Feb
24

Pulling for a Mark Prior comeback

By

I know exactly where I was the last time I saw Mark Prior pitch a Major League game and paid close attention to it. It was 2003, still two seasons before injuries would shelve him for the better part of five, and it was October. I had a week off for fall break, and I was visiting my grandparents in Florida. Earlier in the day, the Yanks had won Game 5 of their ALCS match-up against Boston to take a 3-2 lead in the series, and the evening action shifted to Chicago.

For many in the Windy City, October 14, 2003 is a day that still lives in infamy. The Cubs, thanks to Prior, were oh-so-close to the World Series. The 23-year-old right-hander, making his 33rd appearance of the season and with nearly 230 innings under his belt, carried a three-hitter into the 8th, and the Cubs had a 3-0 lead. Then, all hell broke loose.

Prior got Mike Mordecai to fly out before Juan Pierre doubled. Luis Castillo lofted a foul ball that Moises Alou seemed to track before Steve Bartman, oblivious to the game with his headphones broadcasting the radio feed, leaned over to interfere with play. While Alou later said he wouldn’t have made the catch, the Marlins had life. Castillo walked, and Ivan Rodriguez singled in a run. Miguel Cabrera reached on an Alex Gonzalez error, and after the 119th pitch of the 233rd inning of Prior’s season, Derrick Lee hit a game-tying double. Dusty Baker brought in Kyle Farnsworth, and the rest, as they say, is history.

As a Yankee fan watching the NLCS unfold, I was happy to see the Cubs go down but sad to see Chicago so victimized. The city and the team truly seemed cursed, but selfishly, I didn’t want to see the Yanks face Kerry Wood and Mark Prior three or four times in a potential seven-game World Series. Back in 2003, I kept having nightmares of a Schilling/Unit tandem but in Cubs’ uniforms. Be careful what you wish for when it comes to baseball, I learned.

After that game, the Cubs and Prior faded into and out of my baseball conscious. Over the next two years, he put together some mighty fine peripherals with a K/9 of 10.3 and a K/BB rate of 3.06. But he couldn’t stay healthy. He threw just 285.1 innings over two seasons and lasted just 43.2 disastrous innings into the 2006 season. He hasn’t made a Major League appearance since August 10, 2006, and has tried rehab and comebacks with various organizations and independent league teams.

This year, as we know, Prior is with the Yanks on a minor league deal. He’s 30 now and is hoping that he can restore himself to some semblance of use. He’s being considered strictly a reliever, and anything the Yanks get out of him at any professional level is a bonus. Still, I’m pulling for him. Of all the Yanks’ spring training invites, he’s the guy I most want to see succeed. He’s finally with the organization that drafted him in the late 1990s, and he’s basically pitching for the only career he’s ever known.

Over at LoHud tonight, Chad Jennings takes us inside Mark Prior’s arm. The one-time ace has pitching with a torn shoulder capsule a few years ago. Surgery can’t fix it, and he’s hoping it will hold up. “They’re trying to compare what I am today to maybe what I was in 2005 when I was last throwing the way everybody probably remembers me throwing,” he said to Jennings. “I can’t do it. I can’t compare it. I’m not the same person.”

Yet for all of his trials and tribulations, Prior seems to have a good attitude about him. He’s working to find his stuff, locate his fastball and stay healthy. So far, he’s emerged unscathed through one bullpen session, which might be more than anyone expected this early in the spring.

The Yanks, for their part, have a feint glimmer of hope in him. “I definitely think the stuff is capable, and I definitely think it’s there,” Larry Rothschild, Prior’s former Cubs pitching coach and current Yankee boss, said. “Is it what it used to be? Probably not. It’s kind of like apples and oranges, but I definitely think it’s good enough to get guys out, absolutely.”

So I’ll cheer for Prior and hope he can give something, anything, to the Yanks this year. Even a handful of appearances would be more than what he’s done in the past. It would be a great comeback story indeed.

Categories : Spring Training

29 Comments»

  1. I seriously want Prior to make the team and pitch well for like half a season. He’d definitely win AL Comeback Player of the Year.

