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Mark Prior and The Heartbreak Club

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There were two eye-opening bits of news here in this story about Mark Prior retiring.

1. I honestly thought he retired five years ago.

2. Mark Prior is still only 33 years old.

The second of those bits is even more shocking than the first. He is STILL only 33? If Mark Prior had stayed healthy, he would only now be signing a seven-year, $190 million deal with the Mariners or somebody. Baseball can be an extremely cruel game.

Prior probably should have won the Cy Young Award in 2003, when he was just 22 years old. The award went to Eric Gagne because it was one of those periodic years when the voters fall in love with relief pitching all over again. Gagne had a superb year for a closer … but not markedly different from John Smoltz that same year, Trevor Hoffman in 1998 or Craig Kimbrel and Greg Holland this year. Prior pitched more than twice as many innings and was significantly more valuable.

Anyway, people had to figure Prior would win plenty of Cy Young Awards. Here are the greatest pitching performances since World War II for pitchers 22 or younger:

1. Dwight Gooden, 1985, 24-4, 1.53 ERA, league-leading 276 Ks.
2. Bert Blyleven, 1973, 20-17, 9 shutouts, 325 innings pitched.
3. Mark Fidrych, 1976, 19-9, league leading 2.34 ERA, 24 complete games.
4. Vida Blue, 1971, 24-8, league-leading 1.82 ERA, 301 strikeouts, Cy and MVP winner.
5. Larry Dierker, 1969, 20-13, 2.33 ERA, 305 innings, 20 complete games.
6. Sudden Sam McDowell, 1965, 17-11, league-leading 2.18 ERA, 325 strikeouts.
7. Mark Prior, 2003, 18-6, 2.43 ERA, 245 strikeouts.
8. Frank Tanana, 1975, 16-9, 2.62 ERA, league-leading 269 strikeouts.
9. Bret Saberhagen, 1985, 20-6, 2.87 ERA, Cy Young winner.
10. Frank Tanana, 1976, 19-10, 2.43 ERA, 261 strikeouts.

Of this list, only Blyleven went on to a Hall of Fame career. Tanana, who is on the list twice, blew out his arm and reinvented himself as a soft-tossing lefty. Dwight Gooden, Sam McDowell and Vida Blue all dealt with various demons and fell a few steps short of greatness. Larry Dierker had an up and down career, and Bret Saberhagen was alternately brilliant and injured.

Then, Mark Fidrych and Mark Prior belong to the same club, the heartbreak club. They each had one glorious year in the Major Leagues. Their bodies would not hold up for another. Fidrych felt his arm go dead in the middle of the next season. Prior had trouble with his achilles tendon the next year — people would always suspect it was his elbow and the Cubs just didn’t want to admit it. In 2005 he was pitching quite well and he got hit by a batted ball that smashed his elbow. In 2006 the Cubs announced that he had a “loose shoulder,” which does not seem like a medical term but Mark Prior was never even a decent Major League pitcher again.

Lots of people blame overwork for the fall of both Fidrych and Prior, and that does make some sense. Fidrych in particular was abused — from May 15 to August 29 that year he made 22 starts and pitched 198 innings. Quick math will tell you, he AVERAGED nine innings for those 22 starts. This is in part because he pitched 11 innings four times during the stretch and 10 innings once. It was pretty close to criminal.

Prior’s overuse was not nearly as pronounced, but people did notice even at the time that Dusty Baker was having Prior (and fellow phenom Kerry Wood) throw a lot of pitches. In September of 2003, during the pennant run, Prior threw 131, 129, 109, 124, 131 and 133 pitches in his six starts. It’s interesting: None of those were complete games. Even now, there is much disagreement about pitch counts and how best to protect young pitcher’s arms and so on. I guess the infuriating part with the Cubs was that there seemed no visible effort whatsoever to protect Prior’s arm. Maybe it wouldn’t have made any difference, but you sort of wished they would have at least made a show of it.

When Prior was young and right, he was all but unhittable. He had a fastball he could pump up into the high 90s and his better pitch was a curveball that was like setting the phaser to stun. His curve would just leave Major League hitters frozen — sometimes it seemed like they were still standing at the plate long after Prior had reached the dugout. He walked just 50 batters in his amazing season.

His effort to come back has been both touching and sad. Anyone can understand: He was destined to become one of the best pitchers in baseball history, and he had it taken away from him, and he had trouble accepting it. From Tennessee to Iowa, from Orange County to Oklahoma City, from Tampa to Scranton to Pawtucket to Louisville he chased ghosts, hoping against hope for some part of himself to return. I imagine that at times he snapped off the old curveball or fired a fastball that hopped a bit, and he found himself believing that he would come all the way back. Then there would be more pain.

