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December 06, 2001

Omar Daal toughs it out
By Dan Patrick

Editor's note: Omar Daal avoided his 20th loss of the season by beating the Cubs on Tuesday. Because of the pitcher's sore right knee, Phillies manager Terry Francona said Daal won't pitch again this season. Daal finishes with a 4-19 record.

As the 2000 baseball season winds down, there is one story I want to linger over. As I write this column, Omar Daal of the Philadelphia Phillies sits at 19 losses for the season. He took the mound last week and might have grabbed a rare win, but his bullpen blew it.

Omar Daal
Omar Daal's victory means Brian Kingman keeps his dubious honor as the last 20-game loser.

Daal is scheduled to take the mound Tuesday night and we all should pull for him. You might think that 20 losses is not a big deal. You may remember that Scott Erickson lost 19 games for the Minnesota Twins in 1993 and has come back from it to pitch well.

But we all know that one more loss that year would have meant a lot more than one more loss. Twenty losses is the exact opposite, the evil doppelganger, of 20 wins, the benchmark of a great season by a pitcher.

We celebrated with Toronto's David Wells when he finally reached that season win total after a stellar career of many 16-, 17- and 18-win seasons. But grabbing No. 20 elevated our opinion of him, however slightly. It's a big deal.

And so is 20 losses. It's a mark of clear distinction, and Daal would have some decent company. Steve Carlton, Phil Niekro, Wilbur Wood and the man himself, Cy Young, all lost 20 games in one season.

So did a man named Brian Kingman, the last to do it in the major leagues. Kingman, who was 8-20 for the A's in 1980, doesn't want Daal to lose again because that will push Kingman into complete obscurity forever. The other guys also have 20-win seasons, which makes the 20 losses a little easier to take.

Kingman knows a little bit about winning 20 himself. He won 23 -- in his career.

We value winners in this country. Go for the gold and all that. And yet as Omar Daal flirts with an ignominious loss total, a mark that would certainly bring more attention than anything else the Phillies have done this year, he does so with courage.

Twenty losses is the exact opposite, the evil doppelganger, of 20 wins, the benchmark of a great season by a pitcher.

Daal won 16 games last year. He's a proven major league pitcher who could do without this kind of negative record. No one would bat an eye if Daal felt a twinge in his hamstring and skipped a few starts.

He has pitched pretty well this year despite some physical ailments and the mental strain of that specter of 20 losses seeming bigger each day. He has earned the right to beg out of the chance to lose 20 big league ball games in one season.

Yet Daal wants the ball. He offers no excuses. So, yes, we all should applaud Wells and Tom Glavine and others as they try for 20 wins. Winning is what it's all about. But remember Omar Daal too, and his willingness to take his turn, to trudge up that hill and risk that 20th loss.

That is also what it's all about.

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