Monday, February 2, 2015

One Mo-MET In Time: Anthony Young

A moment, by definition, is a brief period in time.  The ground ball hit by Mookie Wilson is the 1986 World Series took three hops before it scooted by the closed glove of Bill Buckner.  All told, Mookie's moment lasted a few seconds, which was about two hours and 44 minutes less than the time it took Dave Mlicki to toss his gem against the Yankees in the first regular season matchup between the two city rivals.

It took three seconds for Wilson's moment to become legendary.  It took nine innings for Mlicki to do the same.  But what happens when a moment lasts just a tad bit longer?  And what happens when that moment becomes a microcosm of an era that most Mets fans do not look back upon fondly?

For one Mets player, his "moment" lasted for the better part of two seasons.  And although he and millions of the team's fans were at a "loss" to explain how his moment could have endured for as long as it did, he never became a hated Met for what he accomplished (or in his case, failed to accomplish).  In fact, despite his achievement becoming synonymous with the era he played in, he became somewhat of a beloved figure when all was said and done.

If Anthony Young looks happy here, it's because this photo was taken before his losing streak.  (Photo by Barry Colla)

Anthony Wayne Young was never supposed to make it to the major leagues.  As a 38th round draft pick in 1987 taken behind "studs" like Chris Kocman and Elgin Bobo, Young had to work his way to becoming a top prospect.  Young was inconsistent during his first three professional seasons, never advancing past the Single-A level until 1990, when he unexpectedly opened eyes with a phenomenal 15-3 record and 1.65 ERA in 23 starts for AA-Jackson.

Young's breakout 1990 campaign turned him into Baseball America's 26th-ranked prospect prior to the 1991 season.  The former 38th round draft pick was now the Mets' top minor league prospect and was on the fast track to the major leagues.  On August 5, 1991, his train pulled into Shea Stadium, where he made his big league debut against the Chicago Cubs.  Young pitched well in his debut, tossing 2⅓ innings of one-run ball in relief of starting pitcher (and fellow 1991 top prospect) Pete Schourek.  Four days later, Young faced the Cubs again in relief, allowing no runs and no hits in two innings.  He was then inserted into the starting rotation on August 29, where he remained until season's end.

In eight late-season starts for the Mets, Young was quite good, allowing more than two earned runs just twice in those eight appearances.  However, in a portent of things to come, Young lost his final four starts, with the Mets scoring a total of seven runs in those four efforts.

Change was in the air entering the 1992 season.  The team's first losing record in eight years caused a changing of the guard prior to the start of the '92 campaign, with Jeff Torborg coming aboard to sail the ship that now had a crew of All-Stars Bobby Bonilla, Bret Saberhagen and Eddie Murray.

A team chock full of veteran players was going to be a tough one to crack for the 26-year-old Young, but after holding opposing hitters to a .127 batting average and posting a team-best 2.23 ERA in four spring training starts, Torborg couldn't wait to pencil him as the team's No. 4 starter.

"Anthony Young has been as good as anybody," raved Torborg.  "He's blown the competition away."

Young had such a dominant spring that he was listed ahead of Dwight Gooden in the rotation - the same Gooden who had received the Opening Day assignment in each of the last four seasons and six of the previous seven.  Young rewarded Torborg by having a solid April, going 2-0 with a 2.96 ERA in four appearances (three starts).  But just three short months after his manager proclaimed him to be "as good as anybody", Young was better than no one, although he was not completely at fault.

In 1992, Anthony Young couldn't see anything at Shea Stadium but losses piling up.  (Keith Torrie/NY Daily News)

In May and June, Young lost eight consecutive decisions and watched his ERA balloon to 4.65.  The first three losses were squarely on his shoulders, as the right-hander allowed a total of 14 earned runs in losses to the Reds, Padres and Dodgers.  But in his next five defeats, Young pitched well, allowing no more than three runs in any of those appearances.  Of course, the Mets scored a total of five runs in those five games, making it a tough task for any pitcher to post a "W".

Despite pitching relatively well during his hard-luck losses in June, Young was replaced in the starting rotation by Wally Whitehurst at month's end.  Moving to his new role in the bullpen, Young earned his first major league save on July 1 in the Mets' 12-inning win over the Cubs.  Three days later, Young was tagged with his ninth straight loss before turning his season around in a new role.

