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Jamie Moyer takes the long route to success

At 49, the Colorado Rockies lefty is the oldest pitcher to win a major league game. Locating pitches and changing speeds, he has accumulated 268 victories in a 25-year career.

May 11, 2012|By Dylan Hernandez
  • Colorado's Jamie Moyer delivers a pitch during a game against Atlanta on Saturday. Moyer was a late bloomer at the major league level.
Colorado's Jamie Moyer delivers a pitch during a game against Atlanta… (David Zalubowski / Associated…)

To prepare to face Jamie Moyer on Friday night, Dodgers outfielder Tony Gwynn Jr. could watch videos of his past at-bats against the Colorado Rockies left-hander.

Or he could talk to his father, Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn Sr., who also faced him.

Rookie Scott Van Slyke could also solicit advice from his father, former All-Star Andy Van Slyke.

Shortstop Dee Gordon's father, former pitcher Tom Gordon, was Moyer's teammate. And Manager Don Mattingly, playing for the New York Yankees, hit a home run against Moyer — 19 years ago.

"I think Jamie pitched against my grandfather," jokedJerry Hairston Jr., a third-generation major leaguer.

Moyer, 49, is something of a modern baseball miracle. On April 17, he limited the San Diego Padres to a pair of unearned runs over seven innings to become the oldest pitcher to win a major league game.

Nolan Ryan pitched until he was 46 but was armed with a fastball that touched the high 90s until his retirement.

Moyer challenges the best hitters on the planet with a far less imposing arsenal. His average fastball travels at 77 mph, according to FanGraphs.com. The night he beat the Padres, his fastball never topped 79 mph.

"That's what I had to do my whole career," Moyer said. "For me, it's nothing out of the ordinary. For somebody like yourself who hasn't played or is comparing it to the pitchers of today, you say, 'Oh, wow, it's miraculous.' I don't think it's miraculous. I just think it's the style that I have and who I am."

Or, as Mattingly said, "It's not like he went from Nolan Ryan to what he's doing now. He's always been crafty, changing speeds. He was a soft tosser then."

Moyer was drafted in 1984 by the Chicago Cubs. He made his major league debut two years later, but took awhile to find his footing.

He bounced around from club to club early in his career, making stops in Texas, St. Louis, Baltimore and Boston. He was released multiple times. He spent the entire 1992 season in the Detroit Tigers' minor league system.

There were times he wondered if he could pitch at the major league level.

"I'd be lying to you if I said I didn't have those thoughts when I was younger," he said. "But as I grew a little bit older and gained some more experience, I believed I could play here."

His breakout season came with the Seattle Mariners in 1997, at age 34. He won 17 games that season, the fifth-most in the American League.

"I don't think it ever just clicked for me," he said. "I never really had the out-and-out talent. I was never the 90-mph guy. I've had to survive on location, change of speeds."

Even when compared with other pitchers who had long careers, Moyer was rewarded late in life.

Of the 268 games he has won over his 25-year career, 196 came after age 34. He made his first and only All-Star team at 40, in 2003.

His crowning achievement came in 2008, when he won 16 games for the Philadelphia Phillies and won a World Series ring.

Moyer grew up in the Philadelphia area and attended nearby St. Joseph's University.

"As a high school senior, I went to a Phillies parade," he said. "And, what, 28 years later, I get to be in that same parade. Not only was winning the World Series pretty special, being in the parade … I never thought the parade would be that big of a deal or that cool of a thing."

Midway through the 2010 season, he suffered an injury that nearly ended his career. He underwent reconstructive elbow surgery that winter.

He sat out a season and signed a minor league contract this past winter with the Rockies, who didn't exist when he broke into the majors. He made the team out of camp and was named their No. 2 starter.

"For me, the coolest thing was just to go through the surgery, the rehab, the whole process and getting an opportunity to come to a camp in spring training and winning a job," he said. "Now the hard work starts. I'm enjoying it.

"When you get older, you think it's drudgery, but with the youth in this clubhouse and the youth I've been able to play with in the latter part of my career, I think it's given me the energy. It's not drudgery for me. There are many days when I feel pretty darn good."

And feisty.

Moyer accused Chipper Jones of stealing signs in a loss to the Atlanta Braves on Saturday, sparking a war of words between the veterans. According to Jones, when Moyer came up to hit, he warned Braves catcher Brian McCann, "That's how people get hurt."

Jones denied he was stealing signs.

Moyer will enter his meeting with the Dodgers with a 1-2 record and 4.01 earned-run average.

"It's really amazing what he's doing," Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw said. "I hope at 49 I can still lift my arm, and he's out there pitching games. It's something that is a testament not only to him being durable, but him having success. It's one thing to be able to throw a baseball when you're 49. It's a completely different thing to get big league hitters out."

The Rockies' visit to Dodger Stadium could offer Moyer an opportunity to reunite with his son, Dillon, a sophomore infielder at UC Irvine. Dillon was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the 22nd round of the 2010 draft.

Moyer laughed when he was asked if he could pitch long enough to one day face his son.

"It would be pretty cool if that were to happen," he said. "In reality, that's a couple years down the road, at least."

dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

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