BALTIMORE — Anybody remember the Jeff Bagwell deal?
They have one like that here in Baltimore now. Eduardo Rodriguez has a chance to become Dan Duquette’s Jeff Bagwell.
Red Sox fans over the age of 35 know what we are talking about. In 1990, lovable Lou Gorman swapped Sox infield prospect Jeff Bagwell for a journeyman pitcher named Larry Andersen. Andersen was a funny dude who used to attach sunflower seeds to his face. He pitched 22 innings of pretty good relief for the 1990 Sox and the Sox won the AL East by two games. Then they were swept by Oakland in the ALCS.
Bagwell went on to hit 449 home runs with a .297 lifetime batting average. He won a Gold Glove. He was National League MVP in 1994. In 2002, fans responding to an ESPN poll voted the Bagwell-Andersen deal as the second worst in baseball history, trailing only Babe Ruth-to-the-Yankees-for-cash.
The Orioles last summer gave the Red Sox Rodriguez in exchange for Andrew Miller at the trading deadline. Miller pitched very well for Baltimore the rest of the way. The Orioles won the American League East by 12 games but were taken out of the playoffs by the Kansas City Royals in the ALCS. Like Andersen, Miller immediately signed with another team.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox have a guy who looks like one of the best young pitchers in baseball. The 22-year-old Rodriguez was positively dazzling in his first two big league starts, going 2-0, allowing only one run in 14⅔ innings. He walked four and struck out 14. He worked quickly. He immediately made himself the darling of the fandom.
The Venezuelan Wonderboy kept it going Tuesday night with six shutout innings in the Sox’ 1-0 loss against the Orioles, lowering his career ERA to 0.44. His next start is scheduled for Sunday at Fenway against the Blue Jays. Be there if you can. He’s just about the only reason to watch the Red Sox these days.
The Sox were afraid Rodriguez might be a little too pumped-and-jacked for his Tuesday start.
“There’ll probably be some added adrenaline since this is the team that traded him,’’ Boston manager John Farrell said before the game.
The manager was right. Rodriguez needed 25 pitches to get three outs in the first. He walked one batter in the first and another in the second. Rodriguez settled down in the third and got the Orioles in order.
“In the first two innings, I was going too quickly to home plate,” said the phenom.
His most impressive inning was the fifth. After surrendering a leadoff single, then hitting No. 9 batter Ryan Flaherty, Rodriguez retired the top of the order 1-2-3, fanning Delmon Young and Adam Jones. He celebrated madly after whiffing Jones with a 94-mile-per-hour heater to end the inning. It was his 92d pitch of the night.
“For me, that was the best place of the game,” he said.
He got the Orioles in order again in the sixth and yielded to Matt Barnes, who gave up the only run of the game in the bottom of the seventh. Rodriguez threw 102 pitches, 61 strikes.
Farrell summed it up best, saying, “Eddie led the way and gave us every opportunity to win this ballgame.”
Alas, Eddie can’t hit, and the Sox were held to one or fewer runs for the 15th time. Pathetic. They regained sole possession of last place and fell to 10-16 in games against the worst division in baseball. So much for the “big” momentum-changing three-game sweep at home against the Triple A’s.
But we digress. Let’s get back to E-Rod. The Red Sox and their fans no doubt overrate their own prospects and rookies as much as any franchise in baseball. It is a time-tested aspect of the Boston baseball experience. Through the decades we have seen this dynamic at work in the early reviews given to the likes of Don Schwall, Billy Rohr, Don Aase, Kevin Morton, and Juan Pena. Look ’em up, young Twitterers. Look at what those pitchers became . . . and what they failed to become.
This one is different. Truly. Rodriguez has electric stuff and good command. He works quickly and in the words of Dennis Eckersley, he can “paint.’’ He is lefthanded. He is 22. Three games into his big league career, he is 2-0 with a 0.44 ERA. He is the pitcher you look forward to watching.
I asked him if he thinks the Orioles made a mistake in trading him.
“I don’t know,” he answered, softly, then added, in Patriot-like fashion, “I am with Boston now and doing what I can do for the team.”
At this hour, Duquette is not hiding from his 2014 trade. He sounds Gorman-esque.
“At that point in the season, with the team we had, we decided that we would give up a future asset for the opportunity to win the pennant last year,’’ Duke told the Baltimore Sun. “In many ways, it’s the cost of doing business.’’
Rodriguez was 3-7 with a 4.79 ERA in Double A when the Orioles dealt him to the Sox. There were whispers about his conditioning and his slow recovery from a knee injury.
The risk of the deadline deal is always significant when it involves trading a prospect in exchange for a short-term gain. The age-old logic is that if you are in position to win a championship, you make the deal (the Tigers once dealt a minor league righty named John Smoltz for a veteran, Doyle Alexander, who single-handedly delivered them to the playoffs and they were happy with that deal). But you can only take this logic so far. You don’t trade a young Ken Griffey Jr. to get a guy who can help you get into a wild-card “playoff” that will send you home after one game.
The Orioles can talk all day about how getting Miller was worth it because they had a chance to win a World Series. But if they knew what Rodriguez was going to look like in his first three games in the majors, they would not make the deal now.Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Dan_Shaughnessy.