Mets you’ve forgotten about: Glendon Rusch

glendon-rusch April 27, 2000.  On a Thursday afternoon getaway day, the Mets were set to face off against the Cincinnati Reds in the rubber game of a three game series.  Steve Parris would toe the rubber for the Reds, and the Mets would send lefty Glendon Rusch to the hill in front of the “B” squad.

Soon-to-be eight-year-old Joe Vasile sat down in the loge section along the third base line to take in his first live baseball game ever.

Maybe that’s why I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for the soft-tossing lefty.  Maybe that’s not it at all.  Maybe it’s best described by this series of tweets from NBC baseball scribe Craig Calcaterra:

.@GlendonRusch is now following me on Twitter. This makes me very happy. Because for reasons hard to explain, I always wanted to be him.

— Craig Calcaterra (@craigcalcaterra) April 8, 2014

 

 

Maybe not @GlendonRusch specifically. But if I could never be Randy Johnson, I wanted to be a guy like Glendon Rusch. A pro. A battler. — Craig Calcaterra (@craigcalcaterra) April 8, 2014

 

I bet @GlendonRusch has things to say, things he learned about pitching. Stuff that is way more relatable than what Randy Johnson can say. — Craig Calcaterra (@craigcalcaterra) April 8, 2014

 

I used to say I’d want to be a LOOGY. But in reality: I’d want to be a sometimes 3-4th starter, sometimes swingman. Like @GlendonRusch

— Craig Calcaterra (@craigcalcaterra) April 8, 2014

 

Baseball is like anything else. The stories of the fighters, the sometime-losers are always more interesting than those of the alphas.

— Craig Calcaterra (@craigcalcaterra) April 8, 2014

 

Calcaterra is absolutely right.  Guys who are just the rank-and-file players are not only more interesting but are easier to root for, because we see a little more of ourselves in them.

Rusch was never a guy who was going to blow anyone away – it’s hard to do that with an 88 mile per hour fastball – but he was a guy the Mets could depend on to take the ball every fifth day and put in a yeoman’s effort.

Originally drafted in the 17th round of the 1993 Amateur Draft by the Kansas City Royals, Rusch worked his way through the minors quickly, including skipping right over AA after going 14-6 with a 1.74 ERA with an outstanding 8.0 K/9 and 1.8 BB/9 as a 20 year old in 1995.

That performance would earn him the number 83 spot on Baseball America’s Top prospect list in 1996.  A slight regression in AAA Omaha that year saw him slide to number 89 heading into the 1997 season, but he was ranked the top prospect in the Royals system.

Rusch would make his major league debut that year, starting 27 games for the Royals with mixed results.  He would go 6-9 with an ERA of 5.50.  He still showed great control, walking 2.75 batters per nine, but the strikeouts were down to just 6.13 batters per nine.  He also surrendered 28 long balls in 170.1 innings pitched.

The next season was not great as well – Rusch went 6-15 with a 5.88 ERA.  Good news was the home runs were down, but so were the strikeouts, now at a 5.47 per nine rate and the walks were up a tick to 2.91 per nine.

With his effectiveness waning, Rusch spent much of 1999 in the minor leagues, posting a 4-7 record with a 4.62 ERA in Omaha.

He seemed to be the classic case of a top pitcher being brought up too soon, losing his confidence, and never reaching his full potential.  By the time September 1999 rolled around, the Royals were ready to give up and cut bait with Rusch.

That was when then-Mets Assistant GM Omar Minaya suggested to Steve Phillips that they deal Dan Murray, a right-handed pitcher, to the Royals for Rusch.  And on September 14, 1999, the trade went through.

Going into Spring Training in 2000, Rusch was battling for the fifth spot in the back end of the Mets rotation with Bobby M. Jones, Bill Pulsipher (now back from a short stint in Milwaukee), knuckleballer Dennis Springer and Pat Mahomes.

Jones and Pulsipher were simply not good in their auditions, Springer was all over the place and Mahomes was a reliever first and foremost, so Rusch easily won the spot.

There’s an interesting throwaway line in an old Newsday article written by Marty Noble, “The two-seam fastball that he has tried to incorporate into his repertoire hadn’t behaved as he had hoped.”

Apparently it started behaving better quickly.

That 2000 season would go on to be one of the finest of Rusch’s career.  He threw 190.2 innings compiling an 11-11 record despite the lowest run support in the National League (3.73 runs per nine).  Rusch found his strikeout pitch, fanning 7.41 batters per nine, in a year where the league average was 6.53 batters per nine.  He also walked only 2.08 batters per nine, the lowest rate of his career.

Rusch had the second-highest fWAR (4.3) of any pitcher on the Mets staff that year, trailing only Al Leiter (4.4) for the lead.

He was put in the bullpen during the playoffs, and allowed just one run in 8.1 innings.

Rusch’s breakout 2000 season had other GMs taking notice around baseball.  During the following offseason, he was involved in several trade rumors.  The Pittsburgh Pirates had reportedly offered John Vander Wal, the Houston Astros tried to give the Mets Daryle Ward, and the Mets actually had a deal in place to trade Rusch and Grant Roberts to Toronto in exchange for David Wells, which Toronto GM Gord Ash pulled out of.

