Holy humidor....how are you doing this? Photo by Chris McGrath, courtesy of Getty Images.
Aaron Cook is currently hanging on to his Rockies career by a thread too fine, Charlotte would discard it from her web. The franchise leader in innings pitched and wins has walked more than he has struck out this season, and his salary has Rockies fans everywhere ready to dispatch of the red-headed erstwhile ace.
His contract is cited accurately as a big warning against longterm contracts for pitchers, and indeed, the 4.0 fWAR the Rockies have gotten from Cook while paying him $30million since is hard to stomach. But don't forget, that contract once looked quite fine.
After the 2007 season, Dan O'Dowd quickly exercised Cook's $4.5million option for 2008, even though injury prevented him from pitching the last six weeks of the 2007 season. O'Dowd then took a gamble in adding a three-year $30mil extension in addition to Cook's exercised option. In his first three months since signing the extension (while it was yet to be in effect), Aaron Cook was fantastic.
In 20 starts before the midsummer classic, Cook went 11-6 with a 3.57 ERA, one of the lowest numbers Rockies fans had ever seen from a starting pitcher. The National League team's manager was Clint Hurdle, and the hometown skipper set out a plan not to use his ace in the exhibition game. After all, home field advantage for the World Series meant little for a 39-57 team.
Aaron Cook would pitch three shutout innings in extra frames, setting himself up to be the winning pitcher and potential ASG MVP. But the National League would not score, and Cook's innings were not easy.
10th Inning: By the time the game moved into extras, Florida second baseman Dan Uggla had apparently already fell asleep. Cook's forte was inducing ground balls, and he did so twice against Michael Young and Carlos Quentin, only to be stuck in a bases loaded, no outs, pending walk-off situation (after an intentional walk to Carlos Guillen).
Then the wizardry started. Cook cast a spell on Dan Uggla and reminded him how to play defense, inducing a 4-2 groundout from Grazy Sizemore. With the winning run still ninety feet away, Cook got another ground ball, with Evan Longoria pulling one to David Wright for a 5-2 putout. With the bases still loaded, Justin Morneau hit (guess!) a groundout, this time to short.
11th Inning: A leadoff single was quickly erased when catcher Russell Martin caught Ian Kinsler stealing. Cook then walked Dioner Navarro and gave up groundball singles up the middle to JD Drew and Michael Young. On Young's hit, the potential walk-off run was erased at the plate in Navarro on a throw from center fielder Nate McLouth. Another ground out later, and Aaron Cook worked a scoreless inning despite allowing four baserunners. Wizard.
12th Inning: Any hope for an easy inning was quickly erased on a leadoff double by Carlos Guillen. A ground out later, the winning run was on third with one out. Unbelievably, Cookie managed to strike out Evan Longoria, and Justin Morneau grounded out to end the inning.
As we know, the National League would fail to win, but it wasn't for lack of trying by Aaron Cook. In fact, Cook had a .441 WPA on the night, the best mark for any NL All-Star. Only Orioles reliever George Sherrill (+.471) was better, and that was because he preceded two extra inning scoreless frames with a strikeout in an inherited two out, bases loaded situation.
Cook may have lost his sinker in current times, but it was working exceptionally well in 2008. In three innings, Cookie induced 10 groundballs and struck out a batter. It was a gutsy performance, one that will unfortunately get lost in time.