NEW YORK -- As much as he likes Theo Epstein -- ``I love him to death," said Bronson Arroyo -- he hasn't called the Red Sox general manager since Epstein traded him to the Cincinnati Reds in March.
``If I called him when I'm pitching so good, I don't want to feel like I'm calling and saying, `Hey, you [messed] up.' I don't want to do that to him. I'll call him one of these days, but I don't want to be going too good because I don't want him to think that's the reason I was calling."
Hard to imagine things going any better than they are these days for Arroyo, who has morphed from an expendable arm with the Red Sox to Cincinnati's ace, the primary reason the Reds are the surprise leaders in the National League wild-card race.
When Reds manager Jerry Narron was asked the other day about Arroyo's chances of starting the All-Star Game, he said, ``That's an automatic. He's got a chance to win the Cy Young."
A chance? ``He's my pick for Cy Young," said Pedro Martínez, who watched Arroyo shut down the Mets' potent offense here earlier this week for his ninth win of the season, just one fewer than league leader Tom Glavine, while lowering his earned run average to 2.47, just a hair behind Chris Carpenter of the Cardinals (2.46).
``I guess you never expect to get off to the kind of start I've gotten off to," Arroyo said. ``Especially on a team that wasn't expected to win a ton of games. So, yeah, I mean, I can't complain about a two-and-a-half ERA. That's about as good as you can get. It's hard to do too much better."
Did Arroyo, who with his assortment of curves, sliders, and changeups all thrown at varying speeds and arm angles was dubbed a poor man's El Duque (Orlando Hernandez), walk into Reds camp expecting to be anointed the team's No. 1 starter? Of course not. We're talking about a guy who was on the waiver wire when Epstein claimed him in 2003. Did he believe he could pitch this well? Absolutely.
``I watch TV now and then," he said. ``I laugh at people. I [was watching] `Pardon the Interruption,' and they were saying something about 90 being the over-under for wins for the Reds this year. I think the other guy said under and [Bob Ryan] said under, too. He said, `I like Bronson Arroyo a lot, but he's not that damn good.'
``I love when people say stuff like that. Curt Schilling told me I couldn't pitch 230 innings with this body. Well, I'm going to do it and I ain't going to get hurt doing it, either ``I always thought I could do this in the game, after being with the Red Sox. I have this much confidence in myself ever since midway in 2004, once I got the ball every fifth day and showed I could win in the harshest environment. I knew I could pitch, I just didn't know I'd get off to a start like this."
In buttoned-down Cincinnati, where he isn't competing for attention with the likes of Johnny Damon and Kevin Millar, the laid-back Arroyo, with his long blond tresses, guitar, and willingness to say whatever is on his mind -- he ticked off the Pirates earlier this season by saying he was embarrassed to lose to such a weak team, then repeated himself the next day -- is already in demand.
He did a stand-up gig as a sports reporter for one TV station, cut an ad for a car dealership that was dwarfed in popularity by an outtake, in which he utters a mild profanity, that wound up on the Internet, and last week teamed with Raquel Aurilia, wife of Reds infielder Rich Aurilia, for a benefit concert that raised $35,000 for the team's charities.
All of that has helped to take the sting out of the day that left him brokenhearted, when Epstein informed him he'd been traded for outfielder Wily Mo Peña just weeks after he'd signed a three-year deal and declared his intention to remain a member of the Sox forever.
``Yeah, I've gotten adjusted over here," he said. ``You know, the only thing I really miss is 35,000 people going crazy every night. Other than that, my teammates are good, the field's fine, the city's good, I'm enjoying myself. It's easier for me to pitch over here, so inevitably, in the end, it's going to make me more money."
While Martínez, for one, adamantly disputes the prevailing notion that it's easier for a pitcher in the National League because of the absence of the DH, Arroyo not only embraces that argument but takes it even further.
