Read Part One of our very special series
Season One Continued – My First Taste of October Baseball (2020)
Any initial nerves surrounding my Major League debut had long subsided. Following a successful first half of my initial tour of the bigs, I emerged rejuvenated and ready to dominate heading out of what I hoped was the final All-Star break I wouldn’t be playing ball. The rest of the season unfolded much like the beginning including adding to my every growing list of Major League firsts with a tense save against the Nationals when I was called upon to shut things down in a 7-6 game with 2 men on and 2 outs in the 9th.
The smooth sailing continued, and I finished the regular season at 7-1 with a 1.11 ERA and 120 K’s in 81 innings. Thankfully, I wasn’t the only one having a great year. At 90-72 record, the Braves earned a spot in the playoffs.
As a middle reliever, I saw limited action in our playoff run including my first postseason win against the Phillies. My team showed a lot of resiliency coming back from down 3-2 in the 9th to win 4-3, but we still had some work to do. Our 2-1 Division Series lead eventually evaporated to the soon to be world champion Phillies, adding our name to the list of 29 teams that end the year disappointed.
After the playoffs, the team was so pleased with my performance that they skipped the normal process of trying to keep me around cheap until I had accrued enough major league service by presenting me with a 4 year, $14.4 million contract that I signed faster than they could put it on the table in front of me. It was time to live large in Hotlanta.
Season Two: Another Year Older and Wiser (2021)
There would be no dreaded sophomore slump. I was quickly called into action in year two, coming in during the 5th inning of our Opening Day game with the team down 5-1 and in need of someone to chew up innings. Several days later, that penchant for going long came in handy as my 3 1/3 innings pitched allowed us to overcome a 5-0 deficit and secure my first win of the season. Just one game later, win 2 was notched thanks to helping the team out of a bases loaded jam in the 5th with a strikeout. Those strikeouts kept coming, as I set a career high with 7 K’s over 3 innings shortly thereafter (coincidentally, this also ties my real life softball career high, which I’m sure was just as impressive). The league was officially on notice that I had arrived, and I made my first of many All-Star appearances.
Immediately after the All-Star break, the team rewarded my hard work by moving me into the Closer role where I dropped the hammer on all 23 save opportunities. The adrenaline rush of getting those final, tension filled outs was even more thrilling in the Majors, but I still found myself yearning to be a starter. It may not have been on my team’s radar yet, but I proved I had the stamina in me with a beautiful 6 inning win during an 18 inning marathon game where I gave up just 2 hits, 0 runs, and obliterated my career best with 12 strikeouts. For the season, I amassed a 10-2 record, 1.35 ERA and 172 K’s in 113.2 innings to go along with those 23 sparkling saves.
My newfound success as a closer continued into the postseason where I went 10/11 in save opportunities with a 1-0 record and 1.64 ERA that would’ve made Mariano Rivera blush. On the biggest stage against the sport’s ultimate juggernaut, the Yankees, I faced my ultimate test. In Game 6 with a chance to close out the World Series, I let my youth get to me and blew a 3-2 lead in the 9th for my first blown save as a Closer. Unwilling to go down in the annals of history as a Buckner-esque choker, I pounced on the shot at redemption Game 7 provided me. My manager showed faith in me by letting me get the final outs of our 6-3 win to bring Atlanta their first World Championship since the days of Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz in 1995.
Seasons 3 and 4: The Road to Glory is Paved With Discontent (2022-2023)
Now that I had joined that Hall of Fame Big-3 as a world champion Brave, I was ready for the next big evolution in my career, but the Atlanta organization had other ideas, choosing to ignore my new found postseason legend status by returning me to a long reliever role for the season’s start. Despite being unhappy with this slight, I continued to deliver until finally being moved back to the Closer’s role in May. I didn’t miss a beat and racked up an additional 31 straight saves, but before I could start making room in my trophy case for the Reliever of the Year award I was tracking toward, I found myself demoted back to long relief in September following the team oddly getting mad at me despite being in the midst of a stellar run.
Undeterred, I continued to give my all and finished the season with a 4-2 record, 0.79 ERA and 152 K in 91 2/3 innings pitched. Perhaps the team had become complacent from the previous year’s success. We suffered an embarrassing 5-4 loss in the Wild Card Game after a 91-71 regular season and had to watch in disbelief as the Rays clutched the Commissioner’s Trophy that we felt was rightfully ours.
