It’s fun to look back sometimes at feats of knuckleball pitchers over the years… Here’s the May 15th edition of “This Day in Knuckleball History”:
On May 15, 1973, Phil Niekro earned career win #99 when he pitched a complete-game five-hitter to lead Atlanta to a 5-1 victory in Houston. In outpitching Astros right-hander Don Wilson, Niekro struck out six without walking a batter. Braves centerfielder Dusty Baker delivered a three-run homer in the sixth inning to break up the scoreless tie and give Niekro the win. (Incidentally, Baker wasn’t the only hitter in the Atlanta lineup that day who went on to become a big-league manager; Braves catcher Johnny Oates and second baseman Davey Johnson also went on to manage in the majors.) With the win, Niekro improved to 99-85 for his career with a 2.95 ERA.
Things weren’t as good for Niekro four years later on May 15, 1977, when neither he nor future Cy Young winner John Denny was effective in a 15-12 Atlanta win over St. Louis. (Was this the Falcons against the old NFL St. Louis Cardinals?) Niekro was hammered for six runs over three innings, while Denny, who had won the NL ERA title the year before and would capture the Cy Young in 1983, was hit for four runs in only five innings. The Braves, who trailed 10-1 after four innings, rallied for three runs in the fifth, five in the sixth, and six more in the eighth to pull out the comeback win. Centerfielder Barry Bonnell’s three-run single (yup, that’s what the play-by-play account says) off righty John D’Acquisto in the bottom of the eighth, with the score tied 12-12, proved to be the game-winner.
On this date, May 15, in 1988, Charlie Hough gave up a leadoff homer to Willie Wilson (!!) and a grand slam later to Danny Tartabull, as the Kansas City Royals beat Texas 5-4. It turned out to be the only home run Wilson hit that year in 628 plate appearances. (I always assumed he never hit a lot of homers, if any, because I remember when he played for Oakland in 1991 and 1992, he hit exactly zero home runs.) Despite his lackluster performance that day (6 IP, 11 H, 4 R), Royals right-hander Mark Gubicza still got the win, his fourth of the season, en route to 20 victories in 1988. It would prove to be Gubicza’s best year, as he went 20-8 with a 2.70 ERA and finished third in the Cy Young race (behind Frank Viola and Dennis Eckersley). Hough, in 1988, would finish 15-16 even with a 3.32 ERA.
Finally, on May 15, 1996, Tom Candiotti retired 21 straight Montreal Expos in one stretch – the equivalent of seven perfect innings of baseball – as the Dodgers won, 7-2. Candiotti pitched a complete-game four-hitter, giving up just one walk, and both runs off of him were unearned thanks to second-inning errors by left-fielder Billy Ashley and shortstop Greg Gagne. From the second inning until two outs in the ninth, no Expos hitter reached base until David Segui doubled to right field. And this was an Expos team that included Moises Alou, Henry Rodriguez, Mike Lansing, and Mark Grudzielanek, and Montreal went on to finish two games out of the NL wild-card race.
There you have it, a look back at some of the performances by knuckleball pitchers on May 15th over the years… we’ll do it again next time.