With John Franco suffering from an inflamed tendon in his pitching elbow, Young began to share closing duties with the left-handed Franco and thrived in the role.  In fact, from July 7 through September 2, Young had one of the best extended stretches by a relief pitcher in the history of the franchise.  Seriously.

Young made 23 appearances during the two-month period, recording 11 saves and two holds.  More impressively, Young held opposing hitters to a ridiculously low .155/.212/.165 slash line, allowing 15 hits (14 singles, one double) in 28⅓ innings.  All told, Young allowed just one run in those 23 appearances for a miniscule 0.31 ERA.

Alas, Young's magical ride entered the station before the season ended, as his final ten appearances resulted in five blown saves, all of which saddled him with losses.  Young finished the year with 15 saves - an impressive total for a pitcher who made 13 starts from April to June - but also 14 consecutive losses.  Young became the 24th pitcher in history to have losses in 14 straight decisions and the fourth Met to do it, joining Craig Anderson (19 consecutive defeats from 1962-64), Roger Craig (18; 1963) and Skip Lockwood (14; 1978-79).

As a team, the 1992 Mets posted their first 90-loss season since 1983, but the club didn't hit rock bottom until the 1993 campaign, when they reached triple digits in losses for the first time in 26 years.  Once again, Anthony Young contributed several of those losses, and just like he did the year before, Young's performance was far better than his won-loss record suggested.

Photo by Mark Lennihan/AP
Following a rough first outing on April 9, a game in which he allowed four runs in two innings en route to his 15th consecutive loss, Young pitched beautifully over his next 14 appearances, posting a 1.53 ERA in 17⅔ innings.  But the Mets couldn't help him out, as Young failed to earn a win in any of those 14 relief efforts.  However, he did succeed in picking up his 16th, 17th and 18th straight defeats, even though he allowed just two earned runs in those three losses.  After picking up his 19th consecutive "L" on May 28, new manager Dallas Green - who had replaced Torborg just eight days earlier - tried to change Young's misfortune by inserting him back in the starting rotation.  But instead of helping Young earn a victory, the only thing Green's decision accomplished was helping Young rack up losses faster.

A no-decision in Young's first appearance as a starter on June 1 was followed by losses in each of his next seven starts.  His first eight starts of 1993 should have earned him at least a win or two, as he allowed three earned runs or fewer in six of those starts.  But once again, the Mets left their bats at home during Young's starts, averaging two runs per game in the eight appearances and not scoring more than three runs in any of them.

By failing to earn a win, Young broke an all-time major league record when he dropped his 24th straight decision on June 27 against the St. Louis Cardinals.  The loss broke the 82-year-old record held by Cliff Curtis, who lost 23 consecutive decisions for Boston's National League squad from 1910 to 1911.

A month after breaking Curtis's record, Young still had not earned a win.  He had notched two holds and a save, but had also added three more defeats, extending the new record to 27 straight losses.  Then on July 28, Young came on in relief to face the expansion Florida Marlins in the ninth inning of a 3-3 tie, but allowed a two-out, bunt single to speedster - and former Mets teammate - Chuck Carr to score the go-ahead run for the Marlins, a run that was unearned because of an earlier throwing error by catcher Todd Hundley.

Carr's hit moved Young ominously closer to his 28th consecutive loss, but the Mets were facing the Marlins, who were the only team they had success against in 1993.  New York's 9-4 record versus Florida in '93 was the only winning mark posted by the team against any of its opponents.  And when the Mets came up to bat in the bottom of the ninth, they were determined to continue that success against the Marlins.

Pinch-hitter Jeff McKnight led off with a single against Marlins closer Bryan Harvey.  Dave Gallagher then moved McKnight to second base with a sacrifice bunt.  Ryan Thompson followed by flaring an excuse-me single between first base and right field, scoring McKnight with the bloop hit.  Young was now off the hook for the loss.  Two batters later, he was on the field celebrating with his teammates, as Eddie Murray followed Joe Orsulak's fly out with a two-out double down the right field line, scoring a sprinting Thompson all the way from first base after right fielder Darrell Whitmore bobbled the ball.

