Amid a month of frustrating starts, all capped off by a 20-11 stinker against the Yankees the previous Friday night, Penny knew his job was in jeopardy. Tim Wakefield was on the way back and Paul Byrd was working his way up in the minor leagues. The Red Sox had guys in the wings, just waiting for their shot.
Everyone wanted to know whether Penny would end up going the way of John Smoltz.
At the time, of course, that meant falling out of the Red Sox' rotation and ending up on the waiver wire.
With the passing of time, we've seen that phrase given new meaning.
In John Smoltz, Red Sox fans see one failed experiment turning things around with a return to the National League. In Brad Penny, there's a good chance that they're about to see another.
We've seen this countless times before. Especially for pitchers, a transfer to the tamer, lighter-hitting NL is exactly what the doctor ordered for a prolonged slump. Smoltz couldn't cut it in Boston, but his results in St. Louis have shown an astounding turnaround — 11 innings, one run, 15 strikeouts, one walk, zero home runs.
Smoltz was a career National Leaguer. And once he made it back to his native land — baseball's senior circuit — he was ready to excel again. So why can't the same be said of Penny?
Penny was an ace in the National League not long ago. Two years ago, in fact.
In 2007, he went 16-4 with a 3.03 ERA, eating up 208 innings as the ace of the L.A. Dodgers. He finished third in the Cy Young voting. The year before that, he started the All-Star game for the National League. He won 16 games that year, too, leading the Dodgers into the playoffs.
Clearly, this is a guy who belongs in the NL West. He's found success there before, and at 31, he's far from too old to find it again. Penny deserves another shot at leading an NL team into the playoffs, and it appears he's found it.
Now that Penny is officially a member of the San Francisco Giants, it's time to look to the future. Unlike with the Red Sox, Penny now has a chance to be a real contributor in a pennant race — he can leave his Boston past behind and focus on October.
The three teams we heard as rumored landing points for Penny were the Yankees, Marlins and Giants. All three were reported to have expressed interest.
But the Yankees weren't the best fit — with a virtual stranglehold on an AL playoff berth, their pitching rotation needs no help. The only rotation that matters for them is the one that takes the mound in October. And Penny's not butting into that.
While the Yankees were too good, the Marlins were too bad. With the Fish struggling to stay above .500, their playoff hopes look grim, Penny or no Penny.
For Penny (shall we call him baseball's Goldilocks?), the Giants were just right. They're knocking on the door of the National League playoffs, and one more live arm might be just what they need to get over the top.
The Giants are well-endowed with starting pitching. Tim Lincecum is one of the game's elite, Matt Cain is an unheralded star in his own right, Barry Zito has found a rebirth in 2009 and Jonathan Sanchez already has a no-hitter under his belt this season. San Francisco has four solid arms already lined up.
But with the injuries that have hit the team's staff (Randy Johnson, Noah Lowry and the prospect Kelvin Pichardo, just to name three), the Giants were in search of one more arm. In Penny, it looks like they've found it.
There's no doubt that he can help them contend. He's been lights-out in that division before, and he's got the potential to find that dominance again.
Sometimes, a change of scenery is all you need. Well, that and a softer league with weaker hitters. It worked for Smoltz, didn't it?
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