Tensions between myself and the Braves reached a tipping point in the 2023 season with me incredulously discovering I was back in long relief on Opening Day and demanding a trade. With 2 years left on my contract, I lacked leverage, and my request was ignored. As if out of spite, I then went on to prove the team wrong by recording my best season yet, going 5-0 with a 0.50 ERA and 34/34 saves highlighted by another All-Star appearance and breaking Eric Gagne’s Consecutive Saves Streak Record (84) by shutting the door on an opponent for an unbelievable 89th straight time.
That year’s postseason run would be defined by grit. Our NL East winning team displayed incredible fortitude in coming back from being down 3-0 to the Giants in the NLCS to reach our second World Series against the Boston Red Sox. There, with the brightest spotlight on me, I put on an epic display in an effort to entice some down on their luck team to trade for me in the offseason. In the 7 game nail-biter of a series, I recorded saves in all 4 wins, which just so happened to all be by the thinnest margin of just one run. Nothing was getting in the way of my second title. All that mattered was my ball reaching that catcher’s mitt, and the Sox shouldn’t have even tried their futile attempts to make contact.
With the confetti and champagne celebrations over, it was time to do what was best for me. I had given the city of Atlanta all I had, and if they weren’t going to recognize me for it, I would find someone who would. After yet another discussion with my agent reiterating my desire to play for a team that was looking for a Starter, the league’s biggest laughing stock, the Baltimore Orioles, decided to hitch their hopes of turning the franchise around on my desire to prove myself to be among the best in the game.
Season 5 – Learning to Go the Distance (2024)
Stepping out onto the mound at Yankees Stadium for my first career start, I was full of adrenaline and arrogance. I had proven myself over and over again for the past 4 years, doing everything that was asked of me. Now it was time to prove to the league that I was the best pitcher with the biggest arm despite having the smallest frame.
That first inning got off to a storybook start by striking out the side on 3 perfectly placed fastballs that the hitters never had a chance at, which paved the way to 5 straight strikeouts. After surviving a bases loaded jam in the third, I started to notice I was having to work a lot harder the second and third time through the line-up. While my three pitches were all going well, there wasn’t enough variety to repeatedly fool these major leaguers. Finally, in the 7th inning it all came crashing down with a two-run homer followed by a solo shot resulting in a 3-2 loss.
Having a losing record just felt dirty, and I knew I was going to have to adapt to relegate this stench of mediocrity to being a thing of the past. During that week’s training session, I decided to learn a Slider from one of my teammates giving me a new weapon to keep batters on their toes. Immediately, this paid dividends as my following start was against those same Yankees who had just bested me. In front of my new home crowd for the first time, I proved I was worth the trade by giving up just 4 hits over 8 scoreless innings. Most importantly, that newfound slider, while still a work in progress, led to 4 of my 11 strikeouts in the win. Against righties, it proved to be a source of constant confusion, darting 9+ inches past their outstretched bats.
With my new best friend, señor slidey in tow, I soon found myself in the driver’s seat for the 2024 Cy Young with a Major League leading 10 wins in early June. Then, in the 7th inning of one random start I fell back down to Earth when the pressure of throwing in the mid 90’s finally caught up to my tiny frame, and I suffered a dislocated shoulder. For the next 3 months, I rehabbed and anxiously awaited my return to reclaim the crown I had sought for so long. The season ended anticlimactically with 15 scoreless innings in relief as the team wisely chose to ease me back into things. With just 70 wins, we weren’t exactly in contention for the postseason, but hopefully all those years as the doormat of the league was ready to payoff just like the 2017 Houston Astros. Somehow, in spite of missing 3 months, I still managed to win my first Cy Young award thanks to an 11-1 record, 0.83 ERA, 2 shutouts, and a league leading 235 K’s in 140.2 innings. Throughout the rest of my career, I would be chasing that absurd 15.04 K/9 mark.
