If there’s one principle at the very core of my personal philosophy, it’s that no cockle should be left unwarmed. I was, therefore, thrilled recently to be entrusted with a reader’s chilled cockles and given explicit instruction on how to warm them. Although they were too demure to share the state of their own cockles, several of said reader’s colleagues were clearly in need of similar attention. And so, being the service-oriented writer that I am, I put together the following.
May 21, 1999: Trombley Slays A’s
Mike Trombley was a workhorse reliever of the ’90s with middling stuff, worth about 6 WAR over an 11-year career, mostly with Minnesota. He was forgettable, and he knows it: “There are people out there right now saying, ‘Trombley was good, but he wasn’t that good’. But I persevered.” In the spring of his eighth year, however, with his last-place Twins hosting a revitalized A’s squad led by Jason Giambi, John Jaha, and Matt Stairs, Trombley had a Great Moment. Each team plated a run in the seventh, and the game went to extras knotted at one. Trombley came in for the tenth to face the heart of the Oakland order, reeled off three no-hit innings, then gave up a single apiece in the 13th and 14th. In the bottom of the 15th, just past midnight, the Twins’ Doug Mientkiewicz finally came through with a walkoff single. But it was the lowly Trombley (5 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 5 K, 0.793 WPA) who was this epic’s undisputed hero.
April 6, 1984: Mike Smith Debuts in Style
How forgettable was “Mississippi” Mike Smith? So forgettable that two other right-handed pitchers with his exact same name (Michael Anthony Smith) have since played in the majors. (I feel your pain, Mike.) Clinging desperately to relevance for five seasons in the ’80s, Smith appeared in a grand total of 33 games and logged the following: 0.0 WAR, -0.1 WAR, 0.1 WAR, 0.0 WAR, and 0.0 WAR. But he knew how to make an entrance. Just days into his rookie year, his Reds hosted the Phillies and starter Joe Price was knocked out in the second. With runners at the corners, one out, and his Teutonic doppelganger Mike Schmidt (incidentally the league’s best hitter) at the plate, Mississippi Mike found himself trotting in for his very first major league appearance. He got Schmidt to ground to third, with Juan Samuel tagged out at home. A walk and a strikeout later, the Reds were out of the inning. Smith pitched a hitless third and headed for the showers with his head held high. Cincinnati went on to lose, and the following day Mississippi Mike got shelled, giving up a revenge double to Schmidt and a two-run homer to Joe Lefebvre. But no one can take away his Great Moment.
July 13, 1997: Quilvio Shocks Rox
Quilvio Veras was not all that forgettable, really. He stole 56 bases one year and had a sweet-ass name. Come to think of it, there’s something paradoxical about this exercise of remembering our favorite forgettable players. But let’s not overthink this. Come with me to Coors Field on a Sunday afternoon in July, where the slugging Rockies of Larry Walker, Andres Galarraga, Vinny Castilla, and Dante Bichette were hosting Veras’ hapless Padres. Colorado lit up Sean Bergman (how’s that for forgettable?) for ten runs in the first three innings, and things looked bleak. But the Pads chipped quietly away and came into the ninth down by three. Curt Leskanic took the mound and promptly gave up a walk, a triple, and a double to cut the deficit to one. Jeff McCurry took over and got two outs, but also loaded the bases on a walk and an infield single, bringing Quilvio Veras to the plate with the game in his hands. Veras stepped up and laced a bases-clearing double to straightaway center, with Rickey Henderson scampering around from first. Trevor Hoffman closed it out, and the Padres and their unassuming second baseman left Denver with a priceless memory.