This is Part II in a series endeavoring to cover one oddball event, occurrence, statistic, story, or some other piece of information or minutiae from the game's history that is both fun and possibly obscure.
The Oddity: Anatomy of a one start career.
As so often happens, I was recently exploring Baseball Reference's captivating Play Index. I cannot eliminate the possibility that I was initially browsing with an intent to do some form of worthwhile research, but whatever my original aim, I soon felt an urge to indulge my unquenchable thirst for minutiae. For whatever reason, I became determined to find out which pitcher in recent memory, with only one career appearance to his name, had the most successful start. I'm sure you're dying to hear that, with apologies to Steve Green, the clear winner is Milwaukee's Chris Saenz.
In his lone big league outing, Saenz was recalled from Double-A Huntsville to face St. Louis on Saturday, April 24, 2004. The Brewers, reeling from a 15-inning loss to Arizona two days earlier, were short of arms at the time. Manager Ned Yost deployed five relievers in the marathon defeat against the Diamondbacks, and he was forced to use long-reliever/pinch hitter extraordinaire Brooks Kieschnick for two and two thirds high leverage innings the next night. With his bullpen spent, Yost required a spot starter to eat innings, a need further prompted by an injury to starter Chris Capuano.
Saenz was nonetheless a strange choice to make the start. A 28th round pick in 2001, the 22-year-old had just one game of Double-A experience under his belt prior to that April. From all appearances, he wasn't on the organization's big league radar until right before the game: he had thrown only two innings for Milwaukee during spring training, and he wasn't viewed as one of the farm system's top prospects. Given his relative obscurity, there's a good chance that no more than a few dozen of the fans in Miller Park that day had never heard of Saenz when they woke up that morning. After all, how many Mariner fans would you expect to be familiar with Brett Shankin?
In any case, the outing went extremely well for Saenz and the Brewers. He pitched six innings, allowed no runs, and just two hits. He walked three, struck out seven, and at one point, retired 14 out of 15 hitters. Milwaukee scored two runs in the first, and the Brewers bullpen hung onto the lead, preserving a win for Saenz in his debut.
Reviews from players discussing Saenz's outing were mixed, however. His teammates, perhaps scarred by some of the starting staff's recent performances, appreciated the effort.
Geoff Jenkins was particularly emphatic: "(Saenz) needs to stay. To pitch like he did against that lineup, he deserves a chance." Catcher Chad Moeller echoed the sentiment: "He was on the top of his game. The whole package was good. He hides his slider really well and it has good bite..."
Cardinals players were less impressed. "He didn't have anything," said Albert Pujols, who went 1-2 with an HBP against Saenz: "he just got lucky, I guess." Counterpart Woody Williams wondered if the rookie might have been rattled had Edgar Renteria's deep flyball in the first inning -- the bases were loaded -- not been caught: "if that ball goes out (maybe) he starts overthrowing, and who knows how many runs we score?"
It may sound like sour grapes from Pujols and Williams, but sadly, we'll never find out how Saenz would have fared in a longer big league audition. Victor Santos came off the disabled list following the game and he returned to the rotation when the Brewers next needed a No. 5 starter. Saenz was optioned back to Double-A.
The right-hander pitched well upon returning Huntsville. He fanned nearly a batter per inning in fourteen starts while maintaining a sterling 9:2 strikeout to walk ratio. Unfortunately, he hurt his elbow during the summer,and missed the rest of that season, as well as the 2005 and 2006 campaigns recovering from Tommy John surgery.
When Saenz returned in 2007, he wasn't the same pitcher. The Angels -- Saenz was cut by the Brewers in 2006 -- released him after he posted an ERA over eight in 46 innings for their Double-A team, and he subsequently struggled in separate trials in the independent Northern and Golden Leagues. He retired after the 2008 season at the age of 27. He might take a measure of solace in knowing that he has the best statistical record of any pitcher to appear in just one major league game over the past four decades.
I don't know that for sure though. You'll have to ask Saenz about that.
To incentivize participation in the weekly trivia, I'm going to give away one piece of Mariner memorabilia from my childhood collection to whoever answers the most questions correctly this year. In order to qualify, you have to get at least two of them correct by the end of September. To actually 'win' the week's question, you must, of course, answer accurately before anyone else.
Now for the question:
Who is the only Mariner pitcher to start fewer than five games with the team and still throw a shutout?
Last week's answer:
Last week, I asked this:
On June 23, 2008, Felix Hernandez hit a grand slam off of New York's Johan Santana. The blast gave the Mariners a 4-0 lead, and the team cruised to a rare 5-2 victory that evening.
Who was the winning pitcher in that game?
The answer, as first pointed out by Clown baby, is Ryan Rowland-Smith.