Bock’s Score: A Pitching Matchup Linked Forever

On the schedule, it was just another game, this one in the middle of August in baseball’s long, hot summer, when the endless stream of games sometimes seem to run together.

But this was not just another game between the Colorado Rockies and Pittsburgh Pirates. This one was special because of the pitching matchup – Chad Bettis of the Rockies against Jameson Taillon of the Pirates.

This was a longshot showdown, to say the least. That’s because a year ago, Bettis and Taillon became linked forever – two young pitchers, two promising major leaguers, both diagnosed with testicular cancer.

They look back on it now, on the treacherous journey each has followed through treatments to deal with their cancers and then the battle they waged to make their way back to the major leagues.

They approach each day with the enthusiasm and confidence of youth, knowing that they faced down a frightening diagnosis, surgery and recovery and in the end, both prevailed. They worried once about cancer. Now they worry about getting hitters out.

Bettis was drafted by the Rockies in 2010 after pitching at Texas Tech. By 2013, he was in the majors and in 2016, he posted a 14-8 record as a mainstay in the Rockies’ rotation.

Then in November, came the diagnosis of cancer and surgery. In March, 2017, he learned that the cancer had spread, requiring chemotherapy. He went through the treatment and on Aug. 14, returned to the mound for Colorado, throwing seven scoreless innings against Atlanta.

Bettis was back.

In May of that year, just as Bettis was in the middle of his chemo treatment, Jameson Taillon received the same diagnosis — testicular cancer. The second pick in the 2010 draft, Taillon’s baseball progress had already been slowed by Tommy John surgery and a hernia that cost him the 2014 and 2015 seasons.

 Now this.

Taillon underwent the surgery within days of his diagnosis and started on his road back to the Pirates pitching staff with encouragement from another cancer survivor – Chad Bettis.

Concerned that he might be rushing his return, Taillon reached out to Bettis. He got a quick answer. “This is what we do,’’ Bettis wrote. “This is who we are. We’re ballplayers.’’

Five weeks after his surgery, Taillon was back on the mound at Pittsburgh throwing five scoreless innings with five strikeouts against Colorado. He took his regular turn after that right into the 2018 season.

Then one day in August, the Rockies and Pirates faced off. Bettis, troubled by a blister on his finger, came off the disabled list to make the start for Colorado. On the mound for Pittsburgh was Taillon.

The Pirates won the matchup of the two cancer survivors with Taillon pitching a complete game. That, though, was not the point. On this day there were two winners, two young pitchers, both linked by cancer and their shared recovery from it forever.

About the Author

Hal Bock

Hal Bock is a contributor with NY Sports Day. He has covered sports for 40 years at The Associated Press including 30 World Series, 30 Super Bowls and 11 Olympics. He is the author of 14 books including most recently The Last Chicago Cubs Dynasty and Banned Baseball's Blacklist of All-Stars and Also-Rans. He has written scores of magazine articles and served as Journalist In Residence at Long Island University's Brooklyn campus where he also served on the selection committee for the George Polk Awards.

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