The first couple of months of the 2002 major league season were an odd blend of personal success overpowered by aggrieving frustration, as far as Roy Oswalt was concerned. The kid, now 24, had overcome the scouting stigma of standing "only" six feet tall, had triumphed over a seemingly career-threatening shoulder injury (which probably wasn't career-threatening in retrospect, although the manner in which his arm apparently healed is the stuff of legend), and was riding roughshod all over his National League competition, accumulating nearly four strikeouts for every walk while posting a sub-2.50 ERA over his first 11 starts of his sophomore big league campaign.
Over the course of those 11 games, though, the Astros won just five times, and, by virtue of winning just 22 of their first 50 games, corkscrewed themselves into a seven-game hole in the NL Central by June 1st, 2002. Oswalt's best just wasn't good enough to stave off the big early-season deficit. To add even more sting to it all, three of Oswalt's first 11 starts came against the eventual division-champion Cardinals, who, on each of those three occasions, entrusted the ball to a 33-year-old Darryl Kile. The two dueled to a draw on April 13th, Oswalt slightly outpitched Kile on May 22nd, and Kile somewhat outpitched Oswalt on May 27th; yet, the Cardinals walked away victorious on each of those three occasions.
I wasn't paying especially close attention to the expanding world of online baseball news or the Astros or the Cardinals back in 2002, but I have to imagine that some writer somewhere delicately crafted one of their columns around the crafty veteran curveball specialist getting the best of the fireballing future ace in each of their first three confrontations of the season. It would only make sense, after all. Nothing gets a columnist going like a good rivalry, be it perceived or actual.
There was never a fourth such Oswalt/Kile clash that year, of course, because twenty-six days after their last great battle, on June 22nd, baseball lost Darryl Kile. It is not my intention to relive that horrible day, nor do I really want to cram a forced narrative down everyone's gullets, nor am I usually spellbound to such a degree by matters of apparent coincidence ... but I can't get past the oddly reassuring timing of Oswalt, on the 10-year anniversary of Kile's passing, inadvertently paying homage to his former mound adversary by coolly taking control of the game and doing just what Kile did in their final meeting -- that is, relying on a strategy more about cerebral craftiness than it is about pure power pitching, hurling six-plus innings of one-run ball, and coaxing home the win.
I thought about going in the typical direction this morning, talking about how Oswalt never permitted the Rockies to get a bead on him because he kept changing up the expectations, how he was utterly dominant from a defense-independent standpoint (six strikeouts against one walk and no homers is generally going to yield pretty awesome results), about how he masterfully worked both sides of the plate with command and how he looked starkly different from the pitcher who struggled to properly spot his pitches against Double-A hitters at Frisco a couple of weeks earlier. Yeah, it is the Rockies we're talking about, but it was also his first effort, an outing that dually functioned as an opportunity to shake a few remaining remnants of rust off, and he just looked good.
I kind of figured, though, that everyone would have gotten their fill of over-the-top Oswalt love by way of the other names in this market, so here we are. Here we are with Roy Oswalt, the guy who's been linked to the Rangers by way of trade rumor more times than any of us can probably count, and yet somebody who, like Roger Clemens, appeared as though he might play out his entire career without fulfilling his seeming destiny to put on a Rangers uniform at least once. If enough things break right, he'll get yet another shot at the coveted World Series ring that eluded him through his dominant prime ... but for right now, I'll take him remaining healthy and pitching at the level of a mid-rotation starter in a championship-caliber rotation.
Give the Rangers those two things, and a lot of other things should -- and likely will -- fall very neatly into place.