That was, without a doubt, one of the most spectacular displays of outright dominance we've seen from the Texas Rangers starting rotation in a long time.
And I do mean a really, really long time.
How long, you ask? Try three years long, according to one popular Bill James-devised metric.
Rookie left-hander Matt Harrison had shown brief flashes of brilliance in his first seven big league starts, albeit flashes that were inconveniently interspersed between several really ugly outings.
But the raw talent and natural aptitude for pitching that made the 22-year-old Durham, North Carolina native such an integral component of last summer's blockbuster Mark Teixeira trade couldn't have possibly been more difficult to ignore at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on Saturday evening.
With the aid of his customary low-90s heater that, true to all the scouting reports, became stronger as the game progressed (his 109th and final pitch of the night registered at 92.6 mph, according to MLB.com's Pitch f/x recognition system) and a pair of quality secondary offerings that he was seemingly able to command at will, Harrison blanked the first-place Tampa Bay Rays with eight stunning innings of three-hit baseball.
No walks. All three hits were singles, with two coming in the top of the first inning. Eighteen consecutive outs to round out the night. Seventy-eight of those 109 pitches were strikes, good for a filthy 72 percent strike percentage.
Ridiculous. And while Tampa Bay's lineup was far from being at full strength (Carl Crawford, Evan Longoria and B.J. Upton were all absent for various reasons), you don't just fluke your way into a start like that.
All that being said, reading Harrison's jaw-dropping 8-3-0-0-0-8 pitching line and then scanning the post-game wire stories caused me to stop and think: just where does this performance rank in terms of sheer dominance over not only the span of this season, but also of the last several seasons?
Though it's far from a perfect performance evaluator, Game Score - the brainchild of legendary baseball statistician Bill James - allows us to compare Harrison's Saturday evening effort with those of his Rangers rotation contemporaries.
A few quick calculations (you can read about that process here) reveal that Harrison's game score clocked in a stellar 84, handily topping Vicente Padilla's previous season-high game score of 79 on May 7th at Seattle (7 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 8 K). Listed below are the Rangers' top game scores from each of the last three seasons:
2007: Kameron Loe (76) at PIT, 6/14 (8 IP, 5 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 7 K)
2006: Kevin Millwood (83) vs. CLE, 9/3 (8 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 10 K)
2005: Chris Young (84) at CLE, 8/17 (8 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 7 K)
Yes, that's correct: almost three years to the day after long-departed right-hander Chris Young tossed a gem against the Indians at the ballpark formerly known as Jacobs Field (which came, ironically enough, against Kevin Millwood, who gave up three runs in eight innings but suffered the loss anyway), Matt Harrison delivered a virtually identical exhibition of mound superiority that finally matched the golden standard by which all Texas pitchers should be judged.
Every time that I think I'm out, they pull me back in.
Because of an off day last Monday, [Matt] Harrison was afforded the ability to throw an extra bullpen session between starts and he used the extra session to make a couple of minor mechanical adjustments more second nature.
He said by the time he got to the mound Saturday, he wasn't thinking about landing more softly on his front foot to keep from rushing to the plate. He was simply focused on throwing strikes.
The adjustment allowed him to command the outside corner. He was able to throw his slider in to right-handed hitters, which then opened up the outside for his fastball.
Rangers owner Tom Hicks said club president Nolan Ryan will become more involved with organization's pitching program during the offseason.
"Nolan told me that we're going to take a system-wide new approach to pitching in the offseason," Hicks said before Saturday's game with the Rays. "We're talking about training, development, conditioning. ... He doesn't believe in putting a limit of 100 pitches a game on pitchers. He wants our pitchers to be stronger and better conditioned throughout the system.
The first baseman agreed to $3.5 million signing bonus but didn�t receive the nugget he and agent Dustin Bledsoe wanted: a major-league deal that would have put him on the 40-man roster. General manager Jon Daniels said the Smoak camp finally dropped that demand around 9 p.m., and the deal was finalized at 10:45 p.m.
The deadline to sign him or lose him was at 11 p.m.
"Dustin was consistent with what they were looking for the whole time, and I explained why it was something we weren�t interested in doing," Daniels said. "It�s never a piece of cake. We had a player who wanted to play for us and an organization that was committed from top to bottom to get this thing done."
The latest calamity to befall the Rangers' shattered rotation is the unyielding soreness of Vicente Padilla's chest.
Padilla has been scratched from today's start against Tampa Bay because he still has not responded positively to cortisone injection he received earlier in the week to relieve inflammation in the joint where his clavicle and sternum meet.
Kinsler's breakthrough season at second base is a byproduct of talent, maturity, health and, some teammates insist, a more functional approach at the plate.
"I remember last September, we were getting on him saying, 'You have to go the other way in batting practice. If you can do that in games, it's going to add 20-30 points to your swing,'" said Rangers outfielder Marlon Byrd. "Ian told us, 'I don't like going that way.' But this year, he's been doing it since spring training, and look at the results."
The state of pitching prospectdom in the Rangers system is truly impressive, both in terms of depth and talent. In the wake of the great leaps forward taken by guys like Neftali Feliz and Derek Holland, some of the others have been lost in the shuffle, including 2007 first-round pick Michael Main.
Main missed the first half of the season recovering from a rib-cage injury, but he's been impressive since his return, with a 2.25 ERA in six starts for Low-A Clinton while recording 28 strikeouts in 28 innings and limiting opposing batters to a .221 average. A scout who recently saw Main noted plenty of good in the here and now, combined with a good amount of room for future improvement. "The stuff is there, but it needs to be refined," explained the scout. "I saw him up to 94 mph on the fastball with good life, and his curveball is a real downer with a pretty sharp break. His delivery is solid and he's aggressive, and really he's got everything you want to see in a kid his age."
As for the improvements Main needs to make, the scout felt that Main would perfectly capable of reaching them. "He's so athletic and thin and lean�there's not a lot of pitchability right now, but I can see it coming. You add the physical maturing that's clearly still to come, and he could really turn into something."
So much to talk about, and yet so little time.
And one final ironic bit of trivia: Scott Feldman's horrendous game score of 1 (!) in Boston last Tuesday represented the Rangers' single worst mark from both 2007 and 2008 combined.
Now that's what you call peaks and valleys.