Big Pelf is Straight Up GangstaBy: Sean Pidgeon
I distinctly remember the first time I saw Mike Pelfrey in person. On Saturday, July 22, 2006, I watched a finely dressed hulk of a man walk into the lobby of the Holiday Inn nearby Shea Stadium, accompanied by a smoking hot lady. My dad, my cousin, and I stay there one weekend each summer as part of our annual pilgrimage to see the Mets. We’d just returned from watching a routine 4-3 Mets victory (remember, this was 2006) over the Astros. (El Duque struck out 8, Duaner Sanchez—pre-taxi ride—got the hold, and Xavier Nady, not yet a Pirate, hit his 14th homer of the season. And Julio Franco, not yet in a nursing home, drew an 8th inning walk. But I digress.) As soon as the hulking man and his hot lady friend headed for the elevator shaft, my cousin and I realized, “holy shit, that’s Mike Pelfrey!”
The next day, Pelfrey would make his third big league start, and suffer his first big league loss. He was just getting his feet wet in the majors that season; in fact, he would only have one more start before finishing the season in the minors. But we saw flashes of brilliance at Shea Stadium that day. Pelfrey was perfect through the first two innings. He struck out Willy Taveras looking to begin the game, and Chris Burke to end the first. He K’ed Preston Wilson to close the second. Sure, Big Pelf looked like a rookie pitcher blowing a 3-0 Mets lead and not making it through the 5th. But we left that game with hope for the future. He had the makings of a future ace.
Pelfrey had a rocky rookie season in 2007. A 5.57 ERA; 4.8 walks per 9; an ERA+ of only 78. But he just wasn’t ready for the majors yet. In 2008, he showed promise as a potential middle of the rotation starter for years to come (ERA+ 113). But after last season’s backslide (ERA+ 82), I wasn’t sure if Big Pelf would ever put it together.
But now? Pelfrey is straight up gangsta. He’s pitching like an ace. Thus far, he is the Mets MVP. He has 3 wins, half of the Mets’ total. In a move that put him right up to the top of the gangsta list, in the words of Jerry Manuel, Pelf pitched the 20th inning of that Saturday night epic, picking up the save and sparing us from seeing Jeff Francoeur on the mound (although I’d like to see Frenchy’s right field cannon from the rubber someday—in a blowout, not a close game). He hasn’t given up a run in his last two starts. He has 19 straight scoreless innings. His ERA is 0.86 and his ERA+ is 515 (an unreal early season stat that will inevitable come down), good for second behind two time defending Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum. Last night, Pelfrey looked awesome shutting down the Cubs. If Pelfrey keeps pitching this well, he’ll have a strong case to make the All-Star team. He might not yet be an ace, but he’s there in a pinch if you need someone to go straight up gangsta.
As for that Saturday evening almost four years ago, Pelfrey was probably living temporarily at that hotel, since he was only up with the big club for a short stint. My cousin and I hung out at the hotel bar all night, hoping Big Pelf might come down and join us. Alas, he never did show up. Maybe he was resting for his big start the next day. Or maybe the former Wichita State star was introducing his lady friend to the shocker. Now that would be straight up gangsta.