``The lineups aren't very strong," he said. ``The strongest lineup in the National League probably isn't as strong, or as tough to pitch to, as Toronto or Baltimore. If everybody's healthy in St. Louis's lineup, that's probably the only one that can compare. The White Sox are tougher, Detroit this year is probably pretty tough, and then you have the Yankees, Toronto, and Baltimore in that division 19 times a year. I mean, it's hard to pitch over there.
``I've always said if you have a sub-four ERA in that division, you're pitching your butt off. Even guys winning a lot of games, like Schilling, have ERAs over four because it's hard to manage the game when the lineups are so good and so deep." Arroyo is aware of how the Sox found themselves short of starting pitching this spring, after David Wells broke down and Matt Clement first struggled, then went on the disabled list.
``People call me all the time, tell me that they're talking about me on NESN and WEEI, that Theo's taking a lot of heat. I love Theo to death, man, but if you trade me [and] I don't want to be traded, I hope I win 20 games and I hope at the end of the season he sits at home and says, `[Expletive], I wish [he] was still [here].'
``What else can you want? You know what I mean? That's just the way it is. I don't have any hard feelings toward him. I realize he's trying to do the best he could for the team, but my agent told him the day I was traded, `You're going to wish you still had him at some point this season, you watch.' "
Arroyo said he'd heard what Epstein had said on the day of the trade, that the decision was unanimous to trade him. Wells had told the Sox that he was healthy and could pitch, and the Sox took him at his word. With Wells's track record of winning, Arroyo said it was understandable that they believed him.
But he still didn't think he'd be traded.
``In my mind, the way that organization works, John Henry must have said yes, Larry Lucchino must have said yes, Terry Francona must have said yes, and so did Theo Epstein," Arroyo said. ``They felt they were doing the right thing, obviously. If they said it was a unanimous vote, who knows if it's true or not, that's what he said.
``I've never played in another place where the owner and CEO of the team come down to the manager's office and question the decisions he made that night. I don't know how frequently, but I know for a fact [that happened]. I was never there, but I've been told by people who were in the room that they've come down and said, maybe, `Why did you bring [Mike] Timlin in in the seventh with two outs?'
``That whole relationship is pretty wide open, as far as them wanting to get everybody's input. I never played in a place where trainers were out giving batting tips to hitters, either. All that stuff happened over there, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. [Former assistant trainer] Chang Lee used to be down there, hitting with [Mark] Bellhorn on the tee, which was weird, but it worked. Nobody had too big an ego."
Arroyo said he has benefited from pitching in Boston.
``It helped me a lot," he said. ``It helped me to manage a game like the one here, in a city that's very excitable at certain points of the game. It helps you deal with different things that can come at you during the season that maybe if you haven't been exposed to could bother you."
If it had been Arroyo's call, he never would have been traded. Hey, if it had been up to Arroyo, all of the guys who won a World Series in 2004 would still be in Boston.
``In my mind, they hadn't won a World Series in 86 years," he said. ``Insurance pays off people's contracts. I have no idea why we wouldn't have signed back everyone, and I mean everyone. The only guy I thought we had to get rid of was either Millar or [Doug] Mientkiewicz, because neither one of them wanted to be a role player.
``Other than that, I don't care what your ego is, I don't care what kind of beef you have with guys, I'd sign [Derek] Lowe back, I'd sign Pedro Martínez back, I'd bring back every single guy on that team.
``Because it worked, plain and simple. Eighty-six years, it worked. Why not try it again? In '05, we run away with that division without changing the team. We tied the Yankees with the exact same record and we didn't have a No. 1 all year, because Schilling hurt himself. If Pedro Martínez is there, we win the division by seven or eight games, we go to the playoffs, and we sure as hell don't get swept by the White Sox. But that's just me."
Bronson Arroyo, ace of the Reds. Arroyo, lock for National League All-Star. Arroyo, Cy Young Award candidate. The guy who never wanted to leave.