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Keep Me in the Looper

Ok, I changed my mind...I will post today. The Cardinals signing of Braden Looper served as my inspiration

You could argue that Braden Looper's somewhat laughable contract is the byproduct of one pitch. It came on October 22, 2003, the fourth game of the 2003 World Series between the Marlins and Yankees. This was supposed to be Roger Clemens night, since he fraudulently purported that this game would be his farewell to baseball and many still remember it for the popping flashbulbs and the opposing applause that came when Clemens left the game after seven innings, outpitched by Carl Pavano and trailing 3-1.

In the ninth inning, the Yankees worked one of their magical, miraculous comebacks that sometimes make you wonder if the Baseball Gods were born in the Bronx. They had two men on with two outs against Marlins closer Ugueth Urbina, and Joe Torre sent Ruben Sierra up to pinch-hit for Karim Garcia. Sierra delivered a game-tying two-run triple and the Yankees were 90 feet away from taking the lead (and possibly a 3-games-to-1 series lead) when Urbina got ALCS hero Aaron Boone to ground out to shortstop.

The game entered extra innings after the Marlins failed to score in their half and Marlins skipper Jack McKeon brought Chad Fox into the game. It wasn't long before this that Looper would have been McKeon's choice, not just for this spot, but to close the game out in the ninth, but he'd been replaced by Urbina in mid-September and his performance in Game 3 (2/3 IP, 2 runs) relegated him to the role, for now, of bystander.

Fox survived a two-out double by Derek Jeter in the 10th, but the Marlins missed a chance to win in their half when Jose Contreras struck out Ivan Rodriguez and Miguel Cabrera. In the 11th, Fox ran into immediate trouble. Bernie Williams led off with a double and Hideki Matsui followed with a walk. David Dellucci bunted both over and McKeon ordered Juan Rivera walked intentionally to load the bases. Boone was up again and Yankees fans everywhere figured that he'd surely come through. All he had to do was hit a fly ball to the outfield, or sneak a grounder through the infield and the Yankees would have the lead, Mariano Rivera would close the game out, and all would be right with the world.

McKeon, who managed on instinct throughout Florida's improbable run, decided this was the right time to bring in his much-maligned main man, Looper, who had a 6.14 ERA and .291 opponents batting average after the All-Star Break.

Looper is a smart man and on this occasion his intelligence, combined with that of Pudge Rodriguez, worked wonders. The two decided to pound Boone with inside fastballs, figuring that Boone couldn't resist. The strategy worked.

When the count ran to 1-2, Looper made his best pitch, a 1-2 fastball up and in, that was tantalizing to the eye. When Looper is going well, that's his specialty. He can tease you with a heater around the eyes, or a splitter that shoots below the knees.

Sometimes Looper's choice of what to throw on 1-2 would do more harm than good- either something right over the plate, or slop that was 18 inches outside. Mets fans became quite familar with this over the last two seasons.

This was one of those occasions where he made the perfect pitch, and the oft-tempted Boone whiffed on it.

That was a huge out because it made escaping the scenario that much less difficult. With Marlins infielders and outfielders at ease, Looper got John Flaherty to pop out, ending the inning. The Yankees had missed an unbelievable opportunity to essentially put the World Series away. They failed again against Looper in the 12th despite having the likes of Soriano, Jeter, Giambi and Williams

Yada, Yada, Yada, you should know what happens next. Torre picks Jeff Weaver to relieve Contreras (saving Mariano Rivera for a special occasion) and Alex Gonzalez becomes one of the unlikeliest World Series heroes by hitting a series-tying walk-off home run in the 12th. The Yankees bats melt in the next two games, both of which Florida wins to take an amazingly unlikely championship home to their long-suffering fans (said with sarcasm).

Looper signs with the Mets, pitches satisfactorily for one season and miserably for another, though he had the excuse of a shoulder injury for the latter. He makes it clear he wants to re-sign with the Mets, but the Flushing folk didn't feel the need to bring him back.

Had this been any other season, Looper might have been relegated to taking a one-year deal in a baseball purgatory like Tampa Bay or Pittsburgh, but this is 2005 and a time of free spending for a below average pool of free agent talent. It seems that Looper's value rose with the signings of Bobby Howry and Kyle Farnsworth, and the rumors of Julian Tavarez desiring a four-year contract.

Though he had the desire to close, Looper signed a three-year, $13.5 million contract with the Cardinals on Thursday. I can't imagine he had any other offers that were even close to that. It was this one pitch that Braden Looper couldn't resist. And as we know from past experience, he's one who understands the meaning of that.

True Met Poopers know...All six of Braden Looper's wins in two seasons with the Mets came in games that the team won via walk-off.


Anonymous said…
Six Looper wins in a walkoff? How many of those had been Looper blown saves?
metswalkoffs said…
surprisingly, only one...april 16, 2005 vs Marlins
Anonymous said…
Although Looper would've been saving that one for Mike DeJean (cough, cough), that game by all rights should have belonged and by all memories does belong to Pedro Martinez. It was his first Shea appearance and one of the highlights of 2005. Goes to show you that there is some folly attached to who gets the W and who gets the L.

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