Flashback to 1991 Candiotti/Henke One-Hitter

On August 6 at Rogers Centre, Toronto pitchers Drew Hutchison (8.2 IP) and Casey Janssen (0.1 IP) combined on a one-hitter in a 5-1 victory over the AL East-leading Baltimore Orioles, preventing the O’s to take an even more commanding lead over the second-place Blue Jays. (It also allowed Toronto to stay one game ahead of the Yankees for the second AL wild-card spot, as New York defeated Justin Verlander and the Tigers by the same 5-1 score.)

I don’t want to get into the performance of Hutchison, who came within a Chris Davis second-inning opposite-field homer of taking a no-hit bid into the final innings. This is not the blog for that sort of analyst.

I do want to go back to the 1991 season, when the Blue Jays got another clutch combined one-hitter against the Orioles. The game I’m referring to happened on August 28, 1991, at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium, with the Blue Jays and Orioles playing the finale of their three-game series.

Toronto had won the first two games, and had never before swept a series in Baltimore. Going into that day, the Blue Jays were in first place in the AL East, with a one-game lead over the Tigers, who had No. 1 starter Bill Gullickson (16-6) on the mound against California. Gullickson, despite a high ERA (4.12), had a league-leading 16 victories, as Detroit seemed to always score runs for him.

It was a crucial day in the pennant race, because if the Tigers won and the Blue Jays lost, both teams would be tied for first place, and Toronto would be at a disadvantage because that year the Blue Jays were the “swing team” and would play only (the tougher) AL West clubs in the final weeks of the season. (That year, all of the AL West teams finished .500 or better.)

Gullickson certainly delivered, pitching a complete-game five-hitter…only to lose 1-0 to the Angels and Jim Abbott in an afternoon game. (Gullickson, though, would get 5.66 runs of support throughout the season, and go on to win 20 games with a 3.90 ERA.)

Then Tom Candiotti took the mound for the Orioles, and was in trouble in the first inning when Joe Orsulak (a perennial Candiotti-killer hitting .529 off him going in) hit an opposite-field single off the glove of third baseman Kelly Gruber. A walk and passed ball later, and the Orioles had runners on second and third with two outs.

Randy Milligan, a .444 hitter against Candiotti at the time, worked the count to 3-and-2 before striking out swinging.

From there, Candiotti didn’t allow another baserunner, taking the one-hitter into the ninth inning. Gene Tenace (the interim manager with Cito Gaston out due to a back problem) opted to go to closer Tom Henke in the ninth, and the Blue Jays stopper pitched 1-2-3 inning to close out the 3-0 victory.

It was Candiotti’s best game with the Blue Jays, with the team in a pennant race with the Tigers, and it came three days before his birthday.

Yet, the combined one-hitter has been forgotten. It was one of the most underappreciated – and yet clutch – pitching performances of the year. (As an aside, when I spoke with former Blue Jays reliever Bob MacDonald three years ago about this game, he admitted he didn’t remember anything about it, adding that it was probably because the no-hitter was broken up in the first inning. Had it been broken up in the late innings, it might have been more memorable.)

Like Hutchison in 2014, Candiotti was only two batters away from perfection going into the ninth, and similarly he also retired 22 straight Orioles like Hutchison did. Like Hutchison, it was an opposite-field hit early in the game and a walk that prevented a perfect game bid.

I know in 2012 when I flipped through the Blue Jays media guide, I found no mention of the 1991 Candiotti/Henke combined one-hitter in the section listing one-hitters, even though other combined one-hit efforts in franchise history were listed.

The 1991 Blue Jays, by the way, won the division, something that the 2014 team will not do. Because that 1991 club lost the ALCS to Minnesota, however, Candiotti has always been criticized by the Toronto media for his struggles against the Twins in that series. They forgot that without Candiotti’s regular-season contributions – a 2.98 ERA in 19 starts after a mid-season trade from Cleveland following ace Dave Stieb’s season-ending injury – the Blue Jays might not have made it to the postseason.

So, thanks to Drew Hutchison, we get an opportunity today to celebrate Tom Candiotti’s gem from that 1991 season.

Meanwhile…time to take another shot at tsn.ca. Read that first sentence carefully, and then you do not need to read any longer. How can you take that column seriously if they make such a mistake? (The mistake is magnified when you look at the very next sentence.) Do they even do fact-checking there?

tsn again

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“Tom Candiotti: A Life of Knuckleballs,” a biography of former big-league pitcher Tom Candiotti, will be released in the latter half of 2014. You may pick up a copy either from Amazon.com or through the McFarland & Company website.

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