Season 6 – Chasing History (2025)
Something just didn’t feel right about that first Cy Young. I knew I was great, but I just missed too much time to feel like I was its rightful owner. In order to shake this, I would have to put together one of the greatest seasons by a pitcher ever. With that in mind, I had my sights on two records that would once and for all prove my dominance – Bob Gibson’s 1.12 ERA from the 1968 season and Nolan Ryan’s 383 strikeout 1973.
By giving me my first Opening Day start, the club reaffirmed that they were all in on my future. I rewarded their vote of confidence by notching 23 wins before finally losing a decision in September. Snapping my streak of excellence only served to further motivate me, as my next time on the mound would also be my first career no-hitter against our division rival the Tampa Bay Rays. If not for a walk in the 6th, it would have also been a perfect game, but my young star was still a little wild, which is part of why he was so effective.
Down to one final game in the season, I stood on the precipice of both of those records thanks to a 1.10 ERA and 373 K’s. In order to replace those legends of the game in the record books, I would have to dig down deep and deliver yet another stellar outing despite the wear of my biggest inning workload yet. Things began rather poorly, as not a single strikeout was recorded in the first. Finally, I broke through in the second getting the third out on a circle change that dipped below the zone and beyond the batter’s reach. This was the start of four consecutive strikeouts as I struck out the side in order in the third compliments of a sick curveball in the dirt, a slider low and outside, and a circle change low and away. My fifth strikeout followed in the fourth inning from another circle change in that same deceptive spot just outside the zone.
At this rate, the 11 K’s needed were no sure thing, but the fifth inning got me back on track thanks to another low curveball and a slider to the outside followed by striking out the side again in the 6th via two sliders painting the corners and a high and outside fastball that no mere mortal could dare to catch up to, tying me with the greatest flamethrower the game had ever known. Finally, in the 7th, yet another slider, the pitch I had only learned one year ago but had become my most powerful strikeout force, gave me my 11th strikeout and sole possession of the record. For good measure, I would add one more, giving me 385 K’s for the season. Combined with the 8 shutout innings lowering my ERA to 1.08, I now had both records I set out to achieve starting with that first pitch way back on Opening Day.
This time, there would be nothing but elation when I was presented with not only another Cy Young but also my first American League MVP in honor of my record smashing 25-1 season. October would not be spent watching games from my couch, as the entire Orioles team had followed my lead and won the AL East after improving by over 20 games on their way to a 94-68 record.
The playoffs got off to a rocky start, as I dropped a 2-1 pitcher’s duel to the Red Sox, but the team picked me up and and won the next 3 games to advance to the ALCS where we beat my beloved childhood team, the Oakland A’s, 4-1 including a 13 K shutout from me in the finale amidst the land of Zito. By the time we reached the World Series, we were an unstoppable train, and a 4-0 sweep followed including another shutout by me in Game 2.
After my third World Series parade, it was time for my first taste of free agency. At last, I could decide my destiny. Following discussions with my wife (who mercifully humored me), I was set on switching back to my National League roots with the Chicago Cubs, but when I found out they apparently smoked a lot of peyote and were eyeing me for a return to the bullpen, I signed a one year contract including a player option for the second season totaling $50 million sending me back to the team who believed in me first, the Baltimore Orioles.
Season 7 – Continued Excellence (2026)
With a 15 K no-hitter against the Mariners in my third start of the season, I officially began chasing the next record from Nolan Ryan on my list – his 7 career No-No’s. The smooth sailing continued as my 12-1 record and 1.19 ERA at the break gave me my second consecutive All-Star Game start.
Another no-hitter followed at Yankee Stadium during the back-half of the season. I thought I finally had my date with perfection, but instead I learned that my nerves could still get the best of me as two walks in the 9th doomed my perfect bid. After following that outing with 8 innings of 1 hit ball, I now felt like I was a threat to throw a no-hitter every time I went on the mound, meaning it would simply be a matter of when, not if, I would break The Ryan Express’s record. As my pitches continued to develop, I also became the first modern-era pitcher to top 400 K’s in a season, finishing at 409 K’s to go along with my 26-1 record, 1.08 ERA, 0.58 WHIP, 12.4 WAR, and another round of Cy Young and MVP trophies for my suddenly very crowded mantle.