    • felixbanuelos says:

      Unfortunately he won’t make the team probably because the final spots are almost guaranteed to eduarno penez and Sergio mitre

    • Stu h says:

      I am rooting for prior no doubt. It would be a huge upset though if he pitched again let alone a whole season. I have a similar shoulder injury and I can say just throwing batting practice to my son is enough to cause me pain for a week. If he can do enough to get MLB players out and pitch through that kind of pain? Well, he would be my hero.

  2. Tailor made double play to Alex Gonzalez and………..right between his legs.

    Yeah. Poor Bartman still gets the blame

  3. My Pet Goat says:

    I’ve always had a huge man-crush on Prior. In 2003 I drafted him in the first round of my long-running college keeper draft. He was so goddamned good, and was the original Geritt Cole. I got his cub’s jersey and bobble head. I remember seeing him pitch at Pac Bell park that year, afternoon game pitching to Bonds, it was awesome (I remember he struggled in the 1st, after that I can’t recall). Anyway, I remember when I went to the ’04 draft, I had brought the bobble head along, and when I unpacked him his pitching arm had broken off. My league mates thought it was hysterical. I should have recognized it as a sign. Anyway, I’m rooting for him, but even if he makes the team it’ll be bitter-sweet as watching him will always make me wonder what could have been. He was such an amazing talent. Too bad he just missed the pitch-count revolution, though it might not have happened if it weren’t for his tragic career.

  4. JGS says:

    he one-time ace has pitching with a torn shoulder capsule a few years ago. Surgery can’t fix it, and he’s hoping it will hold up.

    ::pours one out for Mark Prior::

    • OldYanksFan says:

      Really… modern surgery seems to be able to do the impossible, yet they can’t fix a shoulder hurt from throwing a baseball? Does this thing at least heal? Is he injured for life? It just seems weird.

      Has this happened to other players? Do we have any expert medical diagnosis on what this means? We have all kinds of organ transplants, torn limbs sewed back on, and recently, they transplanted someones entire face… but they can’t fix a shoulder?

      • Stu h says:

        He is injured for life and no it does not heal.

        • My Pet Goat says:

          I distended my capsule 8 years ago and saw Ken Akizuki the SF Giants team doctor. When he told me surgery wasn’t an option he said not to worry, it’d tighten up on it’s own… once I reached middle age. For those wondering, i’m 32 and it’s gotten much better but I can’t imagine how anyone could try to pitch with this injury.

  5. Brooklyn Ed says:

    Ben; if injuries never derailed Prior and Wood, would you think they could be on their way to HOF?

  6. bexarama says:

    Luis Castillo has been involved in at least two really weird at-bats.

    I’m really, really pulling for Prior, more than I do for most Yankees. Just because it’d be awesome. Sadly, I’m not at all optimistic he’ll throw even one major league inning for the Yankees, but I’m certainly hoping.

    • mbonzo says:

      Yea I’d love to see Mark Prior turn into a stud reliever and the Yankees play the Cubs in the World Series… only to be defeated in game 7 at the hands of Mark Prior in extra innings.

  7. Manimal says:

    What is his fastball down to now?

  8. Zack says:

    I keep hearing from old time pitchers about how pitch counts ruin the game.
    To them, I simply point out players like Prior, who were run into the ground and tossed aside when they were no longer useful.

  9. jsbrendog (returns) says:

    ive rooted for prior every time he has tried to come back

  10. Clint Holzner says:

    Just for the fun of it I wish we had Kerry Wood in the pen also. Rothschild, Prior and Wood would be a fun thing to watch. I also would love to see the looks on the Cub’s faces if those three all walked away with rings in a different uniform.

  11. TraderJones says:

    Any know what his fastball looks like these days? Is it even 90 plus?

  12. tommy cassella says:

    prior should make the team because even if he does’nt or can’t pitch up to his standards,he still will be a beter pitcher then colon,mitre and whomever they have in their bullpen. well, not everybody. let’t just put it this way. i would really rather see him than joba, whom does’nt even have a roll on the team.

    • Livingforward says:

      That has to be the most idiotic statement in RAB History. Prior should make this team for one reason and one reason only, If he is healthy and out pitching everyone else. Results. Thats what is all about.

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