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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

April 3, 2012 at 9:08 AM

Jason Vargas starting back-to-back games: How rare is it?

Jason Vargas started the Mariners’ final game in Japan on March 29 against Oakland, and because of a rotation adjustment, will pitch the Mariners’ resumption of the regular season on Friday — also against Oakland.

Several people have wondered how often the same pitcher has started back-to-back games — and done so against the same team. With help from Jeff Evans of the Mariners’ public relations staff, I got the answer.

Turns out that the same starter working back-to-back games is not as unusual as you’d think, usually occurring around the All-Star break, when some teams have four days off. It happened twice last year, in fact. Dan Haren of the Angels started their last game before the break on Sunday, July 10,, beating the Mariners, and their first game after the break, losing to the A’s on Friday, July 15. Also, Detroit’s Justin Verlander pitched on the same days, with the same results: He beat the Royals on July 10, lost to the White Sox on July 15. Verlander, headed to the Cy Young Award, would likely have started the All-Star Game had not his turn fallen on the final day of the first half.

For the Mariners, the last time the same pitcher started back-to-back games was in 2006, when Gil Meche did it, also around the All-Star break. He started against the Tigers in Seattle on July 9, and in Toronto against the Blue Jays on July 14. Meche picked up the victory in both games.

As for the same pitcher starter consecutive games against the same team, that’s not as common. I thought maybe you had to go back to old knuckleballer Wilbur Wood starting both ends of a doubleheader (which he did on July 20, 1973, losing both games to the Yankees, 12-2 and 7-0; Wood redeemed himself in 1975 by pitching consecutive White Sox games, broken up by the All-Star break,and firing shutouts in each).

But no, it happened as recently as 2002, when Texas’s Aaron Myette started on Sept. 3 and Sept. 4 against Baltimore. In the box score for the first game — a 7-1 Texas win — Myette is listed as facing just one batter, walking him. Turns out there’s a lot more to the story than that. Myette actually threw just two pitches, but was tagged with the walk when his replacement, Todd Van Poppel, followed with two more balls.

Why did Myette throw just two pitches? Because both went behind leadoff hitter Melvin Mora, in apparent retaliation for Alex Rodriguez being hit in the top of the inning. Myette was ejected by plate umpire Mark Hirschbeck.

That’s not the end of the story, either. Myette’s replacements, Van Poppel and Joaquin Benoit , took a no-hitter into the ninth inning before Jerry Hairston led off the inning with a triple –Baltimore’s only hit. Benoit’s seven-inning stint was the longest save in major-league history.

Texas manager Jerry Narron threw Myette back out to start the next night — and he gave up five runs in three innings in an 8-3 loss as Baltimore snapped a 10-game losing streak.

Only one time in their history have the Mariners had a pitcher work back-to-back games against the same team, and it’s a poignant story. It occurred in 2001, and this time the extenuating circumstance was 9/11, which caused a cessation of the baseball season. Freddy Garcia started on Sept. 10 against the Angels in Anaheim, working eight shutout innings in a 5-1 Seattle victory (all they did that year was win, if you’ll recall). And then, in the first game back after the sport went dark in the week after the attacks, Garcia came back at Safeco Field against the Angels on Sept. 18 with a complete-game, three-hit shutout over the Angels as the Mariners won 4-0. That, of course, was the division-clinching game that resulted in one of the most memorable scenes in Mariners’ history, the team carrying the flag around the field.

Baseball’s great that way — there’s always a story behind the story.

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