Pat Hentgen: Back Where it All Began
In recent years, the Toronto Blue Jays haven't made much noise. When you're
stuck in a division with baseballs leading headline hogs, the Yankees and Red Sox, it's difficult to get noticed. This past
winter however, the Jays brought back former ace and Cy Young Award winner Pat Hentgen, which helped rekindle memories of
their glory days.
"We've got new managers, new coaches, new ownership -- it's kinda like coming to a new team," said
Hentgen, who last played for Toronto in 1999. "The biggest difference is that the team is pretty young and hungry. I think
its a bunch of good guys...we've got good camaraderie and we are going to start to play well."
Hentgen however, was
brought back to Toronto to do more than just stir up nostalgia. The Blue Jays hope that he, along with reigning Cy Young winner
Roy Halladay, lefty Ted Lilly, and Miguel Batistia, will give them enough quality starts to contend.
has set some lofty goals for the 2004 season. "I'd like to pitch 200 innings and get 15 wins," he said bluntly.
Long Road Home
The road back to Toronto has been a bumpy one for the Detroit native. A five player trade
in November 1999 sent Hentgen to St. Louis where he won 15 games and helped the Cardinals advance to the League Championship
Series in 2000 before becoming a free agent.
After signing a three year contract with Baltimore in 2001, Hentgen went
down with an elbow injury in May that ended his season. The injury required ligament replacement or "Tommy John" surgery,
which kept the right-hander out of action until September 2002.
Hentgen returned to full time action in 2003, pitching
160 2/3 innings for the Orioles before becoming a free agent once again. Today, he says his surgically repaired elbow is a
good as new, and possibly even better.
"I don't think there is any difference really," the 35-year-old said, comparing
his arm, pre and post surgery. "I think if anything it's a little stronger. At my age, my arm gets out of shape faster than
it used to, so I have to throw a little bit more in the off season."
talk to an accomplished veteran like Hentgen without mentioning the past -- particularly the good times, like 1996. That season
Hentgen won 20 games for Toronto and captured the AL Cy Young Award by a narrow margin over New York's Andy Pettitte.
was at home and got a call from the New York Writers Association," Hentgen said, remembering the day he got the good news.
"They told me that if I won it, I'd get a phone call in the afternoon on November 11. So, I sat around and waited, and the
"I wasn't sure how it would work out, I knew that it was going to be a close vote," he went on to say.
"Andy (Pettitte) had a great year that year, but I thought I had a pretty good chance of winning."
that isn't the award the veteran cherishes the most, "I am actually more proud of the Player's Choice Award (for Outstanding
Pitcher) from the same year," the three time All Star commented. "Taking nothing away from the Cy Young Award and taking nothing
away from the people that vote on it, I respect the players and the game so much that when they vote you the most outstanding
pitcher of the year -- I thought that was a heck of an accomplishment."
A trip down memory lane with Hentgen wouldn't
be complete without discussing the 1993 World Series. Just 24 at the time, he started and won Game 3 at Philadelphia.
3 of the 1993 World Series to me is the highlight -- the thing that stands out most in my career," Hentgen said emphatically.
"From the time I signed in '86 until now, it is still the greatest moment in my career."
Here & Now
year's Blue Jays got off to a slow start in a very competitive AL Eastern division. Hentgen however, believes the Jays have
the horses to turn things around, "We just came out of the gate and weren't pitching that well, we werent hitting that well
-- you just can't do that," he explained. "I think this team has got some proven guys here; you can look at the back of their
cards and it will tell you that."
Like most veterans entering the twilight of their careers, Hentgen remains non-committal
about his plans. When asked how much longer he plans on pitching he responded, "I don't know, that's a good question. I think
I am just going to see how the year goes, how my health is, and play it by ear."
Hentgen's page @ Baseball-Almanac.com
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