“Even Jay Mariotti finds a truffle now and then,” writes Tim Midgett, and while the former is a usually a matter of mockery around these parts, he’s right on the money in asking “why did it take until this week, after so many disabled-list visits and so much hocus-pocus medical guesswork, to diagnose that Mark Prior had more loose junk in his pitching shoulder than a pawn-shop owner at a flea market?”. From Wednesday’s Chicago Sun-Times.

We’ve known for at least two years that something was terribly wrong with Prior’s arm. Last fall, the renowned surgeon James Andrews found looseness in his shoulder joints. The Cubs said it was a genetic condition that didn’t demand immediate surgery, allowing Prior to report to spring training and endure a miserable pitching experience despite two DL trips last season, one for a right subscapularis strain. Which only raises eyebrows when Andrews finally ends the mystery and identifies the issues, performing a debridement of Prior’s rotator cuff Tuesday while repairing labral and capsular injuries in his shoulder.

All children can be excused from this column while I inform you that debridement, according to my dictionary, is the ”surgical excision of dead, devitalized or contaminated tissue and removal of foreign matter from a wound.” And just how long have these dead things been in Prior’s shoulder?

In retrospect, ’03 will be recalled as the year Prior and Kerry Wood threw an insane number of pitches in September and October, as manager Dusty Baker smelled history in his first season. Anyone who subscribes to the ravaged-arms theory needs only this evidence. Starting Sept. 2 through his Game 7 loss to the Florida Marlins, these were Wood’s pitch counts: 120, 122, 114, 125, 122, 124, 117, 109, 112 — for a total of 1,065. Prior’s workload was more hideous, considering he was coming off a DL stint for a shoulder bruise after the collision with Giles. Starting Sept. 1, he threw 71 innings in six weeks, with these pitch counts: 131, 129, 110, 124, 131, 133, 133, 116, 119 — for a total of 1,126.

My arm hurts just thinking about it.

Baker and all of Cubdom were immersed in the hysteria of trying to end decades of misery. But at the time, many observers — including analyst Steve Stone, then a Cubs broadcaster — were alarmed at the high pitch counts and sounding warnings about future burnouts and breakdowns. Who could forget Game 2 of the NLCS, when Baker, armed with an 11-0 lead in the fifth, kept Prior in the game for 7 2/3 innings? The entire organization was motivated to end the curse … and what better way than placing the entire weight of 1908 on the power arms of Prior and Wood?

I’d like to reassure my friends in Houston their Astros will someday manage to win a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Not today, mind you, but someday.

Here’s your Thursday Afternoon Mound Duel Alert : Royals 0, Twins 0, top of the 6th. Zack Greinke has allowed 4 hits and 3 walks, but escaped a jam in the 5th inning, intentionally walking Joe Mauer with first base open, then inducing Michael Cuddyer to fly out to center, stranding 3. Earlier, Torri Hunter was grazed in the face by Greinke, who presumably thought the former should’ve sprung for more than 4 bottles of bubbly.