Video courtesy of's YouTube channel

Anthony Young first win since early in the 1992 campaign was one of the few highlights of an otherwise forgetful 59-103 season for the Mets in 1993, but it was retribution for the pitcher once deemed one of the top prospects in baseball.

Young didn't pitch terribly during his 27-game losing streak.  During the skid, he appeared in 77 games (17 starts, 60 relief appearances).  In the 50 games he was not credited with a loss, he pitched 75⅔ innings, allowing just 60 hits, of which only 11 went for extra bases (nine doubles, two homers).  Young also gave up just 14 earned runs in those 75⅔ innings for a stellar 1.67 ERA, racking up 16 saves along the way.

It wouldn't be a stretch to say that Young was one of the best pitchers the Mets had in 1992 and 1993.  He did just about everything he could possibly do as a pitcher during those two campaigns.  He started games when asked to.  He pitched in middle relief.  He went out there in mop-up duties.  He also served as the team's temporary closer.  He just didn't earn wins.

Young finished his three-year Mets career with a 5-35 record.  His .125 winning percentage as a Met is by far the lowest of any pitcher who pitched at least 250 innings for the team.  (The second-lowest winning percentage is the .246 mark posted by Roger Craig in 1962 and 1963, when he pitched 469⅓ innings en route to a 15-46 won-loss record.)  Young's final 15-48 record over his six-year major league career was helped only by the 10-13 mark he put up from 1994 to 1996 as a member of the Cubs and Astros.

But Young's career wasn't entirely sponsored by the letter "L".  He actually became the first pitcher in major league history to accomplish a positive pitching feat, which seems almost impossible for a pitcher who had more consecutive losses than there are letters in the English alphabet.

Since the save became an official statistic in 1969, Anthony Young became the first pitcher to have a minimum of 15 saves in a year he made at least 13 starts when he posted his 13-start, 15-save campaign in 1992.  Young remains just one of four pitchers to accomplish the feat, as he has since been joined by Tim Wakefield (1999; 17 starts, 15 saves), Octavio Dotel (2000; 16 starts, 16 saves) and Dustin Hermanson (2004; 18 starts, 17 saves).

Young also posted 18 total saves during his short time in New York, despite never being groomed to be a closer.  When he pitched his final game for the team in 1993, Young's 18 career saves as a Met was tied for the 12th-highest total in franchise history.  Incredibly, through the 2014 season, Young still ranks among the team's all-time top twenty leaders in career saves.  In addition, Young's 15 saves in 1992 remained the highest total by a homegrown pitcher until Bobby Parnell saved 22 games for the Mets in 2013.

Looking back on his career, Young believed he shouldn't be remembered for his two-year "moment" in the spotlight.  Rather, he'd prefer to be known as a pitcher who pitched well enough to win, but was a victim of circumstance.

"I always said I didn't feel like I was pitching badly.  It just happened to happen to me.  I don't feel like I deserve it, but I'm known for it.  It was an 82-year-old record and it might be 82 more years before it's broken.  Everything that could happen, happened.  It was just destiny, I guess."

Anthony Young played on a Mets team that was vilified for having several overpaid underachievers.  But Young himself was not one of those players.  In fact, he fulfilled everything he was asked to do by his managers.  But because of an unfortunate and untimely streak, Young will always have a connection to the team now referred to as "The Worst Team Money Could Buy".

If only Anthony Young could have bought a victory for himself along the way, there could have been many more happier moments for a pitcher whose talent was greater than his won-loss record.

Note:  One Mo-MET In Time is a thirteen-part weekly series spotlighting those Mets players who will forever be known for a single moment, game or event, regardless of whatever else they accomplished during their tenure with the Mets.  For previous installments, please click on the players' names below:

January 5, 2015: Mookie Wilson 
January 12, 2015: Dave Mlicki
January 19, 2015: Steve Henderson 
January 26, 2015: Ron Swoboda


Sassdawg. said...

Poor guy

Ed Leyro (and Joey Beartran) said...

I loved Young. He deserved a better fate than all those losses.