- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 7, 2008

Who knows what kind of major league careers Brad Ziegler and Chris Waters will have, or even if they’ll still be pitching in the bigs a year from now? Ziegler, after all, is just breaking in with the A’s at 28, and Waters, the Orioles’ lefty-come-lately, will be the same age later this month. But right now they’re in the throes - don’t wake them, please - of that wonderfully altered state known as beginner’s luck.

How else do you explain the events of recent days? On Sunday, Ziegler broke a record that had stood for 101 years, beginning his career with a scoreless streak that now stands at 34 innings (going into Wednesday night’s game at Toronto). That’s right, folks, after kicking around in the minors for five seasons, he has magically turned into a reliever who’s half-Rivera, half-Godzilla.

Two days later, Waters, fresh up from Norfolk - where, with a 3-6 record and 5.70 ERA, he reminded no one of Scott McGregor - allowed only a Vladimir Guerrero single in eight shutout innings against the Angels, the team with best record in baseball. Not bad for a guy who washed out of the Braves’ farm system after the 2005 season and was signed off the scrap heap by the O’s.

It’s a beautiful thing, the ridiculous good fortune sometimes enjoyed by first-timers. Baseball, in particular, seems to provide us with almost annual examples of it.

A year ago, for instance, we had the Red Sox’s Clay Buchholz, a September call-up, throwing a no-hitter against Baltimore in his second major league start. Around the same time, the Sox promoted Jacoby Ellsbury from Pawtucket for the stretch run, and he wound up hitting .353 in 33 games and .438 in the World Series.

Alas, in real life - unlike literature (see “The Kid Who Batted 1.000,” one of my favorite books in elementary school) - it’s impossible to continuing performing at such a level. You can’t keep holding the opposition to zero hits or zero runs, any more than you can keep smacking three doubles in a Series game (as Ellsbury did).

Have you noticed what Buchholz and Ellsbury have been doing this season? Clay is 2-7 with a 5.94 ERA, and Jacoby is batting .261 and slugging .354. Welcome back to Planet Earth, fellas; and don’t worry about it - it happens to everybody.

But is it ever fun while it lasts. How cool would it be if Ziegler kept right on going and broke the record for consecutive scoreless innings - held by Orel Hershiser (59) and, before him, Hall of Famers Don Drysdale and Walter Johnson? We’re talking, after all, about a pitcher who had his skull fractured by a line drive in A ball and might never have made the majors if he hadn’t switched to a sidearm delivery a year ago.

As an added bonus, Ziegler’s streak has allowed another forgotten hurler, long dead George McQuillan, to take a final bow. McQuillan didn’t give up a run for the first 25 innings of his career with the Phillies in 1907, a mark that stood until the A’s unscored-upon reliever came along.

Just out of curiosity, I did some research on McQuillan. In the ‘20s, it turns out, he briefly managed the American Association’s Columbus Senators, a club presided over by one Joe Carr. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Carr was also president of the National Football League. (Obviously, the NFL job wasn’t that time consuming - or didn’t pay that well … or both.)

McQuillan reportedly had an unusual clause in his contract with Columbus. It provided that he “will be allowed Memorial Days off to march in the parade,” according to the Davenport (Iowa) Democrat and Leader. And we never would have known it if Ziegler hadn’t put together this amazing scoreless streak.

We also wouldn’t have known that Ziegler has a blog, “Getting’ Ziggy With It.” Check out his musings some time at sbnation.com. One of highlights of his career so far, he says, is “being mentioned on the espn.com Insider blogs of Peter Gammons and Buster Olney. I’m pretty sure I don’t deserve the media attention I’ve received so far, but it’s still fun to see.”

You certainly do deserve it, Brad. And so does Chris Waters, whose gem of a performance the other night earned him a shaving cream pie in the face from Melvin Mora - and, of course, another start.

Orioles skipper Dave Trembley never expected to be handing the ball to Waters in Anaheim; the slow-developing southpaw didn’t really figure in the club’s plans. But an injury to 23-year-old prospect Hayden Penn created a desperate situation, and Waters took full advantage by pitching the game of his life.

“A big lift for our club,” Trembley said afterward. “I’m going to replay this one tonight when I get back to my room.”

It was as if he wanted to make sure he hadn’t dreamed it. Beginner’s luck can be like that.

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