The Patron Pitcher of the Blog

There are many reasons why one becomes a fan.  Perhaps there’s a player with a fun name or a name that is similar to yours on a team that you are watching.  Perhaps a player hit a big home run or piled up some strikeouts at the first game you remember attending.  Perhaps it’s passed down through the generations, perhaps you become a fan of another team to spite those generations.

Fandom is not rational.  Why should I be a fan of the Cardinals when the Royals are closer to where I live and the Rangers are just as far away?  Why do I deck myself out in red rather than blue, save for the more pleasing effect on my sanity?  It probably helped that as I was starting to follow baseball, the Cardinals were in the midst of their strong run in the 1980s.  It definitely helped that they had Ozzie Smith patrolling the infield.  To this day, I can’t tell you if I liked the Cardinals first or the Wizard first.

So when, in 2012, the Cardinals announced that they were bringing up Tyler Lyons from Memphis, it didn’t really register on me.  I’m not a big prospect watcher like the guys at Future Redbirds or CardinalsFarm, and while I’d probably heard the name somewhere along the way, it didn’t make a big impact.

Until they announced that he’d wear the number 70.

If there was a Lyons bandwagon then, I immediately got on and shoved myself to the front of the line.  I’ve cheered for him, defended him on Twitter, and argued for his placement on the postseason roster.  And while I’ve believed those arguments and they have merit, there’s a strong likelihood I would not be so passionate about it had they assigned him 71 or 68.  That number means something to me.

Tonight, in what is really one of the highlights of my blogging career, I’ll get a chance to interview the Patron Pitcher of the Blog.  While there’s no doubt I’ll be asking about his number, I wanted to look into his history, see what other things to ask about.  Given that the blog posts have been sporadic around here recently, it seemed a good way also to kill two birds with one stone.  Let’s take a look at Wikipedia and see what we find.

For example, did you know that Lyons was a two-sport star in high school before focusing his attention (wisely) on baseball and going to Oklahoma State to play ball there?  He was fourth in the country in wins during 2008 while a Cowboy and got to play with Team USA that summer, when they won a gold medal in the FISU World Championships.  He didn’t give up an earned run in any of his appearances during that run.

He was drafted by the Yankees in 2009 but didn’t sign.  Usually, you’d think that he was a late round pick to turn down that opportunity, but as a 10th-round selection, it’s a little more notable that he rejected going to such a decorated organization.  Granted, there’s no telling what the negotiations were like and he did have another year of school to use as leverage, but it is interesting that he was confident enough to go back to school.

The Cards drafted him the next year in the ninth round, so he did move up a slot by going back to Stillwater.  He started his minor league career the next season and quickly made an impact, being the first player to throw a no-hitter at Palm Beach in their history.  The overall ERA wasn’t superb, but he did manage nine wins.

The next season, he quickly ran through Springfield before running into a bit of a wall in Memphis.  He was sent back to the land of the blues to start the ’13 campaign, but injuries led him to his first major league start on May 22, 2013 in San Diego.

I still remember writing up the post, one of my last before moving over here to the Conclave, and that picture of the big 70 across his back as he shut down the Padres.  He had back to back strong outings, allowing just one run in seven innings both times, before faultering a bit and then returning to Memphis.

He returned later that season and seemed to find a home in the bullpen.  Save for an up-and-down spot start in July, when he was just called up because of a double header, he returned in August and had four of his five appearances come in relief.  In each of them, he went at least two innings and in only one of them did he allow a run.

With his experience on a team that was less stocked with pitching talent, he well might have been assured a spot on the Opening Dday roster.  Instead, he start in Memphis again in 2014, though he was promoted by the end of April.  He had three starts, two good, one middling, and a couple of good outings out of the pen.

Then the Cubs happened.

Making the start on May 12, the Cubs got four in the first, three in the second and two in the fourth off of Lyons.  The Cubs hit him hard and hit him often.  He allowed two home runs in that span and Chicago wound up with a 17-5 win.

You can allow a lot of runs in a game if you have the pedigree of Adam Wainwright and not have too many repercussions.  Not so much for a second-year player.  Lyons was sent out after that game back to Memphis.  He pitched well for the Redbirds and became the club’s career leader in complete games.

He came up and got one appearance in July, allowing four runs in three innings (though none were earned) in a game that was already fairly out of reach.  He was sent down and didn’t return until August 30, when he faced the Cubs again.  This time, the results were a bit different.

Lyons came into the game with the Cards down 5-1 after another rough outing by Justin Masterson.  He got the last two men out in the fifth, then went the distance, allowing Chicago no more runs, only one more hit, and striking out eight of the 14 men he faced.

The Patron Pitcher only received three more appearances during the rest of the season, going almost two weeks between the last two.  He took the loss against the Reds on September 10 when he allowed two runs (one earned) in 2.1 innings.  He wrapped up the season with 0.2 scoreless innings against, yes, the Cubs.

If there weren’t so many lefties in the bullpen or so many wonderful starters in the rotation, Lyons would seem to be a lock for the roster this coming year.  He’s a guy that can give you solid innings, who is versatile enough to go from rotation to relief, and will just turn 27 in about a month.  He’ll likely never be a top-of-the-line guy, but you win with solid contributors like him.  I’ll be keeping an eye on him in Jupiter, seeing how the Cards are using him and how he’s doing with the tasks assigned.  No matter the outcome, I’ll always be a fan.

As long as he doesn’t change that number, of course.

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