Archive for category Impressive Debuts

Classic Look-back: Candy Man wins in return to Cleveland in 1999

Candy Man Wins in Second Debut with Cleveland

July 3, 1999 

Cleveland Indians 9, Kansas City Royals 8 At Jacobs Field

Tom Candiotti:  5.2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 5 SO. 

Tom Candiotti, who’d previously pitched for the Cleveland Indians from 1986 to 1991, made a triumphant return to the ballclub, winning his first game for the franchise in eight years. 

Signed by Cleveland on June 29 after spending the first three months of this season with Oakland—he was let go when the A’s called up Tim Hudson from Triple-A—Candiotti was making his first appearance of his second stint with the Indians in the first game of today’s doubleheader against Kansas City.  

In his previous stint with Cleveland, he went 72-65 with a 3.53 ERA for five-and-a-half seasons before being traded to Toronto on June 27, 1991. He also pitched for the Dodgers and A’s before rejoining the Indians this season.  

Brought back this season to shore up the Cleveland bullpen, Candiotti entered today’s contest in the third inning with the Royals already ahead 8-3. The score was actually 8-0 at one point—Kansas City battered starter Charles Nagy for eight runs in two innings—but the Indians struck for three runs in the bottom of the second before giving the ball to Candiotti. 

And the knuckleballer turned back the clock like it was 1991 again, pitching 5.2 shutout innings with no walks and five strikeouts. He threw curveballs and fastballs in his first two innings, and then threw more knucklers as the game progressed. “He was really tough,” said Royals rookie Carlos Febles of Candiotti. “He threw a soft one and a hard one and they were really moving.”

Whatever Candiotti threw worked. He retired the first nine Royals he faced, allowing his first base runner when Febles led off the sixth with a bunt single. A passed ball and sacrifice bunt moved Febles to third, but Candiotti struck out Carlos Beltran and Joe Randa swinging to keep the deficit at 8-3. 

Perhaps sparked by that clutch pitching, Cleveland rallied for five runs off Jay Witasick and Alvin Morman to tie the game in the bottom half of the inning. Candiotti returned in the seventh and got three quick outs, and then watched Tribe slugger David Justice homer off Marc Pisciotta in the bottom of the seventh for a 9-8 lead. In the eighth, Candiotti retired the first two Royals before Febles—that man again—doubled, only the second base runner the knuckleballer allowed, and “Candy Man,” as he is called, walked off the mound to a standing ovation by the Jacobs Field crowd of more than 43,000. Fortunately, reliever Ricardo Rincon retired the next batter, keeping the lead intact. Stopper Mike Jackson closed out the ninth, preserving the victory and giving Candiotti his first win with the franchise in eight years.

This win was Candiotti’s 151st and final victory in the majors. Although he never won another major-league game, this appearance was a fitting way for Candiotti to end his career. “After every inning, I’d get a standing ovation from the crowd every time I got back to the dugout. They gave me four loud ovations when I was out there. I mean, it was really spectacular for me. It goes to show that the people in Cleveland really respected me,” he reflects now. “It was like, I was in one last go-around, and all the fans were acknowledging me for all those years in the 1980s when I had to suffer [on those bad Indians teams when the club played at Cleveland Stadium]. It really brought a tear to my eye, seeing how the fans were appreciative of all the years I’d given them.”

Speaking of debuts, exactly eight years earlier, on this date, July 3, 1991, Candiotti recorded his first victory with the Blue Jays. Traded to Toronto on June 27, the knuckleballer pitched a quality start the following day with six innings of three-run ball against the Mariners but the Blue Jays lost 3-1 to Bill Krueger. But on this date, July 3, he pitched seven shutout innings of six-hit, three-walk, seven-strikeout baseball to beat the Minnesota Twins 4-0. With Candiotti on the staff, the Blue Jays went on to capture the AL East crown. 

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Short Video Clip of Candiotti facing the Giants in 1997

Here’s a short clip of Tom Candiotti pitching in 1997, on the Saturday Fox Game of the Week. In that game, Candiotti blanked the Giants through the first seven innings of the Dodgers’ 11-0 victory.

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Candiotti interview with Seamheads.com & retro Hough video

Yes, we’re almost a month into the 2016 season and this is only the first post of the new campaign here on A Life of Knuckleballs! (I guess our coverage here is just like “The Baseball Network” way back when – haha.) Yes, we know that Steven Wright of the Red Sox has surprised quite a few people with his strong start to the season – albeit with a losing record of 1-2 despite his 1.40 ERA – and it’s no surprise to me personally that R.A. Dickey continues to struggle, but the first post of the year deals with a couple of knuckleball pitchers from the 1980s and 1990s.

And yes, I realize that it was 21 years ago this week that the Red Sox signed Tim Wakefield. But c’mon, he gets a lot of press – and has gotten plenty of accolades over the years – so I’ll take a pass on that one other than to mention this piece of history in one line.

