Red Sox Nation tuned in Wednesday to see Daisuke Matsuzaka dazzle Fenway Park for the first time. But by the time the game was over, another pitcher, 21-year-old Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners, had the baseball world abuzz. Talk of Hernandez as the next Dwight Gooden began two years ago, but only now are the results matching the reputation.
He'll make his third start of the season Tuesday against the Minnesota Twins. In his first two games, Hernandez is 2-0 and hasn't given up a run in 17 innings.
If Hernandez really is the next pitching prodigy, he joins a long line. But he might want to watch out, because those who have burned brightest early have rarely burned for long. Here are 10 of the most precocious hurlers from years past.
"Smoky" Joe Wood: The Red Sox's wunderkind led the league in 1912 in wins with 34 and finished second in ERA and strikeouts at age 22. But he never pitched a full season again after an injury in 1913. From 1918 to 1922, he was an outfielder with the Indians.
Walter Johnson: The "Big Train" is an exception to the flameout rule. He finished fifth in the American League with a 1.65 ERA in 1908 at age 20. But he got better from there, winning 25 with a 1.36 ERA at age 22 and going on to become maybe the greatest pitcher of all time.
Dutch Leonard: As Wood faded, Leonard burst onto the scene for Boston with a remarkable 0.96 ERA as a 22-year-old starter-reliever hybrid in 1914. He never pitched as well again and was done as a standout by age 28.
Bob Feller: He was the epitome of a phenom, reaching the big leagues at age 17 in 1936, winning 17 games and leading the league in strikeouts at age 19 and standing unchallenged as the AL's best pitcher by the time he was 21. Feller sustained his brilliance, interrupted by 44 months in the Navy, well enough to breeze into the Hall of Fame.
Herb Score: The left-handed fireballer set a rookie strikeout record at age 22, pitched even better the next year and then took a line drive to the right eye in 1957 that ended his tenure as an effective starter.
Sam McDowell: "Sudden" Sam is a forgotten gem, but he led the AL with a 2.18 ERA and 325 strikeouts as a 22-year-old Cleveland Indian. He didn't burn out right away but had his last good season in 1970 at age 28.
Vida Blue: His electric left arm produced 24 wins, a 1.82 ERA and 301 strikeouts in 1971, when he was 21. Blue had good seasons after that but was never as dominant.
Frank Tanana: Those who remember him as a crafty left-hander for the Tigers missed out. From ages 21 to 23, he ranked in the top five in the AL in ERA and strikeouts. Arm injuries robbed him of his fastball and rendered him pedestrian by the time he was 26.
Dwight Gooden: He broke Score's rookie strikeout record as a teenager and reached even greater heights at age 20, going 24-4 with a 1.53 ERA and winning the 1985 Cy Young Award in a landslide. Dr. K would never approach that pinnacle again.
Kerry Wood: His 20-strikeout game at age 20 was so great that it momentarily distracted fans from the 1998 home run race. Wood overwhelmed hitters with 233 strikeouts that year, but his career has unraveled after elbow and shoulder injuries.