Monday, June 22, 2009

6/22/09 - COL 11, @ LAA 1 - "A Milestone for Cookie"

Aaron Cook is now the winningest pitcher in Rockies franchise history, and it seems extra appropriate considering he’s exactly the type of pitcher that everybody said the Rockies had to develop if they wanted to build a pitching staff from within. The idea was that a pitcher who threw hard with a heavy sinkerball could keep the ball in the playing field at 20th and Blake and keep his ERA in the mid-fours at home.

The trouble was that prior to Cook, the Rockies hadn’t had that guy or even come close to developing that guy. And, of course, their misguided effort to find pitchers who could sink the baseball led to the Mike Hampton disaster. But even from the start of his big league career, Cook always had the bowling-ball sinker, and even though he’d gotten hit hard early on in his time with the Rockies, it really seemed like he was starting to put things all together before he had to leave a start against Cincinnati early on August 7, 2004.

It was no ordinary injury – Cook damn near died on the mound that day as blood clots attacked his lungs. It took him nearly a year to return to a big league mound, but once he did he picked up exactly as he left off, emerging down the stretch of a miserable 2005 season as the most reliable starter the Rockies had. You know the story from there – Cook ate innings and won ballgames the next couple of years, got a contract extension after 2007, and made an All-Star appearance last year once given officially the ‘ace’ mantle.

Ubaldo Jimenez is more electric, but if I had to pick either Cookie or U-Ball to start one game with the planet’s existence at stake, I’d take the redhead. He attacks hitters relentlessly, daring them to hack at his diving sinker because it’s damn hard to do anything but pound it at an infielder. He has thrown complete games of 74 and 79 pitches in his career, both of which came at Coors Field. He has survived at one of the toughest hitters parks of all time despite a career strikeout rate of 3.7 per nine. He is a perfect gentleman four days of the week before becoming the prototypical bulldog on his day on the mound. He takes the ball and gives the Rockies one hell of a chance to win, every single time, and has done so for the last four seasons.

They don’t make many pitchers like Aaron Cook – guys who can succeed without a swing and miss pitch because the swing and hit pitch in their arsenal splinters quality lumber like a Stihl chainsaw. But even though he might have more renown were he in the midst of what should be a rather lengthy prime in a larger market, Aaron Cook belongs in a Rockies uniform, the perfect pitcher with the perfect pitch for a largely imperfect set of circumstances. And nobody deserves to be the winningest pitcher in franchise history more than him.

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