Unlike my Braves teams of the past, these Orioles didn’t let success go to their heads, compiling a 93-69 record and a second consecutive AL East crown. This time, we found ourselves facing the Pirates in the World Series and easily defended our title with a 4-2 series win including an exciting walk off victory in the 10th inning of that decisive Game 6. I knew I had to go for the three-peat, so I exercised my $25.6 million player option and prepared to reach new, dizzying heights.
Season 8 – The Chase for Perfection (2027)
Just two games into the season, it was clear this would be one for the ages. I followed up a 2-hit shutout on Opening Day with a record breaking 22 strikeout performance the following outing, eclipsing the previous record of 20 held by Roger Clemens (twice), Kerry Wood, Randy Johnson, and Max Scherzer. For 7 2/3 innings I was perfect until a blistering single shot just past the outstretched arms of my third baseman. Unlike every other lost perfect game, this one felt especially crushing, as I had never been more dominant on the mound. If I couldn’t achieve perfection hurling this stuff, would I ever? This inspired outing hinged on my breaking stuff, as my slider and curveball accounted for 17 of the 22 strikeouts, and extreme consistency was shown throughout with only the second inning not featuring multiple punch outs.
From there, I continued my string of shutouts to start the season until I finally gave up a run in the third inning of my 5th game, breaking a streak of 38 scoreless innings when a hit by pitch came back to bite me following a stolen base and a bloop single to the outfield.
27 up, 27 down
Seemingly every time out was ripe with the promise of finally producing the 24th perfect game in MLB history, but it would take a very special outing against the Toronto Blue Jays to secure my date with history.
First Inning – It became immediately apparent that I had my best stuff going, as the first two batters went down swinging on a slider and a curveball, respectively, followed by a weak fly-out to center field to help get me warmed up.
Second Inning – The second set of victims had a little more luck making contact as only the 4-hole hitter struck out on a curveball, while the 5th and 6th outs were handled by my ranging outfielders.
Third Inning – The final three batters ended the first time through the order meekly by striking out on a slider, lining out to LF, and flying out to RF.
Fourth Inning – This was the inning when I started to think this could finally be the game. The switch flipped from pitching great to dominating when I struck out the side with a slider looking, a devilish circle change, and a slider that the batter chased so futilely that even his tee-ball coach was probably embarrassed.
Fifth Inning – Make that 5 straight retired via the punch out, as the first two batters went down on a pair of fiendish circle changes. Just as I was beginning to feel invincible, I received a reminder that there was still plenty of work to do when I was forced to field a grounder back to me for the final out of the inning.
Sixth Inning – Our infielders sprung back to life in the sixth when the first two batters grounded out to third and hit a liner to second. Eventually, I rewarded them for their efforts by allowing them to take the final out off as a slider set down the side.
Seventh Inning – I began to worry that I might be tiring when not a single batter was retired on strikes with the action nearing the 7th inning stretch. Two pop ups to first and a grounder to third allowed me to enjoy what I’m sure was a rousing rendition of Take Me Out to the Ballgame.
Eighth Inning – It was time to reassert control, as I made the first two batters look foolish on a wicked slider and another great circle change. The 24th brave attempt to reach base against me ended with a fly out to CF.
Ninth Inning – Every perfect game requires one truly great defensive play to preserve things. The ninth inning started with just such a play when a scorching liner was somehow engulfed by my third baseman’s glove, leaving me two outs away from history.
There was no Kevin Costner-esque contemplation on my love of the game or lost soulmates to be had. Rather, all that mattered was the relationship between myself and the catcher separated by those 60 feet and 6 inches that day. With my first pitch, I had let it be known that this was my diamond today, and no one was worthy of setting foot on its bases.
I prayed to Barry Zito and ripped off a physics-bending Uncle Charlie to put me just one out away from my life’s goal. Yet again, I would find myself in a two strike count, just one pitch away from perfection. There was never any doubt about what the pitch that would deliver me to my date with history should be. With one final devastating snap of my elbow, the slider that turned me into the best pitcher in the game went barreling toward the final obstacle in my path. If the batter had tried swinging at it 100 times, he would have surely failed on all 100 attempts because fate guided each and every last deadly revolution of the ball perfectly to the corner and into the safety of my catcher’s mitt.
