09/21/2002 02:31 am ET
Anderson happy to be on mound
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
DETROIT -- Matt Anderson was scared and nervous as he took the mound Friday night for the first time in four months and two days. Judging from the quiver in his voice after the game, he was still a little nervous.
For a pitcher who had never missed an appearance due to injury in his entire baseball career -- dating back to Little League -- a comeback was just as foreign as the injury. To be able to play again was like gaining his career back.
"It's basically the best experience I've had in baseball, to be honest with you," he said Friday, his shaky voice revealing his energy. "Just to come back for an inning."
In a rain-delayed 5-1 loss to the Yankees that saw the Tigers load the bases twice without scoring -- once with no outs -- Anderson's eighth inning was the bright spot of Friday night/Saturday morning. The once-dominant closer saw his first two batters reach base, then battled back for a strikeout and two groundouts.
"His inning went like we expected him to look," pitching coach Steve McCatty. "He threw the ball good."
It came four months to the day that Anderson last warmed up in the bullpen for an appearance. It was that night that he felt a twinge in his arm and had to stop throwing. Back then, he was prepping for his second game back after missing more than two weeks with shoulder stiffness.
After further review, Anderson had torn the teres major muscle under his right arm. It was an injury so unusual that head trainer Russ Miller had never seen it in 37 years of his profession. But then, Anderson is an unusual player.
That prompted four months of rehab for an injury few had ever seen in sports. The verdict from Anderson: "Rehab (stinks). It's hard work, a lot harder than playing every day."
That summation comes from a pitcher who, when healthy, throws a baseball at 100 miles an hour. Take away the difference in velocity for a first outing -- he topped out at 96 mph according to the stadium radar gun -- and Anderson looked close to midseason form.
But Anderson didn't feel that way, not as he took the mound with the defending AL champs at the plate and no rehab stint under his belt.
"I was scared," he said. "This is the big leagues, the best out there. I didn't know what to expect. I started feeling good with my timing, got my pitches over, started getting my slider."
He was admittedly afraid, but he couldn't really define what he was fearing. It wasn't his health, since he'd felt good for weeks. It wasn't failure, since he deals with that with velocity. "It's just there," he said.
Failure would've been a relative term Friday. A 5-1 deficit gave manager Luis Pujols a low-pressure situation in which to unleash his ex-closer. That said, an infield single and a full-count walk didn't look promising to start the inning.
With runners on first and second and no one out, he set up his strikeout beautifully after falling behind 2-0 on Raul Mondesi. He sent Mondesi whiffing on a 93-mph heater and snuck a 96-mph fastball for strike two. He then sent Mondesi flailing on a slider in the dirt and outside.
To hear Anderson describe it made it sound like the seventh game of the World Series and reminded plenty of Tigers why it's such a privilege to play the game. "I'm almost speechless right now," Anderson said of the strikeout. "It's a great feeling. (Freaking) awesome."
Once he threw that slider with confidence, the jam was relatively easy to escape. He mixed fastball and offspeed to Rondell White for a groundout to second. He threw three straight fastballs to Enrique Wilson, two of them fouled off, before Wilson hit a slider for an inning-ending grounder to second.
"Everybody's happy," McCatty said. "Matt being healthy is a huge plus to the bullpen -- no ifs, ands or buts."
It remains to be seen how he fits into Detroit's bullpen. Since he last pitched regularly, Juan Acevedo turned from middle man to potential 30-save closer, Oscar Henriquez went from minor-league closer to quality middle man, and Franklyn German came over from Oakland's farm system to become Detroit's next potentially dominant reliever. A healthy Anderson could end up on the trading block this winter.
For now, though, Anderson is simply happy to be on any big-league mound.
"I got out there and basically it all came back to me," he said. "I'll take it. I'll take it."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.