Harang, Sanchez fly under the radar
By Jayson Stark
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Much to the shock of approximately 98 percent of America, the National League batting champ's team met the National League strikeout champ's team Sunday.
Whoever they are.
These two guys are so far off the national radar grid, you could probably fund your kids' college education by walking into a bar in, say, South Dakota and laying a few sheckles that your pals couldn't answer our favorite trivia questions of this spring:
Who won the NL batting title last season? And even if you get that one, we know you can't answer the stumper: Which pitcher led the league in strikeouts?
In a more technologically advanced world, we would post a link to the "Final Jeopardy" theme song right here and give you 30 seconds to think this over. But since we're stuck with the world we've got, here come your answers:
And your defending holder of the strikeout crown would be … 28-year-old Reds right-hander Aaron Harang. Harang has gone 47-43 with a 4.28 ERA over his five-year career.
These are actual facts. Feel free to look them up.
It's an amazing phenomenon when you think about it. We worship batting champs -- as long as they're named Pujols or Gwynn or Ichiro. And there's nothing we love watching more than a strikeout pitcher -- as long as they're named Santana or Schilling or Clemens.
But every once in a while, a guy -- or in this case, two guys -- will make the mistake of being from Pittsburgh or Cincinnati and filling those niches. And we wipe them right out of our national consciousness.
You'd think those towns had seceded from the United States or something, just because they've combined to play in zero postseason series in the past 11 seasons.
"You know," Pirates GM Dave Littlefield said, "that's just how the sports world works. When you play on a team that hasn't won, it's harder to get recognition."
Well, we get that. But that doesn't mean it isn't an injustice. And there is no better example of that injustice than what happened to Harang last season, two years after the A's traded him to Cincinnati for Jose Guillen.
Maybe if he'd only led the league in strikeouts (with 216, in 234 1/3 IP), we could understand. But he also tied for the lead in wins, with 16. And history tells us it's almost impossible to pull off that daily double without generating some monstrous buzz.
Unless your name is Aaron Harang, that is.
Since the invention of the Cy Young Award in 1956, every pitcher who led the National League in both of those categories won the Cy Young (11 of them in a row). But boy, did Harang ever screw up that trend.
How close did he come to winning last year's Cy Young? Well, let's put it this way: He missed by one vote …
Of even getting a vote.
Any kind of vote. Second place. Third place. Melrose Place. You name the place.
Yes, friends. In an election in which eight pitchers got a vote, he got zero.
"I still can't believe he didn't get one Cy Young vote," Reds manager Jerry Narron said. "That's just unbelievable to me."
But that's only the beginning of Harang's dazzling journey toward invisibility. He also managed to avoid winning the Pitcher of the Year award -- on his own team. (Bronson Arroyo won that election.)
And when the new Reds media guide came out this spring, a pitcher was on the cover. But that pitcher was not Aaron Harang (naturally). It was Arroyo.
"He's as far under the radar as any player I've ever played with," Arroyo said. "In fact, I'll tell you the truth: When I came here, they said, 'You'll be the No. 2, behind Aaron Harang.' And I said, 'Who?'"
Then again, "Who" could almost be Harang's unofficial last name. For instance, here's the complete list of NL pitchers who have led the league in both wins and whiffs in the past 50 years: Randy Johnson, John Smoltz, Dwight Gooden, Steve Carlton (three times), Tom Seaver, Sandy Koufax (three times), Don Drysdale and … Aaron Harang. Who?
Even Harang said that when he first saw those names, "It was kind of a shocker. And it's still a shocker to me. I never would have thought I'd be on a list like that. I never really considered myself a strikeout pitcher."
Well, he'd better get used to it. He's a 6-foot-7 human mountain range with a live fastball that right-handed hitters can't seem to pick up. He had a better strikeout ratio last year (8.3 per 9 IP) than John Smoltz or Roger Clemens. And against left-handed hitters, who get devoured by his man-eating slider, his whiff rate was more than 10 per 9 IP.
"It's just his style of pitching," Arroyo said. "He's a guy who could punch out eight or 10 dudes in a game, and you're like, 'Hmmm, that was a nice outing.' … But Dontrelle Willis punches out 10, and you're like, 'Holy [cow],' because there's so much stuff going on and the way he looks and he's pumping his first and everything. Aaron just does his thing and walks off the mound."
That, however, is Aaron Harang. Laid-back. Quiet. And, well …
"I don't mean this in a bad way," first baseman Scott Hatteberg said with a laugh, "but he's just kind of boring."
"I am," Harang confessed. "I'm very boring. It's sufficient for me, just going out and golfing when I'm not pitching, or playing video games. I could sit in my room all day, and it wouldn't even faze me. …
"I guess I have fun," he said, chuckling. "I just don't have much of it