April 26, 2005: All about Oliver

The past two weeks I’ve focused on how Oliver Perez has been one of this season’s biggest fantasy disappointments. In my last column I wrote:

Since I didn’t watch him (Perez) pitch at all least year, I feel like I’ve been hustled. Did he really allow only 145 hits in 196 innings? How is it possible his ERA was under 3.00? If there is anyone out there who can honestly say he/she watched Perez pitch more than a half dozen times in 2004, please let me know.

Sure enough, I got a ton of e-mails from folks who claimed to have watched Perez pitch all season, including this one from New York’s Neil Kaufman:

"I have watched him pitch almost every start for the last three years. He was electrifying some days and wild other days to the point where he couldn’t find the plate. As he has matured, his control has improved and he really was almost unhittable last year, when he very severely limited his control lapses. He also seemed to learn to overcome short lapses by making the big pitch. He has a deceptive delivery of a very good mid-90s fastball with movement and a good slow curve. After that, his changeup locks hitters up or makes them look foolish. His problem now is that unlike past years when he threw all year round, including winter ball, he took this winter completely off to rest his arm. He should be bouncing back into form any start now. If I could get him again in my league, I’d take him in a second."

After Neil’s e-mail I decided not to give up on the young lefty, and instead document every pitch of his next start, despite my promise two weeks ago not to watch him pitch again.

Here’s my inning-by-inning recount of Perez’s start from Monday night against Houston:

First Inning

The Astros lineup for tonight is Willy Taveras, Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Jason Lane, Morgan Ensberg, Chris Burke, Eric Bruntlett, Raul Chavez and Roy Oswalt. Even though they still have four B’s in the lineup, I think the use of the "Killer Bees" doesn’t exactly work anymore with Burke and Bruntlett replacing Beltran and Berkman.

The announcers inform us that in order for Perez to succeed tonight he needs to relax and have control, control, control. Really? Thanks for that, very helpful. I was thinking that he should fall behind in the count and look frazzled, but I guess I was wrong.

Hey, here’s some good news — the Astros are 1-8 on the road so far this year, so there’s actually hope, except that the Pirates are probably going to have to win, 1-0, if Perez is to pick up win No. 1.

Up steps Taveras. First pitch — strike. Feeling good. Amazing how one strike can instantly give you so much confidence. Second pitch splits Taveras’ bat as he pops up weakly. By the way, the 12 visible people behind home plate all missed the pitch.

Watching fans with great seats that don’t pay attention the whole game has become my new favorite thing to yell at the TV about.

Perez falls behind, 3-0, to Biggio, whom the announcer proclaims is a definite Hall of Famer. Is he really? I quickly look up his career stats (.286-234-994, 396 SB), and am sort of convinced as Biggio grounds out to third baseman Bobby Hill.

Two down, Bagwell up, who is nowhere nearly as scary as he was a few years ago. Perez gets to 0-2, then nearly throws out his arm trying to fan Bagwell on three pitches. After severely misfiring, Perez proceeds to dance around a bit before attempting to regain his focus. Of course, he ends up walking Bagwell, his 17th BB in 19.2 IP. The dance was definitely a bad sign, especially since it resembled the hissy-fit dance I did in 1978 when my mom refused to buy me the Star Wars Death Star playset.

Perez quickly redeems himself, getting Lane looking on a sick backdoor slider. One inning, no hits, one walk, no runs. I’ll definitely take that from a guy with a 9.00 ERA. I’m so revved up by the last K that I decide if Perez pitches a complete game shutout tonight, I’m buying a Perez jersey. Kind of cool, no sleeves, although 48 is a weak number. Has anyone good ever worn that number? No one in basketball or hockey wears No. 48 that I can think of, and in football, No. 48 is usually reserved for a tight end or blocking back.

I also proclaim to Mrs. Klayman that if Perez pitches a no-hitter, I will not only buy his jersey, I will go to Shea to see him pitch this year, paint my face, write "Perez is God" up and down my arms in permanent marker, and cover my entire desk at work with Perez pictures and memorabilia. She smiles at me, obviously questioning why she ever said yes to my marriage proposal four years ago.

Pittsburgh comes up and the first two Pirates hitters — Matt Lawton and Freddy Sanchez — hit hard one-hoppers back at Oswalt, doing their best to help Perez’s cause. Unfortunately, Oswalt gloves them both.

Up comes Jason Bay, another player I’ve barely seen play. Bay decides to be the third straight hitter to ground out, leaving Bagwell only 19 putouts behind Don Mattingly for the single-game record.