So the Mets entered that frustrating 2001 season with Rusch still in the starting rotation.

He would continue throughout most of 2001 to do what he did in 2000 – show flashes of brilliance mixed in with being incredibly frustrating.

At the time, Rusch, now 26, was considered to be having a bad season – evidenced by his 8-12 record and 4.63 ERA.  A little revisionist history, though shows that Rusch actually pitched better – his peripheral stats got better – but the deadly combination of a poor offense and bad luck (.347 BABIP vs. .308 in 2000) sunk his traditional numbers.

The trade rumors roared on through the regular season right up until the July 31st deadline, but it was Rick Reed, not Rusch who was eventually dealt for outfield help in the form of Matt Lawton.

In the thick of those rumors, Rusch pitched the game of his life.  The Mets played the Boston Red Sox in an interleague matchup on the night of July 14.  The game started off innocently enough: Rusch struck out Jose Offerman, then Chris Stynes reached when Lenny Harris, getting a rare start at first, dropped a throw from shortstop Desi Relaford.

Then things got interesting.  Trot Nixon laid a bunt down the first base line that was fielded by Harris.  Rusch was slow getting over to cover first base, so Harris decided to toss the ball to Edgardo Alfonzo who was also rushing over to the bag.

Alfonzo and Nixon ended up colliding as the ball skipped past and up the right field line.  Stynes went to third on the play, which was ruled a hit and an error on Harris.

Rusch retired the next 11 batters to face him, before walking Scott Hatteberg in the fifth.  He would settle down and retire the final 12 batters who faced him.

Having thrown 117 pitches, Rusch was pulled after eight innings of one hit, one walk, 10 strikeout baseball.  Armando Benitez came in and shut the door in the ninth as the Mets won 2-0.

By Game Score, it was the best pitching performance by a Met in 2001, and the best of Rusch’s career.

That game is certainly the shining moment of Rusch’s Mets career, which would sadly last only through the end of the 2001 season.

He was dealt in the 3-team mega-deal that sent Rusch and Harris to Milwaukee, Benny Agbayani and Todd Zeile to Colorado, Alex Ochoa from the Rockies to the Brewers, and Ross Gload, Craig House, Jeromy Burnitz, Lou Collier, Jeff D’Amico, Mark Sweeney and cash considerations to the Mets.  That trade didn’t really work out well for anyone in particular, although it continues to have an impact on the 2014 Mets.

As if almost on cue, upon arrival in Milwaukee, Rusch transformed back into the pitcher he had been in Kansas City – his strikeouts plummeted, his walks spiked up as did his FIP.  An equally rough start to his 2003 season led to his being demoted from the starting rotation and stuck out in the bullpen, where he would actually pitch better.

For the next three seasons, Rusch was effective as a part-time starter and reliever, putting up seasons of >2.0 fWAR from 2003 – 2005.

Then things got scary in 2006.  After dealing with some injuries, Rusch was having a rough season with the Chicago Cubs.  In September, he was diagnosed with a life-threatening blood clot in his lung, causing him to miss the rest of the season, and take all of 2007 off after he was released by the Cubs.

Rusch made a comeback in 2008 with the San Diego Padres, but was released in May and picked up a week later by the Colorado Rockies.  He seemed to finally regain his early 2000s form in Coors Field of all places – limiting his walks and pitching well despite a 4.78 ERA.

Rusch resigned with the Rockies in 2009, and got BABIP-ed to death (.438) in 18.2 innings before being designated for assignment on May 15th.

Since then, he kicked around the independent leagues for a while and has worked as an instructor at a baseball academy in California.

Not bad for a lefty with an 88 mile per hour fastball.

Joe Vasile is the voice of the Fayetteville SwampDogs and a play-by-play announcer for NJ.org Varsity.


5 comments for “Mets you’ve forgotten about: Glendon Rusch

  1. Doug
    April 14, 2014 at 11:27 am

    OK, I have a well-established prejudice against Rusch (http://mets360.com/?p=15203), related mostly to the fact that his first name is two first names crammed together. But a 5.04 career ERA? A 1.484 WHIP? Some things we’re better off forgetting…

    • Joe Vasile
      April 14, 2014 at 11:35 am

      Haha…my love of Rusch is probably mostly related to him having pitched the first game I went to.

  2. Patrick Albanesius
    April 14, 2014 at 1:26 pm

    Excellent story! It doesn’t necessarily matter why we like certain players, it’s just the collective passion for the game we all love.

  3. DED
    April 14, 2014 at 2:10 pm

    Boy, do I love this.

    In 2000 I was part of a round robin emailing group discussing the Mets. It was not generally known just how good Rusch had been that season, how much he suffered from poor run support and so forth. I tried to bring that to light among that little circle of fans, to the extent of my abilities.

    Hey, he was not a great talent, but he was a New York Met for a while, and he did a fine job whilst wearing the uni. It is more than some better compensated players can claim.

  4. Jim OMalley
    April 15, 2014 at 7:18 am

    …he had a decent Showdown card too….

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