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How well does Joe Smith know Joe Smith?

Reliever has solid recall on details of 13-year, 782-game career
March 8, 2020

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- As long as Fernando Rodney doesn’t sign a contract by March 26, Astros reliever Joe Smith will enter the 2020 season as baseball’s active leader in games pitched with 782 career appearances (Rodney has 951).

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- As long as Fernando Rodney doesn’t sign a contract by March 26, Astros reliever Joe Smith will enter the 2020 season as baseball’s active leader in games pitched with 782 career appearances (Rodney has 951).

Smith, 35, has played for six teams in his 13-year career, including the past two with the Astros. He signed a two-year, $8 million contract extension prior to this season, which could set him up to make a push at 1,000 career appearances shortly after that. Only 16 pitchers in history have thrown in at least 1,000 games.

So we put the side-arming Smith on the spot to find out how much he knows about his own career achievements. In other words, how well does Joe Smith know Joe Smith?

Q: Who are the first three batters you faced in your Major League debut (April 1, 2007, for the Mets at the Cardinals)?
Smith: "David Eckstein, Preston Wilson and Albert Pujols."

Fact checker: Smith nailed it.

Q: How did you do in your debut?
Smith: “I gave up an 0-2 hit on a slider right down the middle to David Eckstein. I struck out Preston Wilson on an inside sinker. I threw Albert Pujols four balls, two of which I still believe were strikes, and he walked to first base. I got taken out and they brought in Aaron Heilman to face Scott Rolen, which I thought was odd. But he smokes one up the middle, and José Valentín dives to his left and glove-flipped it to José Reyes coming across the bag and turned a double play, and I was like, ‘Oh! How do you even score a run in this game with this kind of defense?’ It was pretty nice. Tom Glavine started that game, and I thought I was just sitting there watching, and next thing you know I warmed up three times and I was in it.”

Fact checker: Based on the amount of details, we’ll take Smith’s word on it.

Q: What team have you faced the most in your career?
Smith: "I’m going to go with … Texas Rangers?"

Fact checker: Yes, Smith has faced the Rangers 56 times (one ahead of Oakland).

Q: Other than Progressive Field -- where Smith made 171 appearances as a member of the Cleveland Indians -- at what ballpark have you appeared in the most games?
Smith: "You wouldn’t ask me this if it was Anaheim. Angel Stadium."

Fact checker: Smith has 119 games at Angel Stadium, second only to Cleveland. Shea Stadium (69) is actually third. The only ballpark he’s yet to pitch in is Citi Field.

Q: What catcher has caught you the most?
Smith: "Probably Carlos Santana."

Fact checker: That’s right by a long shot. Santana has caught Smith 139 times. Chris Iannetta has caught him 81 times.

Q: Who has the most plate appearances against you?
Smith: "I think it’s Adrián Beltré. I might be wrong." (He was wrong.) "Is it Elvis Andrus?" (No.) "Miguel? Not really a guy I don’t think you want at the top of your list."

Fact checker: On the third try, Smith identified Miguel Cabrera, whose 30 career plate appearances against Smith are the most by any player. Cabrera is 9-for-27 against Smith with two homers and eight RBIs.

Q: Who has the most at-bats against you without a hit?
Smith: "Is he an active player?" (He is not.) "Carlos Ruiz?"

Fact checker: Incorrect. Mike Napoli is 0-for-9 against Smith.

Q: Whom have you struck out the most?
Smith: "I’m going to -- I don’t really strike that many people out. I’m going to guess Nelson Cruz."

Fact checker: Correct, sort of. Smith has struck out eight different batters five times in his career, including Cruz. The others are Paul Konerko, Hanley Ramírez, Ryan Zimmerman, Peter Bourjos, Derek Norris and Kendrys Morales.

Q: Do you know right now how many games you’ve pitched?
Smith: "782?"

Fact checker: Smith was hesitant, but he nailed the total.

Q: Do you know your career ERA?
Smith: "It’s under 3.00. … I’ll go with 2.98?"

Fact checker: He nailed it again.

Q: Do you look at your numbers at all or look at Baseball Reference?
Smith: “Yeah, I think everybody does. I check it out. I don’t like looking at it during the season. I just try to make it more of a game-by-game thing. We’re a reliever. You can pitch every day. It’s about when you get put in those situations, winning the game. At the end of the year I always like going back through, whether it be Baseball Reference or the stuff we have here, and really assess the year. You can see where you’re at. What are the goals for next year? What can I get better at? Sometimes I do it for confidence. It’s amazing if you go to Baseball Reference and you can break it down by count, right? If you’re ahead in the count or behind in the count and you can just see. If you’re behind in the count, everybody turns into Mike Trout. If you’re ahead in the count, everybody else turns into an out.”

Q: Is it hard to believe you’ve pitched this long and this many years?
Smith: “It is. I think I’m going to start throwing overhand now and being a little trickier.”

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.