Hey — a commercial featuring the one and only Jason Bay! If the voice-over didn’t tell me who he was, I would have had no clue, even though I just saw him bat 18 seconds ago. This is why baseball cards were important back in the day — you actually knew what guys looked like. Now that we’re living in the fantasy baseball era, everyone just looks at stats and no one ever looks at photos. I could probably recognize John Castino, Sixto Lezcano, Champ Summers and Tito Landrum before Bay, if they were all sitting next to me on a train.

Second Inning

Here’s the FOX quote of the night, by Pirates manager Lloyd McLendon: "I think Ollie’s getting better every time out. He’s trying to catch up. I think he’s just about caught up." Based on what? Four starts, each of which were equally bad. I guess Perez’s 4-7-3-3-4-2 from April 20 was a good sign?

Morgan Ensberg looks terrible, whiffing badly against Perez. Must be the lack of leavened bread this week. I quickly check an online list of Jewish ballplayers (my books from my Bar Mitzvah are slightly outdated now) and see that Ensberg actually isn’t Jewish, making my joke in the last sentence seem even dumber than it already was.

Rookie of the Year candidate Burke come up and clobbers a pitch, but it falls short for an out. Perez then reverts to being wild and pegs Brunlett with a fastball. Time to unravel? Nope, a great curveball gets Chavez. Four up, three down. Twenty-one outs until I make a fool of myself in public.

My Greg Maddux jinx (Maddux gets shelled every time I watch him pitch) is officially in reverse right now, as Perez actually looks solid through two.

Rob Mackowiak is hitting cleanup tonight for the Pirates, not a great sign if you are a Pirates fan or Perez owner.

Mack strikes out looking, as 15 of 17 people behind home were caught not looking. Amazing. Sitting in the first few rows behind home plate and still not watching, Three people are now on cell phones simultaneously. Up to four now, plus one person waiving vigorously at the TV cameras. "Hey how are ya. Look at me, I’m on TV and I’m not paying attention."

Hill gets caught looking as well — 14 of 17 people not looking on that pitch.

Oswalt has been tremendous so far. Cell phone No. 5 walks into the picture, gets in everyone’s way, not that anyone is looking, as Craig Wilson gets the first hit of the game. Double no-hitter is gone.

Humberto Cota quickly pops up to end the Pirates rally. 0-0, end of two.

Third Inning

Oswalt grounds out on the first pitch — nothing like the NL, where you get to face the opposing pitcher for an easy out. Here comes ’70s hit band Taveras up again. His name is going to be a pain for writers all year: Wily, Willy, Willie, Tavares, Tevares, Taveres, Tavaras, Taverez, Taveraz.

"The 26-year-old Perez facing the 23-year-old Taveras." Apparently, the announcers have already run out of things to say, and we’re only in the third inning. How ’bout, "The 6-foot-3 Perez facing the 5-foot-11 Taveras" or "Perez, the Libra facing the Sporpio, Taveras."

Taveras gets jammed for the second out. Perez is cruising now (very afraid to write that word). Perez is eating up Biggio, 1-2, and after just missing with a breaking ball on the outside and doing another dance, he records the whiff on the next pitch. Eighteen outs to go. Although, with 47 pitches in three innings, a no-hitter will be tough, as will a shutout.

Subway’s new Absolute Angus sub doesn’t exactly look as healthy as the Clay Henry Veggie Delight. Jared probably won’t be chowing down on this one.

How ’bout a run, Bucs? With Jack Wilson (.134), Perez and Lawton due up, it’s probably not going to happen. Wilson grounds out and is now 0-for-his-last-24.

Perez follows with a weak groundout of his own, which leads the announcers to tell us that "Oswalt’s pitching so well, he has no-hit stuff. He’s given up a hit, but he still might get the no-hitter." This confusing comment is followed by the token fake announcer laugh, when the other guy obviously has no idea how to respond, so fills time with a phony chuckle. I mastered this back in 2003 when I used to co-host the Fantasy 411 TV show with Cory Schwartz. Cory told me this morning that he has no time to read my column anymore, so including this is probably pretty safe.

After Lawton reaches on an infield hit, Oswalt makes Sanchez look terrible. 0-0 after three.

Fourth Inning

Aflac Trivia question of the night: Who was the last Pirate to lead the NL in RBIs?

I’ll say Willie Stargell — he’s always the answer, and it certainly wasn’t R.J. Reynolds or Al Pedrique.

Perez gets Bagwell looking. Wow, I think I’m starting to be convinced that Perez’s first four starts were actually due to rust. This guy is awesome. Guess McLendon was right.

