It wasn’t a scheduling oversight that prevented Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee from appearing together at Safeco Field last week.
Upon agreeing to remain with the Mariners for five more seasons, Hernandez deserved his own stage Thursday. So did Lee, the 2008 American League Cy Young Award winner formally introduced to Seattle-area media Friday.
And while an arms-talks summit meeting between Hernandez and Lee would have presented a nifty photo opportunity, well, that’s just another reason to count down the hours before pitchers and catchers report to spring camp in Arizona.
In the meantime, fans are free to savor the notion of the 2010 Mariners boasting a dynamic duo of starters – one right-handed, the other left-handed – that’s possibly unrivaled.
The Giants’ righty-righty tandem of Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain belongs in the discussion, though it should be noted that Cain, despite a 2009 season highlighted by an invitation to his first All-Star Game, has a modest 44-51 career record.
The Yankees, as always, are in the mix. Their offseason trade for veteran right-hander Javier Vazquez gives them a potent combination punch with lefty CC Sabathia.
If the Yankees are in the mix, that means the Red Sox can’t be far behind. They’ve got Josh Beckett from the right side, and Jon Lester, the former Bellarmine Prep standout, from the left. Proceeding on the astute assumption that you never can have too much starting pitching, Boston has added free agent right-hander John Lackey to a super-sized rotation built around what might be the premier trio of starting pitchers in the big leagues.
But that’s another topic, for another day. Besides, why dwell on what the Mariners haven’t yet acquired – a No. 3 starter more imposing than Ryan Rowland-Smith – when it’s so fun to gloat about the pair of aces they’ve already got?
“It’s a really nice dynamic,” Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik said Friday. “Tandems are always great. You look at batting orders. …
“It’s what the Cardinals wanted to do with Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday. That’s pretty nice. When I was at Pittsburgh, we had Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonilla. That was pretty special.”
Righty-lefty pitching tandems – two guys capable of winning 20 games apiece – are pretty special, as well. The 2001 Diamondbacks rode their pair of workhorses, Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson, to a World Series title. Schilling finished 22-6, with a league-leading six complete games, but it was Johnson – tops in the league in ERA (2.49) and strikeouts (372) while going 21-6 – who won the Cy Young Award.
A pitcher who started 18 games on that world-championship team? That would be Miguel Batista, better known to Mariners fans as the planet’s most generously paid mop-up man.
The talent gap between Johnson and Schilling and the rest of the Arizona starting rotation explains why the Diamondbacks, with a 92-70 record, barely qualified for the postseason. Then again, the dominance of Johnson and Schilling explains why the Diamondbacks were able to advance through the playoffs before rallying to beat the Yankees in a seven-game World Series.
As overpowering as Johnson and Schilling were in 2001, the roll call of memorable pitching tandems must begin with the Dodgers’ Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, who teamed up to win 301 games during the 1960s. A cerebral lefty whose ability to pack heat was complemented by the best curve in the business, Koufax toyed with hitters. Drysdale, a 6-foot-6 menace, threw at their chins.
Warren Spahn and Lew Burdette had similar success with the Braves of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Spahn, the lefty, was an off-speed master. Burdette, the righty, was known for his control – a particular virtue when you’re throwing a ball that’s probably been dabbed with saliva and is not so easy to control.
Speaking of some tandems from way back: The 1960s Cardinals had a pair of Hall-of-Famers at the top of their rotation – right-handed Bob Gibson and the left-handed Steve Carlton.
But just as Carlton, who’d frustrated management with his inconsistency, was turning into an legend, he was traded to the Phillies. At the same time, right-hander Denny McLain and left Mickey Lolich were renowned for the one-two punch they gave the Tigers. Detroit came back to win the 1968 Series – Lolich beat Gibson in Game 7 – but then McLain’s Cooperstown-bound career was ruined by the gambling problems that put him in prison.
The duo of Hernandez and Lee figures to be temporary, too. Even if Lee falls in love with Seattle, he’ll be in position to demand everything but the moon when he becomes a free agent at the end of the season.
“Ten years and $200 billion,” he said Friday, joking (I think) about the terms of his next contract.
In any case, the likelihood of the Mariners enticing Cliff Lee into a long-term deal is – again – another topic, for another day. Better to exult in the happy chain of events that has brought a gifted lefty to Seattle, where he’ll typically take the mound 24 hours after a gifted righty has gotten the start.
Is anybody pondering a nickname for the Mariners’ one-two punch? Hmmn. If Hernandez is “King Felix,” his counterpart should also own a title of distinction, something along the line of, say, “General Lee.”
King Felix and General Lee. I can see that poster on a kid’s wall, with Hernandez wearing a crown and Lee dressed up in a 19th-century military uniform. (What would it cost to persuade Cliff Lee to pose in a 19th-century military uniform? At least $200 billion.)
Of course, there’s always the standard “Fire and Ice,” with Hernandez appointed as the Fire and Lee as the Ice. That wouldn’t be a stretch: Felix is animated on the mound, while Lee is a low-key type who keeps his cool.
Fire and Ice?
“That’s acceptable,” said Zduriencik, smiling. “We’ll see. I don’t want to get too nutty about that because they’ll hold it over my head.
“Let’s just say we have a very nice right-handed, left-handed combination.”