Loaiza Back For 2004

The other 29 Major League Baseball clubs won't have to be kicking themselves for not signing Esteban Loaiza in the off-season for a second straight year. That's because they won't have the chance. The Sox exercised their $4 million option on the 21-game winner in 2003, assuring Loaiza would be back with the club next season.

Loaiza, 32, went 21-9 with a 2.90 ERA, leading the AL in strikeouts with 207 last season.

The signing comes just four days after Bartolo Colon blew off a 3-year deal worth $39 million. Loaiza went to spring training as a non-roster invitee. Alhough the Sox were originally planning on him being a No. 5 starter, he shocked the baseball world right out of the gates and was the American League starting pitcher in the All-Star game at the Sox' home, U.S. Cellular Field in July. He became the first Sox pitcher to win 20 games in 10 years, when Jack McDowell won 22 back in 1993.

Equally impressive was that Loaiza tied Fernando Valenzuela's record for most victories by a Mexican-born pitcher when he defeated the Kansas City Royals in the season finale September 28 at Kauffman Stadium.

Got a question or comment for Josh? Email him at soxinsider@hotmail.com.

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