The Chicago Tribune on Tuesday had a three paragraph note acknowledging Prior’s official retirement. The first few words were “Former Cubs Phenom Mark Prior.” And sadly, those are the last words too.

Video: Adam Wainwright crushes a three-run homer into the second deck

St. Louis Cardinals' Adam Wainwright connects for a three-run triple against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the sixth inning of a baseball game Wednesday, April 27, 2016, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin
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Adam Wainwright has been bringing the lumber lately. The Cardinals’ pitcher delivered a three-run triple in his previous start, last Wednesday, against the Diamondbacks.

During Monday’s start against the Phillies, he doubled to lead off the third inning. Then, in the top of the fourth, he absolutely demolished a Jeremy Hellickson offering for a three-run home run into the second deck at Busch Stadium to tie the game at three apiece.

It’s the seventh home run of Wainwright’s career and brings his season total up to six RBI, matching a career high.

Video: A Delino DeShields base running gaffe costs the Rangers a run

Texas Rangers' Delino DeShields reacts after he struck out swinging to end the tenth inning of a baseball game against the Seattle Mariners, Wednesday, April 13, 2016, in Seattle. The Mariners beat the Rangers 4-2 in ten innings. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
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The Rangers would’ve easily taken a 2-1 lead in the top of the seventh inning of Monday’s game against the Blue Jays if not for a base running mistake by Delino DeShields.

Facing R.A. Dickey, Mitch Moreland led off the frame with an infield single. He advanced to second base on a passed ball. After Elvis Andrus flied out, Brett Nicholas drew a walk and DeShields singled to right, loading the bases. Gavin Floyd came in to relieve Dickey, facing Rougned Odor.

Odor skied a fly ball to right-center, which seemed like an obvious sacrifice fly. Center fielder Kevin Pillar made the catch and alertly made a strong throw into second base. Moreland tagged up and scored from third, and DeShields was attempting to tag up on the play as well. However, DeShields was tagged out by shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. The play was reviewed and the ruling on the field — that Moreland scored before DeShields was tagged out — was overturned, erasing the run from the board. That left the game in a 1-1 tie.

The Rangers would eventually take a 2-1 lead in the top of the eighth when Nomar Mazara drilled a solo home run to center field off of Floyd. All’s well that ends well, right?

Angel Pagan out four to five days with a strained hamstring

San Francisco Giants' Angel Pagan complains after being called out stealing second base against the San Diego Padres during the ninth inning of a baseball game Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015, in San Diego. The play was reviewed, and Pagan was ruled safe. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
AP Photo/Gregory Bull
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Giants outfielder Angel Pagan has been diagnosed with a Grade 1 strain of his left hamstring which will leave him out of action for the next four to five days, Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Pagan suffered the injury running the bases during Sunday’s game against the Mets.

The Giants are hopeful that Pagan will avoid needing a stint on the disabled list. For now, they intend to use a combination of Gregor Blanco and Mac Williamson in left field in Pagan’s absence.

Pagan, 34, was hitting well, compiling a .315/.366/.457 triple-slash line along with a pair of homers and stolen bases in 101 plate appearances.

Pablo Sandoval will undergo surgery on his left shoulder

Boston Red Sox third baseman Pablo Sandoval heads to the dugout at the end of the seventh the inning of a baseball game against the Miami Marlins, Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2015, in Miami. The Marlins won  14-6. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
AP Photo/Alan Diaz
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Update #2 (8:33 PM EDT): Sandoval is expected to miss the rest of the season, ESPN’s SportsCenter tweets.

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Update (8:06 PM EDT): Per Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe, Sandoval will be undergoing a “significant” operation and faces a “lengthy” rehab.

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Red Sox third baseman Pablo Sandoval will undergo surgery on his left shoulder, per Jon Morosi of FOX Sports. Sandoval visited Dr. James Andrews on Monday, Evan Drellich of the Boston Herald reports. Sandoval had been on the disabled list since April 13 (retroactive to the 11th) with the shoulder injury.

Sandoval has had a tumultuous 2016 season. He showed up to spring training appearing to be in less than ideal shape. He proceeded to hit a meager .204 in 49 spring at-bats and lost out on the third base job to Travis Shaw. Sandoval went hitless with a walk in seven plate appearances to begin the regular season before the injury woes took hold.

The Red Sox haven’t yet released details, including the timetable for Sandoval’s recovery, so once that is known, we’ll provide updates.