Perez then starts doing this whole praying mantis thing on the mound. It’s nice to actually see players with some personality. Carlos Perez was last guy who was really fun to watch that I owned in fantasy. He was a pretty good pitcher until his meltdown, when he beat that Gatorade bucket to death.

Lane keeps fouling off pitches and is raising Perez’s pitch count. And he walks. Great. So much for the praying mantis thing. Sixty-one pitches?ehhhh. Ensberg pops up weakly, which is nice because Perez looks to be losing control a bit. Burke then follows with another popup.

4-0-0-0-2-5 after four — boy, do all of my fantasy teams need this kind of start. Outside of a few nice efforts from Josh Beckett (only have him on one team), I’ve gotten nothing like this to this point. The 69 pitches are a concern, however, as Perez is on pace to throw 155 pitches if he wants to go the distance.

Stargell is the answer to the trivia — first thing I’ve been right about all season.

Bay leads off the bottom of the fourth with a shot off the top of the right-center wall for a double. Rob Mackowiak then lines a shot to right which Lane almost misplays, but recovers and makes the catch. Bay smartly advances to third. Alright, all Hill needs to do is hit a fly ball to get the Pirates on the board ? and he actually does it with a deep fly to left. Perez has a lead. The Pirates do nothing else, on to the fifth.

Fifth Inning

The bottom of the order is due up. Can Perez actually get through five without a hit?

Jim Leyland is in the crowd, very random, sitting next to Chuck Tanner. Very cool sight to see two former managers taking in a game together. And despite the frigid weather, it’s good to see that Leyland is not smoking. Remember when he used to smoke in the Pirates dugout? Imagine if a manager did that in 2005? It would be the 1986 equivalent of doing shots of Jagermeister while walking out to the mound.

Bruntlett fans. Wasn’t he on the Astros like 20 years ago? I decide to do a quick search and discover that it is actually Eric Bullock I’m thinking of, who had 46 career ABs with the Astros in 1985-’86. I’m sure only about 32 people even remember Bullock on the Astros, and like me, they all probably didn’t start talking to girls until they were well past their teens.

Oswalt strikes out to end the top of the fifth. After 81 pitches, Perez looks like Pedro in ’99, Koufax in ’65, Fidrych in ’76.

Next comes a commercial for "Pittsburgh Sports Tonight," which includes a feature on Steelers first round pick Heath Miller and a story on whether Chad Brown is going to come back to Pittsburgh. I get all excited to watch this after the game, until I realize that I don’t live in Pittsburgh and can’t actually see it. There should be some sort of DirectTV-style package just for that stuff. Why not — out of town news/shows/etc. for your favorite team. Seems like a pretty good idea. They need some way to make up for all the lost NHL package revenue.

Hey — Jack Wilson singles, breaking his huge slump. Everything is aligning tonight. Perez comes up bunting, although his attempt on the first pitch looks more like a six-year-old hitting off a tee than a Major Leaguer at the plate. Yikes — second pitch almost breaks his finger, just like David Cone did once while bunting back in the ’80s with the Mets.

Perez fouls off his third straight bunt attempt and is out. Pretty sad to watch, hopefully it doesn’t get to his head. Lawton ends things grounding into a double play.

Sixth Inning

I knew they’d have to win, 1-0, for Ollie to get the win tonight. Can I start calling him that yet? Since I’m not a Pirates fan and was cursing him up until an hour or so ago, I probably don’t have the right yet, so I’ll stick to Oliver.

Rafael FurCal RipKen Griffey Junior Felix Jose CardenAl Oliver Perez. Am I the only one who does things like that to amuse myself?

Taveras tries to bunt for a base hit — very weak when a guy has a no-hitter going.

Speaking of Perez’s no-hitter, the announcers finally make their first mention of the possibilty. After Biggio makes the second out of the inning, the camera gives us a nice close-up of all the zeros on the scoreboard. MLB.com at the same time has Perez’s potential no-hitter up on the homepage as well, so there is no way of escaping it. McLendon might as well just walk out to the mound holding a huge sign that says, "Oliver, you have a no-hitter going."

There it goes, Bagwell base hit into right. At least now I don’t have to worry about filing this column tonight or looking like a fool at Shea Stadium later this year. Lane pops up, so after six we have 6-1-0-0-2-7 and a season ERA that’s gone from 9.00 to 6.84 in one hour and 22 minutes. At 98 pitches, Perez is probably good for another inning or two — which means I’ll definitely have to see Jose Mesa pitch. Not feeling very comfortable right now.

