Moyer one for the ages

Making Rockies rotation at 49 marks unbelievable comeback

Credit the Cubs for keeping Jamie Moyer in uniform.

He tried the game once as a spectator, and he didn't like it.

"One time I went to Wrigley Field for a playoff game and sat in the seats with the fans,'' Moyer said. "It was strange. I thought I was going to have fun. It was a good night. I remember walking back to the hotel after the game. But I didn't like being in the stands. Too strange.''

Moyer wasn't immediately sure what year he and his wife, Karen, had joined his father-in-law, Digger Phelps, at the game. By process of elimination, he said it wasn't 2008, '07 or even '03. He was talking about Game 3 against the Braves, in '98 — Greg Maddux over rookie Kerry Wood.

At that time, Moyer was 35. He had just won 15 games for the Mariners. The end surely was near.

Or not.

Moyer, 49, completed a comeback for the ages when he nailed down a spot in the Rockies' rotation. He will have to get results at Coors Field to hold it, but you bet against him at your own peril.

No one is more impressed with how Moyer is changing speeds off his 80-mph fastball than his onetime peers, long since retired.

ESPN's John Kruk says succeeding with Moyer's finesse style "would be to me like watching a hitter go out there with a hand that's broken and not be able to take a full swing, but yet he hits .320 every year with 20 bombs.''

Doesn't compute.

"You're going to say, 'Wait a second, how are you doing that?' " Kruk said.

Moyer's scheduled start Saturday in Houston was to be his first since July 20, 2010. He spent the 2011 season recovering from Tommy John surgery but was pitching so well this winter that more than 10 teams expressed interest after his tryouts.

He says he's not pitching that differently than he did in 2001, when he won 20 games for the Mariners. He has lost a little off his fastball, but even back then it rarely got above 85.

"I could not be more impressed," ESPN's Curt Schilling said on a conference call. "Right now my life at 45, the challenge for me is getting out of bed in the morning, and the challenge for him is whether he can get into the seventh or eighth inning of a Major League Baseball game."

The Rockies would love for Moyer to make 30 starts. Every time he pitches is Turn Back the Clock Day.

Limits help: Ken Williams is understandably sensitive about baseball publications ranking farm systems, as the Sox have become a consensus No. 30 among the 30 franchises. Williams says he should do a better job touting the talents of his minor leaguers but says he doesn't want to weigh them down with expectations.

The problem, however, hasn't been Williams' salesmanship. It has been the organization's spending, which has been at the bottom in both the draft and the international markets. The Sox have spent more lately on international players — Williams says they have signed more good prospects in the sixth months they've had Marco Paddy in charge of their Latin American operations than in the previous 12 years — but the real cause for optimism in the organization is the new collective-bargaining agreement that sets spending limits that will affect teams like the Royals and Pirates, along with the Yankees and Red Sox.

"We benefit in the amateur draft,'' Williams said. "It will allow you to take the best player (rather than a signable player). We benefit (from limits) in Latin America too.''

While baseball tries to spread amateur talent more evenly, the revenue disparity between clubs is widening because of the impact of rights fees from regional sports networks, like the deals that allowed the Angels to sign Albert Pujols and the Rangers to invest in Yu Darvish.

Williams was asked if he's concerned about the new TV contracts.

"Only because we don't have (one),'' he said.

Keeping it simple: Unlike the White Sox's Adam Dunn, the Rangers' Michael Young successfully moved from the field to designated-hitter duties last season. It helped that he got frequent time in the field, especially at first base, but Young believes one key for his strong season was treating DH just like it was third base.

"I considered it to be another position,'' Young said. "A lot of times guys are asked to make preemptive adjustments. What are you going to do now that you're a DH? I'm not going to do anything. I'm going to play baseball."

Young says he spends most of his time in the dugout, as if he were playing defensively.

"(People asked), 'Are you going to ride the bike? Are you going to run?' (I asked), 'Do I have to do those things?' I'm going to stay in the dugout and watch the game.

"I didn't want to let my mind wander too much. I wanted my mind to be in the flow of the game. I wanted to watch our pitchers pitch and watch their pitchers pitch. I wanted to make sure I was mentally in the game as much as if I was playing third, second, short or first.''

No fair: When Justin Verlander struck out seven Red Sox on opening day, he got four called third strikes on his curveball. It's a devastating pitch when combined with his high-90s fastball.

"Verlander is just like Nolan (Ryan),'' Tigers Hall of Famer Al Kaline said. "He throws so hard that you can never look for his curve. His curve is really outstanding.''

The first batter Verlander faced was center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who finished second to him in MVP voting. Ellsbury said he had considered that coincidence this spring but "it's not something you think about when you're in the box.'' Hope not.

No regrets: Carlos Alvarez was recalled from his elected position as Miami-Dade County mayor largely because of his support for Marlins Park. Unlike Carlos Gimenez, who succeeded him, he was in attendance at Wednesday's debut of the $645 million facility Commissioner Bud Selig says saved the franchise.

"It has been a long road, as you well know, but it's something I believe in,'' Alvarez said. "(This) is a dream come true. (This) is a day I feel extremely proud of.''

Before Alvarez threw his support toward the Marlins, owner Jeffrey Loria was playing the Bob Irsay card, saying he might have to move to Las Vegas or elsewhere. Selig said this was no hollow threat and the franchise was doomed without some public participation to build the stadium.

Funding was accomplished largely through taxes on tourists.

"Five years from now you won't be able to find anyone who was against this,'' Selig said.

The last word: "Psychologists say having a fish tank helps you relax and not stress. I have a big fish tank in Venezuela.'' — the Marlins' Carlos Zambrano on how the two 450-gallon aquariums behind home plate are his favorite feature of Marlins Park.

progers@tribune.com

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