What we’re going to do instead here in this first post is post an interview that Seamheads.com, which covers the Red Sox, did with Tom Candiotti this week. As mentioned near the end of the hour (after Candiotti left), the guys noted the ex-Indian and Dodger knuckleballer averaged only one wild pitch per 30 innings for his career – great control for a knuckleball pitcher.

And we pay tribute today too to Charlie Hough as he pitched the first game in Marlins history and beat Orel Hershiser and the Dodgers back in 1993:

We’ll post more stuff throughout the season, so catch up with you later!

 

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Another ‘vintage’ Candiotti start

I have to admit, listening to the Washington Nationals-New York Mets game on ESPN Radio through the first five innings or so on Easter Monday made me think back to the Oakland A’s-Boston Red Sox opener back in 1998.

In the Nationals-Mets game, it was 40-something Bartolo Colon (a former Athletic, by the way) becoming the oldest opening-day starter in Mets history. And it was him losing 1-0 in the middle innings despite pitching a very strong game. Colon’s mound opponent: Max Scherzer, who was making his Nationals regular-season debut and pitching a dominant shutout.

Ahhhhh…back in 1998, it was the 40-something Tom Candiotti becoming the oldest opening-day starting pitcher in Oakland history, losing 2-0 to Pedro Martinez, who was making his Red Sox debut and pitching a dominant game.[1] That night, it was a two-base error by second baseman Scott Spiezio in the fifth inning which led to Boston’s first run on a sacrifice fly. A couple of innings later, the A’s couldn’t turn a double play, and the Red Sox scored an insurance run on another sac fly (which would have been the third out had the A’s turned the DP moments earlier). Oakland did have a chance in the seventh, but Pedro struck out A.J. Hinch and Jason McDonald with runners in scoring position to escape the jam. Oh, by the way, Hinch was making his big-league debut and he had to hit against Martinez and catch Candiotti’s knuckleballs. Yikes.

But it was a moot point – in the Nationals game, the Mets scored three unearned runs off Scherzer, ensuring that Colon’s gem didn’t go to waste.

Speaking of A.J. Hinch having to catch knuckleballs in his first major-league game, check out this video of Andy Allanson and Ron Hassey having to catch Candiotti and Joe Niekro – and also bat against them – in a game from 1986. Candiotti’s first batter would be a sign of things to come for how wild this game turned out to be. Thanks to the YouTube user Classic MLB 11 for uploading it. (Hope it doesn’t get taken down.)

(This, by the way, was Candiotti’s fourth game in the majors throwing the knuckleball. Prior to that, he was a curveball-fastball pitcher.)

Have a fantastic baseball season, everyone!

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[1] There is a distinction here with Candiotti being the oldest starting pitcher for Oakland on Opening Day. In terms of opening-day player in the lineup, Reggie Jackson was the oldest player in Oakland history, as he was the DH back in 1987.

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UPDATE – DEC 13, 2017: YouTube did end up taking down that video. Here’s a clip of that Yankees-Indians game.

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Will the meltdown in Keizer unravel the Dust Devils’ pennant hopes?

Things looked perfect on Sunday evening (August 24) for the Northwest League’s Tri-City Dust Devils, the Short-Season Single-A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies.

They were ahead of the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes 5-2 going into the bottom of the ninth inning at Volcanoes Stadium in Keizer, Oregon. If they hung on, the first-place Dust Devils would take a two-game lead over the idle Vancouver Canadians in the standings for the North Division’s second-half pennant.

Then, the Dust Devils would return home, where they would play their final eight games of the regular season.

The scenario was perfect. Three more outs, and then go back home with a two-game divisional lead.

Tri-City had just gotten out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the bottom of the eighth, and when catcher Robbie Perkins caught Johneshwy Fargas’ pop-up in foul territory to begin the ninth—with the ball coming out of his glove before it settled in at the last moment—the Dust Devils were two outs away.

What happened next was just incredible. With Dylan Stamey on the mound, the Volcanoes loaded the bases on a pair of singles and a walk, loading the bases with one out. In came Josh Michalec, who hit his first batter to force in a run to make it 5-3. Ryder Jones followed with a two-run single off Michalec to tie the game, and Aramis Garcia then delivered a walk-off RBI single, stunning the Dust Devils 6-5.

The divisional lead had shrunk to just a single game.

Then the following night, Tri-City opened its season-ending eight-game homestand by getting blown out 8-1 by the Hillsboro Hops (who had won the first-half pennant in the South Division and had little to play for until the postseason). In Eugene, Oregon, the Vancouver Canadians won their game, 3-1, and suddenly the divisional lead for the Dust Devils was gone.

Both Tri-City and Vancouver had identical won-loss records in the second half entering play on August 26, but the Dust Devils no longer control their own destiny as they do not own the tie-breaker over the Canadians. That means, for the Dust Devils to make the playoffs, they need to finish ahead of Vancouver in the standings with only seven games to play.

