Sometimes The Hangover hits you fast.
The one great truth about baseball is that it’s extremely difficult to play competitively. Most people realize this sometime in Little League; others in high school; fewer still in college; a select handful in the minor leagues; and the rest—the very best and most determined and talented and lucky—they realize it in the major leagues.
Jered Weaver had surely brushed up against this truth at various points in his career, after a bad outing at Long Beach State or a night when his stuff wasn’t working in The Show. But he was always able to forge on, be it on natural talent or raw determination or whatever the heck it is that makes a big leaguer tick. Five years ago he won 20 games and finished third in the American League Cy Young voting, and just three years ago he pitched 213 1/3 innings with a 3.59 ERA. Through the first seven seasons of his career, he racked up 30 WAR. The game was still difficult, sure, but Weaver was able to rise above it.
Much like Weaver, though, the game too has forged on. The players have gotten younger, and better, another truth about baseball. The overall group of major-league baseball players is always getting better, and the older players are always fighting an uphill battle against time to keep up. Weaver fended off the inevitable for a while, but the wear and tear of counted innings and countless throws took its toll. No longer was he able to shake off a 125-pitch outing like he did when he was 26. All of the sudden he was 34 years old, with a fastball that’d barely raise eye brows at one of those pitch radar booths at the county fair.
So Weaver took the mound earlier tonight in San Diego clinging desperately to his major-league career, facing both the Arizona Diamondbacks and his greater place in this game altogether.
Things started innocently enough, at least. The D’backs leadoff hitter, Gregor Blanco, reached on a shift-aided cue shot down the third-base line, and then David Peralta popped out to shortstop. Weaver walked Paul Goldschmidt and then the floodgates opened, as he served up an 82 mph middle-middle fastball to Jake Lamb, who promptly sent it into low earth orbit. The boos got loud after Brandon Drury‘s two-run home run, which came two batters later, and they continued when Weaver left the mound having recorded just two outs while allowing seven runs.
When Weaver debuted 11 years ago, he was one of the young guys. According to Rich Lederer, who wrote about his first start at the now defunct Baseball Analysts, Weaver was sitting in the low-90s that night, hitting 94 and displaying the kind of brashness you might associate with a successful 23-year-old. The math says that he lost about a mile an hour per year, on average, since then. The game is hard enough, but it’s next to impossible when you’re fastball is coming in 10 or 12 mph slower than the typical pitcher. For whatever reason, Weaver’s arm—never seriously injured but always slowly deteriorating—just didn’t hold up against the rigors of his craft.
Stick around long enough, and the game always wins. At least Weaver got in a few good body blows along the way.