When "King" Felix Hernandez and Randy "Big Unit" Johnson faced off for a 2-0 pitchers' duel in which both went at least seven innings, each struck out seven, and neither gave up more than four hits. Unfortunately, for Hernandez, two of the four hits he allowed were homers.
But aside from what happened on the field, this game represented a passing of the guard, from a 41-year-old, 5-time Cy Young winning, future Hall of Famer to a 19-year-old, flame-throwing kid who has just a handful of major-league starts to his name but is full of potential. It's like that scene at the end of "The Natural" in which Roy Hobbs faces seemingly his former self, a young Pirate pitcher fresh from the farm. And like the aging Robert Redford character, Johnson got the best of the youngster. However, if Hernandez turns into the pitcher that many expect him to become, he'll probably have the last laugh.
Aside from the symbolic meaning of the event, which may not be apparent for another ten or fifteen years, I wondered about something more tangible. I was left contemplating the significance of the age differences of the two starting pitchers. I couldn't remember the last time a pitcher who was 40 or over faced a teenager. So I looked it up
There were 153 potential matchups prior to this season. This was based on all combinations of a pitcher over 40 and another under 20 who were in the same league in the same season but on different teams and who started at least one game (from 1997-2004, I dropped the league constraint given intraleague baseball).
Using Retrosheet I was able to confirm that there have not been any other such pitching matchups in the last 40 seasons. Before 1966, Retrosheet's data is inconsistent, so the potential pairing prior to that season cannot be fully investigated.
It's a rare thing in baseball to find something that hasn't been done before, but that's what we might have seen the other day. If nothing else we saw pairing that probably hasn't happened in, well, Randy Johnson's lifetime. Isn't that enough?
Here are all the potential matchups in the last forty years, all of which never came to pass: