Thomas Boswell: Phillies' Moyer Hangs In Despite Some Lingering Doubts

After two miserable outings in the postseason, Jamie Moyer delivered a quality start in Saturday night's Game 3.
After two miserable outings in the postseason, Jamie Moyer delivered a quality start in Saturday night's Game 3. (By Elsa -- Getty Images)
By Thomas Boswell
Monday, October 27, 2008

PHILADELPHIA Reprinted from yesterday's late editions

In January, when the Redskins were in Seattle for a playoff game, one fan, dressed in Seahawks gear, waved a jersey over his head long before the game, exhorting the crowd. Somehow, the mad fellow found a way to hang on to a railing with one hand, brace himself with one foot against the stands and suspend himself above an entranceway so that the throngs entered the park beneath him. How young, how drunk, how crazy?

None of the above. It was Jamie Moyer.

Long a star pitcher for the Mariners, Moyer still lives in Seattle with his wife and seven children, but by the most excellent of accidents, he returned to his original home of Philadelphia in '06. On Saturday night in Game 3 of the World Series, he found himself hanging by one hand again, balanced precariously amid a roaring crowd, as he took the mound for the same Phillies he adored as a child. At the preposterous age of 45, after a lifetime of imagining exactly such a moment, Moyer found himself the fulcrum of this city's hopes in the World Series. And, after the Phillies' 5-4 victory Saturday night, if there is a Game 6, he may find himself there again.

Somebody, whirl a No. 50 jersey 'round and 'round and lead a cheer for Moyer. Saturday night, Moyer dragged a 13.50 postseason ERA behind him to the mound. Knocked out quickly and beaten badly in his two previous playoff starts, he merely faced Matt Garza of the Tampa Bay Rays, the fire-baller who was MVP of the ALCS.

Throughout this town, the last 48 hours have been consumed with doubts about Moyer. Finally, after 246 career wins, was he just too old? Rusty from infrequent October use? The Phils' Achilles' heel, despite his 16-7 record in the regular season? Was this philanthropist, who has raised millions for his five different foundations, a fading fellow who should, for the good of the team and city, be removed from the rotation before calamity could strike again?

Moyer answered with a clutch performance that reprised the last 13 brilliant years of his career. One of the game's greatest late bloomers, he summoned every skill to hold the Rays to three runs in 6 1/3 innings.

But we'll get to that. Sometimes, to truly watch an athlete, you need a feeling for the person. And not just who he is, but where he finds himself on the day that the twists of his sport suddenly make him the man of the hour.

For 11 years, Moyer starred for the Mariners, including two 20-win seasons. After 22 seasons, his emotionless pitching demeanor and his speed-changing mastery are familiar. The oldest player in baseball, and this season the second-oldest pitcher ever to win 16 games, the southpaw seems stoic and cerebral, saving his energy as if he were an old man.

But that's all a ruse. He hides his emotions not because he has so few of them but because he has so many. Last season, when he won the NL East Division clincher on the last game of the regular season against the Nats, he held his 4-year-old son in his arms, champagne in his hair, and cried as he talked about how he'd skipped school as a high schooler in the Philly suburbs to take the subway to JFK Stadium for the 1980 World Series victory celebration, this city's only baseball championship.

People hung from lampposts that day, climbed trees, waved Phils jerseys, he said. A lot, actually, like what he did the day Seattle beat the Redskins. The real Moyer is not a creaky oldster but a health and workout zealot who has no trouble keeping up with 30-year-old teammates.

Seldom does a man, especially a world-class athlete, admit that one isolated game is the most important of his life and, perhaps, the only game for which he will be lastingly remembered. But Moyer had no choice here. It's obvious. "This is something I've been dreaming about my whole life," said Moyer. "It's been a long wait. I'm trying to enjoy this, trying to take it all in, realize where I am. It's special."

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