With the passing of former major league pitcher Jose Lima on Sunday, the baseball world lost an All-Star, a 20-game winner and, most of all, a character.
Lima’s career may have been a roller-coaster ride, but his demeanor was as consistent as it comes. Those who remember the flamboyant 13-year major leaguer will tell you that he was simply a good person.
“Though he was taken from us way too soon, he truly lived his life to the fullest, and his personality was simply unforgettable,” Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt told MLB.com. “He had the ability to light up a room, and that’s exactly what he did every time I saw him.”
Lima’s vibrant personality was often put on display by his passion for singing and dancing, which former teammate Brad Ausmus remembers fondly.
“We had to listen to his demo tape all the time in the locker room,” Ausmus told MLB.com. “Now, it’s a fond memory, back then it was annoying.”
That’s who Lima was though: colorful, energetic, enthusiastic. The kind of guy you couldn’t help but root for. Even when Lima was out of the majors and struggling to earn one last shot as a member of an independent baseball team in Long Beach, Calif., you just couldn’t help but want a guy like that to make it back to the big leagues. In a nutshell, he was as entertaining as they come.
Lima’s shot at a major league career may have been over by the time he reached the shores of Long Beach, but no one could have envisioned that his life soon would be. It’s times like these that make you take a step back and realize what made his career special.
The right-hander from the Dominican Republic was always fun, even in the heat of major league competition. It always was “Lima Time.”
With that, let’s take a look at the top five moments of Lima’s up-and-down, yet dynamic career:
5. July 19, 2001: Lima pitches a complete game versus the New York Yankees.
The Astros traded Lima to the Detroit Tigers – the team with which he started his career — for Dave Mlicki on June 23. Lima had been bounced to Houston’s bullpen earlier in the season, the Tigers were cellar dwellers, and Lima’s season (and perhaps career) was on a downward spiral. His earned run average was hovering around 7.00 for the season, and many began to question if he could be an effective major league starter.
In his fourth start with the Tigers, though, Lima pitched a complete game against the eventual American League champion New York Yankees. He allowed only one run on seven hits, and struck out four as the Tigers pulled off an 11-2 victory.
While the outstanding performance did little for the Tigers’ season, it may have saved Lima’s career.
Following the gem, Lima went on to pitch into the eighth inning in five consecutive starts.
4. June 6, 1998: Lima pitches a shutout versus the Kansas City Royals.
Lima was switched to a reliever after four starts with Detroit in 1996. After that season, the Tigers traded him to the Astros, and he spent the entire 1997 campaign in the bullpen, making only one start at the end of the season. In 1998, he returned to a starting role and found early success.
On June 6, Lima reached a new high, throwing the only regular-season shutout of his 13-year major league career.
He allowed only five hits against the Royals and struck out seven in a 6-0 win that improved his record to 7-2 on the season.
Lima went on to have more success that season, including throwing two consecutive complete games on July 27 and Aug. 1. He finished with a 16-8 record and 3.70 earned run average.
3. Aug. 12, 1995: Lima gets his first major league win.
Lima struggled in his first eight appearances overall as a major leaguer, and was 0-4 in his first six starts. He made three of those appearances (one start) in 1994 and was called back up to the Tigers in July of 1995. It took until a warm night in August against the Milwaukee Brewers — then of the AL — to get in the win column.
Lima allowed two runs on four hits through six innings for the win, as Lou Whitaker powered Detroit’s offense to an 8-2 victory.
2. Oct. 2, 1999: Lima helps the Astros break a tie atop the NL Central division.
Entering the day, the Houston Astros and Cincinnati Reds were deadlocked atop the NL Central division. At the end of the day, the Astros were in the driver’s seat. The reason: Jose Lima.
Lima defeated Chan Ho Park in a 3-0 pitcher’s duel against the Dodger in the Astros’ second-to-last game of the regular season. With the win and a Reds loss, the Astros ended the day with a one-game lead in the race for the NL Central division crown.
Lima pitched 7 2/3 scoreless innings and allowed seven hits and struck out eight.
The win was Lima’s 21st on the season, increasing his already career high.
1. Oct. 9, 2004: Lima pitches a complete game in Game 3 of the NLDS.
Down 2-0 in the series to the St. Louis Cardinals, the Los Angeles Dodgers desperately needed a win. The 32-year-old Lima gave it to them.
Lima pitched a complete-game shutout and allowed only five hits and struck out four. He threw 109 pitches, with 74 of them being strikes, and outdueled two-time All-Star Matt Morris in the 4-0 victory.
The Dodgers faithful were in an absolute frenzy as “Lima Time” pitched them back into the series.
Unfortunately for the Dodgers, the Cardinals won the next two games and won the series in five.
Nevertheless, the poise that Lima showed in only his third career postseason appearance was unprecedented. Despite the magnitude and intensity of the moment, he still brought the charisma and liveliness that made him who he was as a player and a person.
It was a night that few Dodgers fans will forget, and more importantly, it was the night that “Lima Time” reached new heights.