Throughout his final two months with the Red Sox in 2009, Brad Penny was bad enough to get sent packing in favor of a rookie from Japan who wasn't supposed to make it to the bigs until 2010.
From July 4 to Aug. 21 — his last start with Boston — Penny went 2-7 with a 6.98 ERA and allowed opponents a batting average of .313 in 39 innings. That's about 5.4 innings per start.
Then, he went back home to the National League and everything changed.
The former Boston right-hander, who was released last week and picked up by the suddenly surging Giants, started on Wednesday night and looked nothing like the Penny that Boston fans became accustomed to over the past month. He looked like the Penny of old, the one who started the All-Star Game in 2007, the one who strung together two straight 16-win seasons for Los Angeles not too long ago.
Penny lasted eight innings on Wednesday, allowing zero runs and just five hits to the NL East-leading Phillies. He becomes the second recently released Boston pitcher to rediscover his swagger within the friendlier confines of the NL.
So what's the issue here? Is the National League really that much softer than the American League? Does Penny simply excel in the NL West, where he saw the most success of his 10-year career? Or does this point to a bigger problem within the Red Sox organization?
If Josh Beckett went back to the Marlins, would he be unhittable again? If Jon Lester played for the Giants, would he be Tim Lincecum-esque?
Hopefully not. Hopefully, this is just beginner's luck for both Smoltz and Penny. Because if it isn't — if the problem is the Red Sox — well, the Nation doesn't even want to think about that.