Game 101 // First Inning, Philadelphia // Worst Birthday in Baseball History: The End of The Jeremy Guthrie Era

BOTTOM OF THE FIRST: PHILLIES 12 (0) – 0 NATIONALS

 

It’ll happen to them all someday. The knees creak, the vision dims. The fastball speed drops below 90, the run to first base slows down. The baseball death knell marks the end of a career.

But not like this. Not ever like this. On his birthday?

Baseball death on April 8th, 2017. Goodbye, Mr. Jeremy Guthrie.

 

 

The saddest tale in this year of baseball. Already etched into the Wikipedia annals just hours after the game:

He was called up on April 8, 2017, to start against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. Making his first start with the Nationals on his 38th birthday, Guthrie struggled immensely as he was removed from the game after getting only two outs in the first inning. He allowed 10 runs, and the Nationals lost 17-3. As in 2015, he had one of the worst starts in MLB history. After his outing, his ERA rose to a steady 135.00. The next day, on April 9, the Nationals designated Guthrie for assignment.

If you caught that one bit, they’re saying—it’s a sequel? “As in 2015, he had one of the worst starts in MLB history.” 

“As in 2015.”

Look up what the hell happened in 2015.

On May 25, 2015, Guthrie had the worst start of his career, and one of the worst starts in MLB history, against the New York Yankees. Guthrie gave up nine hits, 11 earned runs, and three walks. Thirteen of the 16 batters he faced reached base, and he recorded just three outs before being pulled. Guthrie was the first pitcher since Jae-Kuk Ryu in 2006 to give up four home runs while pitching fewer than two innings. 

Eeeeek—is this guy alright? It’s happening, again. Out there on the mound. Staring off into baseball abyss. “Hello darkness,” he seems to whisper, “my old friend.” The game zooming past sad and well into the awkward. Will his family call him that night, singing the “Happy Birthday” song? He came into the league in way back in 2004, lasted all the way until age 38. A heck of a run, and all good runs must come to an end. But not like this. Not like this…

 

 

And hang on a sec—who is this Jae-Kuk Ryu?

Look him up, too. From Wikipedia:

Ryu made headlines on April 23, 2003, when he knocked an osprey from its perch by throwing a baseball at it at Jackie Robinson Ballpark in Daytona Beach before a game in the Single-A Florida State League causing it to die 6 days later. Since osprey are protected in Florida, he faced a fine for the incident.

You won’t believe this, but: that incident also occurred on Ryu’s own 38th birthday.

Not really. Just kidding. But that bit easily puts Ryu in the top three bird attacks in sports history—not quite number one, but easily there. Nestled somewhere between Randy Johnson and Michael Llodra (and Bill Laimbeer?).

Also, check out the press for that incident—reads like the beginnings to a TV movie: the edgy teenage rebel standing before a school administration, atoning for what had been a dark path into vandalism and theft, fessing up finally to his sins, hoping to make right by the community. From the Chicago Tribune:

“He seems nervous. And he can’t stop talking about America. How he adores the beach, the food, the hip-hop music. About how happy he is here, and how it’s all he ever wanted. At first, the patriotic overtures make no sense. 

But then it becomes clear—Jae Kuk Ryu is campaigning. He wants to stay. Sitting recently in the dugout of his minor-league team, he seems very much afraid he might get kicked out. To understand this paranoia, flash back to April 21. He stands in the outfield of Daytona Beach’s Jackie Robinson Ballpark, eyeing an osprey in the distance. In Ryu’s right hand, he’s squeezing a baseball.

Not just any baseball—the baseball. The one he now calls a ‘terrible mistake.'”

Seems like this guy is still at it, 13 years later:

 

 

Back to Guthrie. He’s out there on the mound giving up hit after hit, major-league baseball’s loneliest man. The team behind him unsure they can really do anything at all. Bryce Harper in right field, standing there. Waiting for it to end. Jayson Werth twiddling his thumbs behind his beard in left. Dusty Baker impaling his own tongue on toothpicks, sinking sadly into the next day’s pitching chart.

 

 

It starts to get bizarre out there. Hit, after hit, after hit after hit after hit after hit. Like ten men of a soccer team picked a spot, laid down and gave up—the goalkeeper taking penalty kicks to the face, bouncing up off the crossbar, staring half-conscious as the ball rolls slowly in.

It’s Game 2 of season at Citizen’s Bank Ballpark, first night game of the year at home, first inning. Philly fans there who haven’t been for years, tricked for a day into thinking they’ve still got the goods. Baseball: when a gutter-bound team can smack around a contender, taking a game 17-3.

 

 

It goes like this:

Howie Kendrick singles to right. Steals second with no throw. Herrera walks, bat flipping back to the dugout. Franco lines out to right. Saunders drills a line-drive single. 2-0 Phillies. Mike Maddux comes out to chat with Guthrie.

Everything still now in the realm of the normal—Guthrie in the disappointing-but-won’t-lose-my-job-tonight okayness. Double play could end the inning.

Then, one of the guys on the Nats’ TV broadcast goes: “Dusty Baker said before the game ‘My bullpen’s a little upside-down right now.’ He needs some innings out of the veteran right-hander.”

And… just like that, Tommy Joseph lines a single to center, Galvis hits home a sac fly, Hernandez walks with the bases loaded, it’s 5-0 Phillies. Dusty Baker looks sick to his stomach in the dugout. Practically vomiting sunflower seeds onto the dugout floor, shells caught in his goatee. Maneuvering them around his toothpick.

The camera cuts to the bullpen. Nats relievers stretching with giant rubber bands, hopping around with jackets on, around the bullpen grass. Rendon comes over to give Guthrie a pep talk, all smiles, trying to charm his way into an inning saved.

Then, Howie Kendrick steps up for the second time, swings on a misplaced fastball, connects, skies a triple off the scoreboard to right-center.

And we’re thrown into the Absurdo-Zone.

8-0 Phillies. Bases cleared. A nearly sold-out Philly crowd going wild. 

 

 

Herrera comes up again and beats out a ground ball to short. Kendrick scores, 9-0 Phils.

Dusty walks out, two gloves on. Makes a big clap. And it’s over. Guthrie’s night brought to a close, sent walk-of-shaming back to the dugout. (Enny Romero comes in after the break and gives up three more runs, Phils go up 12-0).

And so, Mr. Jeremy Guthrie, this is how a career ends. John Kruk in endless chuckling with Mike Schmidt on the CSN broadcast. Philly Fist Pump Nation flexing off into the Philadelphia night. A team of Nationals unsure of what to do, for eight more innings. On your 38th. Goodbye, first inning. Goodbye, career. Pour one out for the guy.

Happy birthday, Jeremy Guthrie.

 

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