The Colón whom the Texas Rangers signed to a minor-league contract in February, and who has since found his way back to the Majors and into the starting rotation, is a different player altogether. His fastball lost its zip shortly after his Cy Young win; his earned-run average (ERA) ballooned until he spent the 2010 season away from the game, recovering from injury. When Colón returned the following year, with the Yankees, it was as a reinvented 37-year-old setting off on what would amount to a second distinct career—in New York, Oakland, New York again (this time with the Mets), Atlanta, Minnesota, and, now, Texas. He started to throw one offering almost exclusively: a two-seam, high-80s fastball that bent in subtle but devious ways, skimming the corner of the strike zone or dodging the sweet spot of the bat. He became a master technician, a Kasparov of pitch location and sequence. His ERA fell back down, for a time; 2013’s 2.65 marked a career-low.
This aging Colón has emerged as a cult hero, beloved by fans unconnected to whichever team happens to employ him. Paunchy even in his prime, he now carries a lordly heft and works with seen-it-all serenity, his face as relaxed after a home run as after a clean inning. Between batters, he plays little games of catch with himself on the mound, tossing the ball up and trapping it with a glove cupped against his belly. He has a biography rich in detail—he claims to have learned his work ethic from a childhood pet donkey named Pancho; his teammates call him “Big Sexy”—and a knack for moments that can feel folkloric to a certain kind of obsessive.
In a 2012 game, as a member of the Oakland Athletics, he threw 38 consecutive strikes, believed to be the longest such streak since 1988. And in 2016, when the notoriously weak-hitting Colón drove his first and only career home run over the outfield wall in San Diego, the baseball world reacted in rapture. “Bartolo Colón hitting a home run proves that God exists,” tweeted the journalist Jonah Keri, “and loves us all very much.”(This tall-tale element has also seemingly rendered Colón somewhat scandal-proof. Neither a 2012 performance-enhancing drug suspension or a 2016 report of a “secret family” much dented his reputation among admirers.)
With the Rangers, who sit at 25–37 on the year, Colón has been alternately spotty and splendid, as might be expected of a professional athlete who turned 45 last month. He surrendered six runs in three innings to the Angels last Friday night, including doubles to Trout and Ohtani. But just a couple months earlier, he had thrown seven perfect innings against the defending-champion Houston Astros, leading Texas to a 3–1 victory. He put his fastball precisely where he wanted that night, and his slider, on the rare occasion it appeared, was a magic trick. Colón looked easy on the mound and delighted in the dugout, chatting and laughing, forgoing the superstitious silence that usually accompanies perfect-game bids. When an eighth-inning walk-double sequence spoiled both the perfecto and the no-hitter, he raised his glove with no visible disappointment, asking for the ball back so he could make another pitch. “When I’m relaxed, I can do my job better,” Colón explained after the game.