I threw my hands in the air and let myself be surrounded by my cheering teammates. The quest I had since I first started playing MLB: The Show in 2005 had finally been accomplished. Looking back at the pitcher’s analysis, it became clear that I finally reached the top of that mountain because I had all of my pitches working at the absolute peak of their powers. Those 27 outs were distributed as perfectly as they could be with 7 via the fastball, 7 from the circle change, 6 by the curveball, and 7 from my slider. In achieving my greatest victory yet, I hardly broke a sweat, as it took just 93 pitches thanks to throwing an absurd 84% of my pitches for strikes.
The Good Times Continue
The dam completely broke following my perfect game. It was as if I had unlocked something primal inside of me that would define the rest of my season. Shortly after my 100th career win, I had another dance with perfection on my birthday. This time, I almost didn’t realize what was happening until the 8th inning thanks to being on the phone with my parents. Once I noticed how close I was, I kept them on the phone without explanation in order to not jinx things. This perfecto served to utterly humiliate the hated Yankees, as I struck out the first 10 batters faced en route to 18 K’s total.
At this point, I was just two no-hitters away from tying Nolan Ryan’s record of 7. My 6th would come several starts later against the Astros as part of a 12 K, 1 BB outing. This was a case of getting stronger as the game went on. Just 3 strikeouts occurred in the first 5 innings, but I managed 9 in the final 4 to close the door and move just one out of the lead. A late season game against Kansas City resulted in my 7th no-hitter and 3rd perfect game on the strength of a fastball topping out at 98 mph, leading to the person who writes the record books getting tired of printing my name.
My season of chasing perfection led to setting career marks in nearly every category of note. I joined Deny McLain as the only pitcher to top 30 wins in a season since 1968 with a 31-1 record. I also decided two seasons with a 1.08 ERA were enough, and that it was time to dip below 1 with a 0.94 ERA. Hell, almost half of my 33 games resulted in a shutout, as I finished with 14 shutouts among 17 complete games. Additionally, I established a new single season strikeout record for the third straight year with 437 K’s in 276 2/3 innings pitched. The complete lack of base runners throughout my starts were apparent in my 0.40 WHIP and 0.29 BB/9. The only major category I didn’t set a new record in was K/9 as my 14.22 mark fell a distance second to that injury filled 2024 campaign.
Now that the regular season was in the rearview mirror, it was time to lay waste to the postseason. Despite a 90-72 record, we were only a Wild Card team due to the Rays having the league’s best record. I got the call for the wild card matchup against the A’s, and I decided to leave nothing to chance, joining the late, great Roy Halladay as the only pitchers to throw a no-hitter in the regular season and postseason of the same year. If not for a wild pitch on a strikeout leading to a baserunner I would have been perfect, but still, I’ll take 17 K’s and a no-hitter in a must-win game.
Once again, I was called upon to keep my team from elimination, as I next took the mound for Game 5 of the Division Series where I shut out Tampa Bay with a 2-hitter. Another 8 innings of 1 hit shutout ball followed in the ALCS on the way to our third straight World Series. Even though I only managed two no decisions, we still banded together for a 4-2 series win over the Giants and a rare three-peat.
Deciding My Future
Now that we had three consecutive World Series titles, the once laughing-stock Orioles had transformed into one of the greatest dynasties the sport had ever seen. I had given them my all, and we enjoyed the spoils together. It would have been easy to see what further heights we could take things to, but I was in need of new challenges. Perhaps, it was time to lower the mound by raising the difficulty, or maybe I should try my luck back in the designated hitter devoid National League where I would be forced to bat. As I surveyed the contract offers coming my way, I decided to sign with the Philadelphia Phillies, just like the previously mentioned Roy Halladay had, for the next phase of my career. It was time for something new. Plus the pinstripes and $248 million over 8 years weren’t too bad either.
My career was well on its way to Cooperstown with 8 seasons in the books, a 119-9 record, 0.98 ERA, 45 complete games, 37 shutouts, 89/91 saves, 34 holds, 1352.1 innings pitched, 2086 K’s, and a 0.53 WHIP. The quest for perfection was complete, and the newest goalpost was that of 300 wins and retirement as the greatest that ever played the game.