When Bartolo Colon took the mound for the Texas Rangers in his last start, the big right-hander had pitched against Boston coaches more than twice as much as the current Red Sox players.
No player in the majors is older than Colon, who turns 45 on May 24. And no active pitcher has as many as his 241 career wins or 533 starts, the firsts of both which came for Cleveland in 1997.
Still, the portly pitcher with the nickname of “Big Sexy” is having a blast — and still success — in his mid-40s and with his 11th different major league team.
“I feel great. I feel proud,” Colon said through a translator.
“He should,” said Detroit manager Ron Gardenhire, whose Tigers are in town for Colon’s next scheduled start Wednesday. “Pitching this late in your life, it’s not easy to do on this level. It takes a special person to even want to put in the work. He’s a pretty special baseball player.”
While Colon (1-1, 3.29 ERA) is pleasant yet somewhat oblivious to reporters, he loves being around the game. He is constantly chatting with teammates in the clubhouse, in the dugout and on the field. And he often interacts with opponents, and even umpires.
Red Sox first base coach Tom Goodwin was heading back to the Boston dugout in the middle of the sixth inning last Friday night when he noticed Colon coming directly toward him.
“I was just walking and Bart comes up to me and just says ‘Hey, my neck hurts.’ That, and then he slapped me on the back and he kept going,” Goodwin said with a chuckle recalling the encounter soon after Colon had given up his third leadoff homer in the game.
When Colon was pitching for the New York Mets from 2014-16, Goodwin was coaching there.
“He was a joy. I wish I would have played with him,” Goodwin said. “But to have him on the Mets team, I know he helped our young guys out, just kind of relax, and “Hey, it’s not the end of the world.’ Have fun, enjoy what you’re doing. Nobody does it more than he does.”
Nothing seems to bother him. Colon often nonchalantly tosses the ball up in the air while waiting for retired batters to get back to the dugout, or during stoppages of play.
Even when he took a perfect game into the eighth inning April 15 on the road against the defending World Series champion Astros in a duel of former AL Cy Young winners with Justin Verlander pitching for Houston.
Colon is two wins shy of tying Hall of Fame pitcher Juan Marichal for the most by a player born in the Dominican Republic. He needs four wins to match Nicaragua’s Dennis Martinez for the most by a native of Latin America.
After retiring the first 21 Houston batters last month, Colon walked Carlos Correa to start the eighth before Josh Reddick lined a double into the right-field corner. Opposing fans in Houston gave Colon a standing ovation, and he clapped his bare hand softly against the outside of his glove looking toward Reddick, his former teammate in Oakland.
When Colon was removed from the game with two outs and the game tied at 1, after throwing 66 of 96 pitches for strikes, he had a grin on his face when he glanced at Reddick on third base and the two shared some words.
In losing his last game against Rick Porcello, another former Cy Young winner, Colon struck out four without a walk in seven innings against the Red Sox and the only runs came on four solo homers. He threw 91 pitches, with only 22 balls while facing 26 batters.
No longer the hard-throwing pitcher he was a decade ago, Colon has adapted and is still getting hitters out.
“He’s made some incredible adjustments over the years, from being a really hard thrower now to manipulating the baseball,” Texas pitcher Doug Fister said.
Red Sox manager Alex Cora was watching the national TV broadcast of Colon’s near perfect game against the Astros.
“That was unreal, the way he’s using that back-door sinkers to righties. It starts in the other dugout, and comes back for a strike,” said Cora, his teammate with Boston in 2008. “He’s pitching a lot different than the norm right now. Usually it’s north-south, he’s still going east to west and he’s still getting people out. And he enjoys the game, which is great.”
Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus had faced Colon many times before they became teammates.
“He amazes you. You know what he’s going to throw, you know his game plan, he’s still dealing,” Andrus said. “As he’s aged, you see the desire that he’s got to continue to play this game with that passion is just unbelievable.”
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