"Smiles, everyone, smiles."
— Mr. Roarke, "Fantasy Island"
Though he carries a 1.08 ERA in 41 2/3 innings after another outstanding performance Tuesday, the "Fantasy Island" motif doesn't quite work with Washington Nationals rookie Tanner Roark. He doesn't spell his last name quite like that of Mr. Roarke, the character famously played on ABC TV by Ricardo Montalban in the late '70s and early '80s. Also: Roak reportedly is pronounced "ROE ark."
Sigh. At least try and work with us on the puns, kid.
But, since a Photoshop of biblical Noah rowing his ark is too tall of an order, this is what we've got: Roark's head on Montalban's white-suited body, sitting next to his trusty assistant, Tattoo, a character played by Herve Villechaize. (His head has been replaced by Nats catcher Wilson Ramos.)
Still, it's only right that Roark dresses in his finest suit after allowing two hits and striking out six over seven innings to lead the Nats in a 4-0 victory against the Atlanta Braves to complete a doubleheader sweep Tuesday. Roark might be the hottest pitcher in Major League Baseball, which is kind of amazing considering he was a 25th-round pick of the Texas Rangers five years ago and never has been considered anything close to a top prospect. Despite all of that, which includes a career 4.04 career ERA in the minors, the Nationals don't think Roark's major league success is fluky.
So, what happened at age 26? Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post takes a look:
Roark’s ascension began last season, when he told himself he would not allow his temper to control him on the mound. He would not the things out of his control – fluky hits, errors, whatever – distract him. He would throw strikes. He would be confident. He would attack, above all else.
“I feel that last year is when I had my, I guess, mental turnaround,” Roark said. “That was the biggest thing for me.”
On the mound, Roark has succeeded with his ability to keep hitters off-balance with precise control. Manager Davey Johnson raved about Roark’s skill as a pitcher, a quality that, to him, made his strong big league start more than a fluke.
“Well it’s been impressive, but it doesn’t take long when you see a guy who knows how to pitch,” Johnson said.
Roark's contribution to the pennant race might be too little, too late for the Nats, who won't win the NL East and won't snag the wild card unless the Cincinnati Reds stumble over the final 10 days of the regular season. But, if nothing else in this disappointing season, the Nats are learning they have another asset in the starting rotation. And that leaves everyone smiling when it comes to Mr. Roark.