Well, it certainly did shoot the idea of a prediction contest all to hell and back, didn't it?
Who had a third of an inning, with no runs? No one? Really? Didn't see that one coming?
Seriously, though, that's obviously the sort of line that no one could have really predicted. However, I am a man of my word, and I promised a winner, damnit. So, E.J. Miller, by dint of his predicting closest to the correct number of innings, is the winner of the Mark Mulder Watch Contest. Congratulations, E.J. I'll be in touch soon to hammer out the details. Thanks to all who participated.
I wasn't expecting anything great out of Mulder. In fact, a couple of days ago, I was discussing the prospects for his return with a friend of mine, and I said that I thought he was done. I said he would probably never contribute anything positive to the Cardinals, this season or any other.
Still, I'm more than a little bit heartbroken this morning.
We may very well have seen the end of a man's career last night. That may sound a bit melodramatic, but that doesn't mean it isn't true. Mulder has publicly stated that he would rather retire than go under the knife again. Given that the Cardinals were already putting out the ''left shoulder discomfort'' speech even before the end of the game, it doesn't look as if Mark is going to be able to make this work.
I'll tell you why we shouldn't be angry with Mark Mulder: it isn't his fault.
It isn't Mulder's fault that Dan Haren turned into a perennial Cy Young contender. It isn't his fault that Walt Jocketty gave up the organization's best young prospect at the time, in Daric Barton. It isn't his fault that the front office, desperate to avoid admitting the deal was a disaster, felt like they needed to bring him back, even after the shoulder surgery. And most of all, it isn't his fault that his left shoulder, just a few years ago one of the most valuable joints in all of baseball, is now a mangled mess of hamburger and tendons.
In fact, Mulder did everything he could to try and make it right. He pitched his ass off in 2005, turning in an ERA of 3.64 despite the fact that his stuff and velocity were both already well on their way out of town. It now looks as if he was already having shoulder issues in the second half of 2004, yet he managed to win sixteen games and compete effectively all season the next year.
How you go about pitching that long, almost two complete years all told, with an arm that's slowly disintegrating is beyond me.
When free agency came around, Mulder took a lesser deal than he could have gotten on the open market to stay in St. Louis. He wanted to show the fans just who the real Mark Mulder was, he said. He diligently rehabbed, endured two major surgeries, and made comeback attempt after comeback attempt, trying to help out his team. He rebuilt his delivery in an attempt to just pitch around the problem when it appeared his shoulder just wasn't going to get any better. In short, Mark Mulder did everything you could ever ask of a baseball player, and more.
Hell, even if Mulder had never pitched a game beyond his 2005 duel against Roger Clemens and the Astros -- when Mulder threw ten shutout innings and won on a walk-off hit by Larry Walker, the Mark Mulder era certainly would have at least been memorable.
Not only does the Mulder era appear to be over now, but this largely closes the Walt Jocketty era, as well. Mulder was Jocketty's last big deal, the elephant in the room whenever Jocketty's tenure in St. Louis was discussed. Jocketty's inability to adjust to the organization's new direction was the biggest reason for his departure, of course, but the Mulder trade certainly didn't help matters any.
I suppose it's time to move on now, to look forward and contemplate where the Cardinals go from here. It looks as if Mulder's heading back to the disabled list, and the club is going to call up Jaime Garcia, their talented young lefty, to help out on the staff. The future just keeps coming for this team, faster and faster all the time.
Still, I hope you'll take a second for Mark Mulder. Yes, he's got millions of dollars. Yes, he's tall and handsome and ever so easy to go all Schadenfreude on. But Mark Mulder is also a competitor, and a man. And no matter how much money or fame or anything else he has, his passion for the game was very real. It now looks as if that may very well be taken from him, at far too young an age for anyone.
What I keep coming back to is this: he came back to the Cardinals to prove to the fans exactly who the real Mark Mulder was.
Mission accomplished, Mr. Mulder. This may not have been what we had hoped, but I think we all see just what kind of man you are. Thanks for the memories, Mark. Good luck.