How ’bout some insurance? 2-3-4 coming up this inning. That reads a lot better than the less-than-inspiring, "Sanchez-Bay-Mackowiak due up."

The Pirates go quietly in the bottom half of the sixth.

Seventh Inning

After Ensberg leads off with a single, he follows with one of the worst steal attempts of the season, and isn’t even in the screen when Jack Wilson catches the ball at second. I was actually going to pick up Ensberg the other day because of his two homers and steal, but after watching him run, it is safe to say he won’t be swiping too many bases the rest of the year.

Burke whiffs, Perez back on track with K number eight. Bruntlett does the same. Crazy, K No. 9, Perez is on fire.

109 pitches and 7-2-0-0-2-9 — now that’s what I drafted him for.

In the bottom of the seventh, Oswalt pulls off his mask and reveals that he is actually Roger Clemens. Now it makes sense why the score is 1-0. The entire Astros lineup then pulls off their masks and reveals that they are actually the Lovely Ladies from Nintendo Baseball Stars.

Out of nowhere, Oswalt walks two straight. Wilson bunts successfully, bases loaded. Now Perez will actually bat, even though Daryle Ward had been waiting on deck. I guess this is a good thing, although some insurance would be nice.

The PNC Park organ plays "Drunken Sailor" which some of you would recognize as being on Sega’s NHL 1994 soundtrack, usually played directly after faceoffs. The sounds of the organ make me feel like Jaromir Jagr, Kevin Stevens and Mario Lemieux should be on base right now. Someone should make a CD of old video game music — what 30-something guy wouldn’t want a copy of this?

Perez Ks, but Lawton pads the lead with a flyout to right that I thought was a grand slam before it fell about 75 feet short of the wall.

2-0 after seven. Have to feel good about that.

Eighth and Ninth Innings

If Perez actually wins, I might have to start doing this every time he pitches. I’m majorly superstitious, so this might have to become a ritual.

Nasty stuff, Chavez is 0-2, one pitch from double digit Ks — one of the best things for a fantasy owner to see. Nope, leadoff single after looking terrible the first two pitches. At 112 pitches, probably time for the bullpen. Nope. Easy popup by pinch hitter Mike Lamb, followed by a Taveras flyout. Perez looks tired and should probably come out, but Pittsburgh doesn’t have many bullpen options, so they leave him in for one more batter.

All he has to do is get by Biggio and he’ll ? nooooooooooooo, liner down the left-field line, but a fan touches the ball and Chavez has to stay at third. Nice break, but Perez is done. McLendon comes out finally to pull Oliver and around 10 fans or so start screaming, "NOOOO" at the top of their lungs as Rick White jogs in from the bullpen.

As of now, Perez’s line looks like 7.2-4-0-0-2-9, 121 pitches. Was hoping for 8-2-0-0-2-11 an inning ago, but I’m not complaining. Still need one out to avoid any earned runs and to preserve the two-run lead.

The TV tells us that White has allowed five hits in 14 ABs to Bagwell, not a very comforting stat. A single and Perez’s win is gone. But White’s first offering is popped up weakly to right and Perez finishes the night with a 6.41 ERA, 2.59 less than what he had exactly 119 minutes ago.

I’m not going to get greedy and ask for any insurance runs. All I want is for Kent Tekulve to trot in from the bullpen to start the ninth. Unfortunately, Mesa is shown warming up. To his credit, he is 6-for-6 in save opps, but after his 6.52 ERA of 2003, it will be hard to ever trust him again.

Bay pops up to start the bottom of the eighth and as he does, a field microphone picks up a very loud four-letter expletive from a fan. Moments like this make me glad TIVO exists.

Pittsburgh goes quietly, and the 58-year-old Mesa takes the mound. Lane pops up weakly to first and Ensberg strikes out after being up, 3-0. One out to go for a very satisfying evening.

Burke is all that stands in the way. Base hit. Can’t be that easy with Mesa out there.

Up comes Bruntlett, who is batting .000 on the season. Should be easy. Everyone is standing, it’s 0-2, even the girl who has been playing with her cell phone the whole night is watching.?

And Mesa actually strikes him out. Amazing. I need to do this every week. I’ve discovered the secret to fantasy success. Sit in front of your TV for two-and-a-half hours, type non-stop and ignore your spouse. Maybe this is what Cory Schwartz secretly does in our league every year when he wins his annual title.

The only Katastrophe this week is that this column doesn’t really qualify as a Klayman Katastrophe and that anyone who has actually reached the end of this column has had to endure 3,620 words up until this point.

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