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Cincinnati vs. Pittsburgh, 18 September 2005

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Eric Milton (7-14, 6.55) vs. Oliver Perez (6-5, 6.04).

[Eleven men sit on folding chairs in the middle of a dusty, poorly lit church basement. The oldest of the bunch rises to his feet to address the group.]

OLDER MAN: Gentlemen, I'm Brian Kingman. Welcome to the Support Group for Very Bad Major League Starters. You may remember that I myself was not actually a very bad starter, but I'm remembered as one because I lost 20 games in 1980. Even though I myself was not very bad, I was out of baseball by the time I turned 29. That may happen to some of you.

We've had some pitchers graduate from this program and do well for themselves, like Jeremy Bonderman. Others of you may not be able to succeed on the mound again, but at least you'll be able to leave this program with your head held high. Some of your lives are probably very difficult right now. Your teammates are angry at you, your manager is upset at himself for having had faith in you, the fans resent you, your wives won't pay attention to you...

JOSE LIMA: In my case, there is a very good reason for that. Man, have you ever seen my wife? I mean, what have I done?

KINGMAN: Well... before we get into any of that, some new friends have joined us today. You two fellows in the purple, would you care to introduce yourselves?

MAN IN PURPLE: Uh, I'm Jamey Wright and this is Jeff Francis. We're from Denver...

KINGMAN: Oh. Well, you guys are in the wrong room. The Coors Field Support Group is down the hall. Mike Hampton is the leader. It used to be Denny Neagle, but then we found out that he was telling his group members about some... unsavory ways of dealing with stress.

WRIGHT: Okay. Thanks. [Wright and Francis leave.]

KINGMAN: Okay, well, we really do have one new member tonight. He hasn't pitched as many innings as the rest of you, but he has been absolutely wretched most of the year. He'd like to tell you his story.

[A skinny young man stands up.]

SKINNY YOUNG MAN: Hello everyone, I'm Oliver and I'm freaking awful.

EVERYONE [sounding bored]: Welcome, Oliver.

PEREZ: This all started last year, when I pitched wonderfully and was one of the few guys on the Pirates worth paying attention to. The Pirates got worried about my arm and told me not to pitch in the Mexican League in the winter. So I didn't, but then I didn't show up in training camp ready to pitch, either. I sat out for a while, and the team told reporters it was because I had slept on my arm wrong or some such nonsense. Then when I returned to the mound and pitched badly, everyone assumed the sleeping thing was the problem, or that I was just working out the sorts of kinks that other pitchers have the luxury of working out during spring training. As the season wore on, I had a couple of good starts, but they were few and far between. Then I got hurt in one of those clubhouse temper tantrums and had to take several weeks off, and when the training staff said I was ready to play, I went to the minors, but I couldn't even get hitters out down there. I just returned to Pittsburgh even though I still don't really know what's wrong with me.

KINGMAN: Thanks for sharing, Oliver. Everyone, let's go around the room and introduce ourselves.

MARK HENDRICKSON: Hi, I'm Mark and I'm freaking awful. And I'm freakishly tall, so it's not even like I can hide from the press after getting shelled.

JOEL PINEIRO: Hi, I'm Joel and I'm freaking awful. I've been having trouble with my mechanics, and I'm recovering from elbow and shoulder injuries.

JOE MAYS: At least you only have an injury. At this point in my career, I basically am an injury.

RYAN FRANKLIN: At least you have injuries to blame for your troubles. I'm just awful. And to make things worse, my steroid abuse is giving me man-boobs.

LIMA: Hey, at least you don't have HERPES! I'd gladly take man-boobs in exchange for my herpes!

ZACK GREINKE: Whatever, dude, it's just a skin rash. I'm not going anywhere near you in the shower, though.

KINGMAN: Calm down, fellas, calm down. There's still one more pitcher who needs to introduce himself.

LAST PITCHER: My name is Eric Milton and I'm freaking awful. I give up so many home runs, I'm kind of like Albert Pujols in reverse. Oliver, I think we're actually facing each other in our next starts, which is great news, because only one of us can lose.