Well-traveled Donnelly a key member of Angels' bullpenPosted: Thursday October 10, 2002 2:26 AM
Updated: Thursday October 10, 2002 4:34 AM
By Stephen Cannella, Sports Illustrated
MINNEAPOLIS -- His face isn’t quite as familiar, and frankly his barrel-chested 6-foot-3, 205-pound frame isn’t as fetching, but it should be Brendan Donnelly, not Jamie Lee Curtis, starring in those ubiquitous cell phone ads on TV.
A mobile phone number might have been the only constant in the Angels right-hander’s life the past decade, which he spent wandering from minor-league town to minor-league town the way Woody Guthrie might have if he had ADD.
“Right now I don’t have an address,” says Donnelly, who’s flinging baseballs for the ninth organization of his career. “Everything’s in storage.” How does he get his mail? “My wife’s family gets everything now. They send it all when it gets to be a big pile.”
Those piles will include some fan letters this winter. Donnelly, a 31-year-old rookie, is surely the most successful homeless pitcher in postseason history. In Game 1 of the ALCS on Tuesday, he smothered the Twins with 1 2/3 hitless innings of relief.
Then on Wednesday night, he got the two biggest outs of the Angels’ 6-3 snoozer of a win in Game 2. In the sixth inning, Minnesota scored three runs off Anaheim starter Ramon Ortiz to cut the Angels’ six-run lead in half. With a runner on first and the Metrodome crowd in hysterics, Donnelly struck out Michael Cuddyer and got A.J. Pierzynski to line out softly. Rally over. Homer Hankies pocketed. Lead preserved.
Not bad for someone whose career was so aimless that three years ago he was demoted in the Devil Rays organization to make room on a minor-league roster for Hollywood rookie Jim Morris. The back of Donnelly’s baseball card -- with stops in Geneva, Ohio Valley, Charleston, W.V., Winston Salem, Indianapolis, Chattanooga, Indianapolis again, Nashua, Durham, Altoona, Syracuse, Iowa, Arkansas and Salt Lake City -- reads like the world’s worst Fodor’s guide. In August of 1999 he was in the Pirates’ organization -- for a week. “I was always setting up for some kid throwing 95 mph,” he says. “I couldn’t do that.”
His resume is even worse. In the offseason he worked as an exterminator and maintenance worker, laid water pipes and sold sporting goods. His wife looked for jobs in every new town he landed in. He worked at baseball camps and gave private pitching lessons, something he says he’ll continue to do this winter. (His major-league service time will presumably make it easier to drum up business.)
Donnelly’s baseball career began to show promise about four years ago. He changed the grip on his slider, and he says that tweak transformed a mediocre 83-mph breaking ball into a nasty 89-mph out pitch. The Angels signed him to a minor-league deal after the 2000 season, and this spring pitching coach Bud Black said to him, “Hey, we know you’ve been around the globe, but we’re looking at you like all that’s in the past. Just pitch.”
It took him a few months and two more trips to the minors to solidify his role, but by the end of July, Donnelly was a key cog in the Angels’ overhauled bullpen. No other AL reliever was as efficient at stranding inherited runners (88%) or retiring first batters faced (91%). He held the opposition to a .184 average and struck out 54 in 49 2/3 innings of work. With the luxury of having Donnelly and right-hander Ben Weber to handle the seventh and eight innings, manager Mike Scioscia was able to preserve Percival for ninth-inning duty almost exclusively.
With phenom right-hander Francisco Rodriguez (1 2/3 scoreless innings in Game 2) added to the mix, Anaheim’s bullpen is a force. “It’s a completely different bullpen than what we started with,” says Black. “It’s now much more physical, with a lot of fastballs and a lot of power.”
For Donnelly, it’s finally a home.