Monday, May 24, 2010

No More Comebacks for Jose Lima

The news about Jose Lima's sudden heart attack were stunning for a man only 37 years old. There is no way that you could have been a fan of baseball over the last fifteen years and not had a mental image in your head about who Jose Lima was or what he looked like on the ball field. He was so charismatic that it overshadowed his great successes and his stunning futility. It was always Lima Time no matter what the results ended up on the scoreboard.

Jose Lima came up with the Tigers in 1994 and pitched mostly as a relief pitcher for them for them with varying success. He then went to the Astros where he exploded on the national scene. He had two very good years for the Astros in 1998 and 1999. It is well known that he won 21 games for the Astros in 1999 in a playoff year for that team. Lima lost his only playoff start that year.

But his success ended after that season and in 2000, he lost 16 games against 7 wins and led the league in earned runs and home runs. The really noticeable stat for Lima during those early years and 2000 was that he struck out far less batters. To this casual observer, he was wrecked by Larry Dierker. He had never pitched more than 75 innings of work in a season and suddenly, he had two years of 230 plus innings of work. He pitched 246 innings in 1999 and he was then in the playoffs where he had to pitch some more. He never built up slowly to that work load and was thrust in there. He was never the same pitcher again.

There were some really awful years starting in 2001 and he bounced from team to team and most of the time, he just didn't have anything to offer his new team. He got rocked.

But then Lima had a wonderful renaissance with the Dodgers in 2004 and he went 13-5 in 24 starts and 36 over all appearances. The Fan remembers smiling at how happy he seemed to be back and pitching well. The joy that was always a part of his game just beamed in from everywhere. It was one last burst of Lima Time on the successful side. Alas, he was dreadful for the Royals the year after that and his career was over.

Sure, Lima was a bit of a showboat. Sure, he liked to create excitement. Sure, he pitched in the era of PEDs and being from the Dominican Republic, there is a good chance he was a part of that experience. But none of that will be remembered. What will be remembered was his infectious joy of playing baseball and how that never diminished during the extreme highs in his career and the extreme lows. He had more downs than ups, but he was always Jose Lima. And if there was Lima, it was Lima Time and success or not, it was always a fun ride.

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