It’s so tough because just two nights earlier, they were poised to take a two-game lead when they had that three-run cushion in the ninth inning. With the rest of their games at home following that contest, the second-half pennant was theirs for the taking…

Hey, perhaps they could still bounce back. If you root for underdogs, you would certainly root for Tri-City. For the season, the Dust Devils are 29-40 entering play on August 26, and only a modest 15-16 in the second half, but they still have a shot at making the playoffs. In their way now are a Vancouver Canadians team that has won each of the last three Northwest League titles, so it would be nice if the Dust Devils could somehow eliminate them during this final week of the season and put an end to the championship run. The two teams will not play each other in the season’s final seven games, so Tri-City will need some help in order to finish ahead of Vancouver.

We’ll see what happens over the next seven nights in the Northwest League.

I know this is short-season, and it’s completely different from the majors, but I suddenly thought back to the 1993 major-league season.

The Red Sox, coming off a last-place finish a year earlier, would end up fifth in the AL East in 1993, 15 games back of the Blue Jays with an 80-82 record. The Yankees, Orioles, and Tigers all finished ahead of Boston. Just by looking at the standings, you would think they were totally irrelevant all season.

But not so.

On July 25, the Red Sox won their 10th straight game, beating Oakland 8-1 to complete a four-game sweep at Fenway. They had won 12 of their last 13, and were in a three-way tie for first place in the East, along with Toronto and New York. (Technically, they were percentage points ahead of both clubs, with a 55-43 record—a .561 winning percentage—while the Blue Jays and Yankees were 56-44 for a .560 winning percentage.)

The following night, July 26, the Yankees lost 5-2 in Detroit, with Tigers lefthander David Wells outpitching Jimmy Key. The Blue Jays, meanwhile, were idle. That meant if the Red Sox won in Milwaukee, they would be in sole possession of first place in the AL East.

Now, coming off a last-place finish a year earlier, it was no small feat for the Red Sox to be in first place in the final days of July. With Roger Clemens on the mound, they had a great shot against the Brewers, who were last in the East with a 39-57 record that was even worse than the Cleveland Indians (47-52), who at the time were perennial doormats in that division.

The Brewers had Rafael Novoa on the mound, a rookie lefthander who would go 0-4 with a 5.06 ERA in 22 major-league appearances. He had logged an 0-1 record with a 6.75 ERA with the Giants in 1990, pitched the next two seasons in the minors, and was now making his debut with the Brewers against the Red Sox. It was just his eighth career big-league appearance and third career start.

The Red Sox, who hadn’t seen him before, struggled against Novoa, who gave up just five hits and two walks over 8.1 innings. The only runs the young lefty gave up came as a result of a two-run homer by Mo Vaughn in the fourth with Andre Dawson aboard.

Thankfully, Clemens was even better, tossing five-hit ball with one walk and five strikeouts over 7.2 innings and turning over a 2-1 lead to the bullpen. After lefthanded relief specialist Tony Fossas retired lefthanded-hitting Darryl Hamilton, who was Milwaukee’s No. 3 hitter, on a flyout to end the bottom of the eighth, the Red Sox were three outs away from sole possession of top spot in the AL East.

Yes, again, this was just late July, but considering how the Sox had finished last in 1992, this was a miracle for Boston.

But there was the bottom of the ninth to be played. Fossas stayed in and struck out lefthanded power hitter Kevin Reimer, but B.J. Surhoff (yet another lefthanded batter) bunted for a single. In came closer Jeff Russell, who retired pinch-hitter Greg Vaughn on a fly to right. The Red Sox were one out away.

russellExcept the would-be final out came to the plate in the person of Tom Brunansky, the former Red Sox rightfielder who was one of the key players in Boston’s 1990 AL East championship season. In the final eight games of that 1990 season, Brunansky hit .400 with five home runs and 12 RBIs (with three of those dingers coming in a crucial game against Toronto on September 29). He is also remembered for his sliding catch of Ozzie Guillen’s liner in the rightfield corner at Fenway to clinch the division on the final day of the season.

Now in 1993, he was a Brewer, and was hitting only .178 going into the game against the Red Sox. And there he was, lining an 0-1 pitch from Russell over the leftfield fence for a game-ending two-run homer.

The stunned Red Sox never recovered. They (along with the Yankees) fell out of first place, a half-game back of the idle Blue Jays. Boston never got close again the rest of the season. Well, the Red Sox hung around for a bit but a four-game series sweep at home at the hands of the Indians in late August really helped bury them.

I’ve always wondered how things would have played out had Boston hung on for its 11th straight win that night in Milwaukee. I mean, Russell was only one out away. Had they won the division that year, he wouldn’t have attacked the city of Boston the following year after he’d left town. (I still remember the media talking about Russell’s comments on the radio back then, and those were the days without the Internet and social media. Had he made those comments today, he would be heavily crucified for what he said.)

Well, the 2014 Tri-City Dust Devils are much closer to first place. They do have fewer games remaining, though, to try and finish ahead of Vancouver. The season wraps up on Labor Day Monday, September 1. Yes, I know it’s totally different from the big leagues, but still, it did make me think back to the 1993 Red Sox. And Tom Brunansky. And Jeff Russell (and his comments about Boston).

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