Three and a half years ago, he started the final march to the promised land, and for the next two years, we wondering what happened to that promise. Last year, he broke out, and this year, he's turning into the force that many of us believed he could be. Tonight was the second finest evening of his career. A virtuoso performance that few Angels hurlers have provided in the history of this franchise. Nolan had his no-nos. I'm sure some other dudes had some great perfomances before my time. Mike Witt had his Eric Miltonesque perfecto on the last day of the season. But this performance is the finest single game I've witnessed on television, even better than a few others that I've seen in person. Here's my list of the top four pitching perfomances that I can remember after about six beers in a couple hours (note, I'm not adjusting for game context, so Washburn's excellent effort in game 3 against the Twins in 2002 isn't on the list, for example):
- John Lackey retires 27 straight A's after allowing a leadoff hit - July 7, 2006. Tonight's game was a tremendous performance. The Angels really needed a win to remain the race, and on the night that "all-star" Mark Beuhrle looked like crap against the Red Sox (I know, I was there), John Lackey showed Ozzie Guillen who really should have been on the team. In fact, it's making me want to get an all-star warm up jersey with Lackey's name and number just for the hell of it. He walked no one, he went to only two three ball counts all night long. He challenged hitters, and he flat out dominated. Absolutely brilliant.
- Jason Dickson five hits the Boston Red Sox - April 3, 1997. I was at this game, seated three rows behind home plate in seats provided to us by a guy from Adhor Farms that did business with my dad. Dickson was awesome. He allowed no one past second base. He was a prospect at the time, and he wowed the home crowd in this one. No doubt I remember this because I was there, but every time a young Angel pitcher dominates with a shutout, I remember this game.
- Ramon Ortiz outduels Pedro Martinez and wins 2-1 - August 8, 2000. I went to this game a night or two before leaving SoCal to head back to Champaign to begin my third year of law school. I remember the plethora of Red Sox fans in attendance. Think about it, if you're a Sox fan, and can only make it to one game, this was the game to go to. Pedro was on the mound. There was no way they could lose. But Tim Salmon drilled a solo shot over the left center field wall to lead off the second, and Garret Anderson provided a two out RBI single in the fourth, giving the Angels a 2-0 lead. Troy O'Leary was thrown out trying to stretch a single into a double in the fifth, but a blind umpire called him safe, and he later scored on two straight ground outs. It was one of only two hits he'd allow. I have a distinct memory of Carl Everett stepping to the plate before making the final out, grooming the dirt, stepping in, stepping out, taking his sweet time in an obvious attempt to ice the rookie. I remember thinking that if I were Ortiz, I would have drilled Everett in the back with my first pitch. But Ortiz settled for inducing the final out with a foul pop up. And thousands of pissed off Red Sox fans left the building.
- Ervin Santana shuts out the White Sox in his second major league start - May 23, 2005. Only a kid with Ervin's poise could give up the cycle to the first four batter he faced in his major league career, then come back and flat out dominate the eventual world champs in his next start. He limited the Sox to five hits, only one for extra bases, and erased two of those hits on subsequent double plays. He seemed to always make the right pitch at the right time, and flashed the brilliance that we still see on occasion, and look forward to seeing in the future.