You might not have noticed – and I don’t blame you if you’ve tuned out by now – but Javier Vazquez has been very quietly putting together one of the finest seasons of his 10-year career. His 14 wins lead the team, his walks are down considerably from last year, his 3.73 ERA is second among Sox starters, and his 204 K’s are 5th highest in the AL and 86 more than Mark Buehrle’s team second-best 115. 86! Performances this year have included four outings where he fanned in the double digits, two complete games, and only once being tagged for more than 5 runs.
So where was this when we needed it?
One of the great criticisms of Vazquez has always been that he’s a head case, that he can’t handle big games, that he’s a bottom feeder – kind of a Bizarro El Duque or an inverse Sweaty Freddy. When the Yankees first pried him away from the Expos, they paid for four years and $45 million worth of greatness; what they got was a guy mauled in the press by columnists and the Yankees themselves as “feeble,” “lost,” “confused,” and “the $45 million man who lost his job.” Getting shelled by the Twins in the 2004 ALDS probably didn’t help much; giving up that grand slam to Johnny Damon on the first pitch he threw in the ALCS definitely didn’t help much.
The Yanks, as they are prone to do, ran him out of town immediately, with Javy landing in Arizona and known immediately in Diamondbackdom as The Has-Been We Got Back From Satan In Exchange For The Future Hall-of-Famer Who Won Us A World Series. In his first start with the snakes, against a Cubs team that went on to a 79-83 season, he faced 15 batters . . . and recorded five outs. The rest of the season went only slightly better.
So when the White Sox acquired him in exchange for the highly-touted Chris Young and the highly-questioned Orlando Hernandez, you can understand the apprehension that befell the Sox faithful. He started off well enough, but as the season took shape and it became clear the Tigers weren’t going to just hand over the division, Vazquez’s outings became shakier and shakier to the point that everyone knew the blueprint of what would happen when it was his turn to start: lights out through four, give up five in the fifth, leave in the sixth with two runners on. “Five and Dive” starring #33 as The Guy We Got From A Bunch Of Losers In Exchange For One Of Our Few Postseason Legends And A Prospect We Really Could Use Right Now.
Which brings us to this wretched, abysmal year, in which Javier shines in a way he hasn’t since 2003, playing for an Expos team that finished in fourth place and 18 games out of first.
Fourth place. Out of it by August. Vazquez is awesome. Why does that sound familiar?