I guess we can blame that cab driver in Miami. If it weren’t for that accident that cost Duaner Sanchez the final two months of the 2006 season, Omar Minaya wouldn’t have had to make the trade for Roberto Hernandez, who didn’t come to Queens alone. Whether Hernandez himself wasn’t enough value for Xavier Nady, a starting right fielder, or whether Oliver Perez was a throw-in, the young lefty came along with the setup man needed to fill a hole in the bullpen and help the Mets end the Braves’ run atop the NL East.
In baseball, young, hard-throwing left-handers are sexy by nature, so we didn’t think of Perez as a throw-in or an extra piece at the time. Hernandez was old — 41, in the penultimate season of his career — and Perez seemed to be the future benefit of the trade, a potential rotation stalwart … if he could only harness his heat and learn to control that fastball.
By the end of the 2006 season, the future seemed to have arrived. Perez started two games that postseason, earning the win with 5 2/3 servicable innings (despite giving up five runs) in the Mets’ 12-5 Game 4 victory in St. Louis and pitching a stellar six innings, allowing one run on four hits, in that fateful 3-1 Game 7 loss. All told that postseason, he walked three in 11 2/3 innings.
He went 15-10 with a 3.56 ERA in 2007, striking out 174 in 177 innings and maintaining a manageable 1.31 WHIP, thanks to 79 walks. There were 22 home runs allowed, too. But in 2008, despite a league-leading 34 starts, he was just 10-7 with a 4.22 ERA and an alarming 1.40 WHIP. The 180 strikeouts in 194 innings still looked nice, but a league-leading 105 walks and 24 home runs stood out more.
Yet there was something — the .158 batting average left-handers compiled against him? — that still made him attractive to Minaya and the Mets but, it appeared, to no other team. At least not to the tune of three years at $12 million per. What I would give to see the binder compiled by agent Scott Boras that offseason that convinced the Mets that such a deal was worth it.
And here we are today, the day the deal no longer became worth anything — the headaches, the frustration, the stubborn refusal to accept a Minor League assignment. It’s still worth $12 million to Oliver Perez, but today was the day it was decided that money was better spent ensuring he would not pitch than when or where he would. In the end, the Mets got next to nothing for their $36 million, and broken down into yearly increments, the best $12 million spent is probably this year’s, the season that brings peace of mind knowing that we won’t have to watch No. 46 throw the fifth pitch of the game (or an earlier one) from the stretch.
(Quick side note: I have a promise to myself to buy an authentic Mets jersey with the name and number of the first pitcher to throw a no-hitter for the franchise, in the style worn when he accomplishes the feat. And yes, that means if it happens while they team is decked out in those horrendous black tops, I will purchase a black jersey. But more than that, I feared that somehow, it would read PEREZ 46 on the back. Hey, if Edwin Jackson can do it, and if A.J. Burnett can work around 10 walks to do it, anyone can.)
Looking back, the last good game Perez pitched for the Mets came on either Aug. 7, 2009 (6 1/3 innings, two hits, one run, two walks and seven strikeouts) or April 16, 2010 (6 1/3, four hits, one run, three walks, four strikeouts). The Mets lost the 2009 game, 6-2, to the Padres and dropped the 2010 game, 4-3, to the Cardinals, but neither one was on the starter. Those two games mark the only instances Perez recorded an out beyond the sixth inning of a game he started over the life of his three-year, $36-million deal. Let that sink in for a moment.
His last win as a Met (as a Major Leaguer?) came on Aug. 18, 2009, after five innings and four runs on five hits and a walk against the Braves in a 9-4 triumph. Of his 17 appearances in 2010, only one came in a Mets win, his fourth game (and start) on April 27 in the second game of a doubleheader with the Dodgers. He allowed three runs on three hits and four walks in 3 2/3 innings in a game the Mets went on to win, 10-5. And how appropriate that his final official pitch in a Mets uniform was ball four with the bases loaded to force in what would prove to be the winning run for the Nationals in the final game of the 2010 season.
And so we now close the book on Oliver Perez, New York Met, for good. For the greater good, actually, of the team, of the fans. Unless the Mets return home from their season-opening road trip with an 0-6 record (crap, it just hit me that such a scenario shouldn’t be waved aside), we should be able to get through team introductions on April 8 with minimal booing. (I wanted to write “without any booing,” but then I remembered that it will be the first time we see Francisco Rodriguez in uniform since last August, so … yeah.)
But to end on a positive note, I will say this about Oliver Perez: If it’s true that the Mets’ starting pitcher is the one who decides what uniform the team will wear (and there are conflicting reports on who has decided that over the years), I’ve seen very few images of Perez pitching in the black jersey. And for that, I can say, Thank you, Ollie.
See for yourself (the first nine photos, up to and including the foul-line leap, are mine):
(Yes, that was meant to be ironic … or not, if you know the true title to the song.)