammates to him like a giant magnetic force -- to watch and to listen.

"I think those are the things that you really don't see, how much he helps the guys the days that he's not pitching," Jenkins said. "So that makes him more valuable than a guy that just goes out there every fifth day and throws the ball and just doesn't really care about the other guys."

Moyer is well aware of how much his mentordom means to his teammates -- especially the young pitchers who never tire of soaking up his wisdom: Cole Hamels, Kyle Kendrick, J.A. Happ.

Once upon a time, though, Moyer was the guy searching for that wisdom. When he began dropping the names of some of the men he has sought it from over the years, it made you aware of just how long he's been around: Rick Sutcliffe, Nolan Ryan, Charlie Hough, Fernando Valenzuela.

At one point Friday, Moyer's manager, Charlie Manuel, mentioned Gil Hodges' infamous struggles in the 1952 World Series (0-for-21). Moyer couldn't resist.

"I think I faced Gil Hodges in that Series," he quipped.

At another point, though, Moyer even seemed to startle himself when he tossed Valenzuela's name into the conversation.

"I know I'm aging myself a little bit," he said after that Fernandomaniacal reference. "But age doesn't matter at this point."

Well, it doesn't seem to matter much to him, anyway.

This might be a guy with a lot to teach and share away from the mound. But oh by the way, those days he throws the ball have worked out pretty well, too.

Not too many people have noticed that it was Moyer -- the oldest pitcher in baseball -- who led a first-place team in wins (with 16). And that makes Moyer the first 45-year-old to win at least 10 games and lead his team in wins since Satchel Paige in 1952.

Those 16 wins are also a modern record for a non-knuckleballer his age. Only Phil Niekro, who won 16 for the '85 Yankees at age 46, was older at the time of his 16-win season.

And speaking of Niekro, he's the only pitcher in the past 75 years who won more games (121) after turning 40 than the 82 Moyer has won. Just this summer, Moyer passed quite an array of names on that Most Wins After 40 list -- blowing by Clemens (66), Hough (67), Ryan (71) and Spahn (75).

But for everything that Moyer has done, there is still something missing. He owns just two postseason wins -- including the clinching game in the 2001 ALDS. And he has never pitched in a World Series, missing that opportunity even when he was the ace on a team that won 116 games (the '01 Mariners).

Asked Friday how hard it was not to think about how close he might be now, Moyer replied: "I don't find it difficult at all because, No. 1, I haven't been there. So I don't know what that excitement is. I don't know what that feeling is. If we don't win [Saturday] or win this series, I'll never know. So to me, the focus is on [Saturday]."

As he focuses on Game 3, he won't notice, won't even care, how many eyes will be focused on him. But it will be more than he thinks because this is one start that won't be just about the numbers on the scoreboard. This one is about history -- and about the man with a chance to make it.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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