For baseball fans, July 22, 2011 was any ordinary day. But to Philadelphia Phillies fans, it was a day to rejoice. Danys Baez, a relief pitcher who struggled in his year and a half as a Phillies relief pitcher, was finally gone. After signing a $5.25 million dollar contract in the winter of 2009, Baez never came close to earning his keep. The Phillies finally had enough of Baez and released the 10 year veteran, who ended his Phillies career with a 5.81 ERA.
While Baez was struggling for a second straight season with the Phillies, another pitcher was flourishing. Antonio Bastardo, a 25 year old lefty reliever who had never pitched more than 25 games in a season, came out of nowhere in 2011 to become the shut down lefty specialist the team desperately needed. Bastardo was mowing down the competition, throwing a mid 90’s fastball combined with a dominating slider and was proving to be a go to guy for manager Charlie Manuel. Baez was a forgotten man, getting paid $2.75 million to sit on a bench and wait for a call that only came when the game was out of hand. Bastardo and Baez; one pitcher on the rise, and one knowing his time was coming to an end.
Many fans were waiting for July 22nd to come. Knowing that eventually, the man that was “stealing money from the team,” would be given his walking papers and never seen again. No fan had thought of the negatives of seeing a player like Baez go, and why would they? A pitcher is paid to do one thing, pitch, and Danys Baez didn’t do it well. Sick of hearing that “he had a 94 mile per hour fastball” from the broadcast booth, fans showered Baez with boo’s anytime his name was announced over the public address system at Citizens Bank Park. On a team that was made up of all stars, Danys Baez was clearly the odd man out.
But something funny happened after Baez was released, Bastardo started struggling. Mere coincidence? Maybe. But it wasn’t. What most fans didn’t know is that Baez, throughout the 2011 season, had taken the young pitcher under his wing. Danys Baez wasn’t told to take on the task of being Antonio Bastardo’s mentor. It wasn’t in Danys Baez contract that he was to inject all the wisdom and knowledge he had on the art of throwing a baseball into this 25 year old. But Danys Baez did it anyway. Phillies fans marveled at Bastardo’s success and criticized Phillies manager Charlie Manuel anytime he tapped his right arm, and Danys Baez exited the bullpen.
It didn’t truly become apparent that Danys Baez was taking it upon himself to mentor Bastardo until the Phillies beat writer Matt Gelb started using twitter to alert those fans who often criticized any sighting of the Phillies number 55 jersey, that he was earning his paycheck in more ways than throwing a ball. But even after Gelb, a man who followed the team, talked to the players, and was paid to watch the games, alerted fans this was going on, most refused to believe it was having an effect.
Bastardo was no surprise to those who follow the Phillies minor league system closely. He burst on the scene in 2007 pitching for the Lakewood Blueclaws where he compiled a 9-1 record with a 1.87 ERA. He continued to dominate minor league batters at every level he appeared at, before finally making his major league debut, as a starter, in 2009. Fans were reluctant to believe that such a bad pitcher, Baez, could possibly be helping a guy who was simply continuing his success from the minor leagues.
But as the days without Danys Baez grew, so did Bastardo’s ERA. Baseball is a sport of numbers. There is a stat for everything, and even more stats to explain the original stats. Baseball’s motto seems to be “you can’t argue with the numbers” and in this situation it is very hard too.
Antonio Bastardo had a .99 ERA on July 19th, his last appearance with his mentor as his teammate. It was an appearance that had become common place in the 2011 season. Bastardo came into the game, struck out all 3 batters he faced, and left without giving up a hit, a run, or a walk. Three days later his mentor was designated for assignment and Bastardo was left all to himself.
In the coming days and weeks it was becoming clear that Bastardo was not right. When Antonio Bastardo would give up a run, fans chalked it up to just pure bad luck. After all baseball is a game of failure, and Antonio Bastardo hadn’t failed too much this season. But after a few bad outings, fans started to get concerned. The team only had one true lefty reliever, and fans know that it’s hard to contend for a championship when your bullpen fails to have a guy who can go out and shut down to oppositions lefty hitters.
Maybe Bastardo was just worn out. Antonio Bastardo has had a history of arm problems, it’s one of the reasons he was converted from a starter to a reliever. If the Phillies would have success down the stretch, they would rely heavily on Antonio Bastardo’s left arm to shut down opposing hitters in the later innings. But he surprisingly wasn’t getting the job done. As fans speculated as to reasons why Bastardo was struggling, Baez was still looking for work.
Antonio Bastardo had a .99 ERA three days before Danys Baez was designated for assignment. After July 22nd Bastardo would pitch in 21.2 innings and give up an astronomical 13 earned runs. The 13 earned runs resulted in Bastardo’s ERA ballooning to 5.40. He also walked 12 batters in life after Baez, previously walking 14 batters in 36.1 innings. In the month of September Bastardo desperately needed the guidance of Baez. The final month of the season was Bastardo’s worst as he had a 7.33 ERA and walked 7 batters in just 7.1 innings.
The Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee recently came out and attributed Bastardo’s recent struggles to an old case of tipping pitches. A common problem for pitchers from time to time (the issue plagued teammate Brad Lidge in 2007) Dubee proclaimed that it was an easy fix. Bastardo proceeded to go out and give up 3 earned runs, while walking two batters, and recording only one out.
Antonio Bastardo will have to live on without his mentor. Danys Baez was too Antonio Bastardo as Kevin Costner’s character Crash Davis was too Nuke Laloosh in the baseball classic Bull Durham. The Phillies are headed into the post season for the fifth straight time, and for the first time in his career, Antonio Bastardo is expected to play a major factor in the quest for a third franchise title.
Fans were happy to see Baez pack, but one person was obviously affected by the move. The numbers don’t lie; Danys Baez wasn’t a good pitcher during his time with the Philadelphia Phillies. His wild delivery, lack of control, high salary, and overall presence annoyed fans to no end. Fans who were spoiled with the best rotation in baseball couldn’t bear to watch Bastardo even warm up, let alone enter a game. But Danys Baez had a big impact on this Phillies team.
October is when players earn their salary. Can a player who performed well in the regular season, get it done when the game is on the line and everyone is watching. No one knows how Antonio Bastardo will do in the coming weeks. Hopefully he will be able to figure out what was wrong in the final two months of the season.
Danys Baez career is likely over. When Phillies fans reminisce on the career that Danys Baez had, it likely won’t be filled with good memories. But the same fans who criticized Baez the most, were doing so while wearing an Antonio Bastardo T-shirt jersey being none the wiser to the fact that the man they booed was a huge reason for the success of the name featured on their back. But when you think about the major factors in the 2011 Philadelphia Phillies, don’t leave out Danys Baez, because as the previous two months have showed us his tutelage was a major factor for the success of one of major league baseball’s best relievers this season.