Archive for category Impressive Debuts

Sometimes zeroes don’t mean much…

Dan Johnson, called up by the Blue Jays from Triple-A Buffalo on July 11, made his Toronto debut that same night against his old team, the Tampa Bay Rays, and had the most interesting stat line in his new club’s 8-5 victory.

Johnson, probably best known for his ninth-inning homer for Tampa Bay against the Red Sox in September of 2008 in a contest which gave the Rays the AL East lead and then another dinger against the Yankees in the 2011 season finale to help the Rays clinch the wild card, posted the following line in his Toronto debut:

0 AB, 3 R, 0 H, 0 RBI, 4 BB, 0 SO.

Though Johnson couldn’t get a hit, he still made a huge contribution for Toronto. The Blue Jays’ newest DH was still was able to reach base in all four plate appearances and, more importantly, came around to score three times – including the tie-breaking run in the ninth inning after he had drawn a leadoff walk against the struggling Grant Balfour.

Definitely an odd and crooked-looking line score.

This reminds me of a couple of weird-looking stat lines for Tom Candiotti, where he lost a couple of games despite allowing zero earned runs. Same with John Smoltz, who lost a pivotal game to the Philadelphia Phillies in Game Four of the 1993 NLCS.

Let’s start with the Smoltz game, with the Atlanta right-hander owning a career postseason record of 5-0 with a 2.13 ERA in nine starts heading into the October 10, 1993 contest against lefty Danny Jackson (a playoff veteran himself) and the Phillies. Thanks to a Mark Lemke error at second base in the fourth inning, the Phillies scored two runs off Smoltz to take a 2-1 lead. The Braves almost tied it in the eighth when they put two runners on with two outs and erratic closer Mitch “The Wild Thing” Williams took over for Jackson.

Lemke, looking to redeem himself for the earlier fielding error, took Williams’s second pitch to deep left – which would have tied the game but leftfielder Milt Thompson made a circus catch to end the inning.

Atlanta then put two runners on to lead off the ninth but Williams fielded Jeff Blauser’s sacrifice bunt attempt and threw out the lead runner at third base, before inducing Ron Gant – arguably the league’s best clutch hitter down the stretch – to hit into a game-ending double play. The Phillies won 2-1 to even the series at 2-2, and then won the next two games to clinch the NL pennant.

But here was Smoltz’s line in the game:

6.1 IP, 8 H, 2 R, 0 ER, 5 BB, 10 SO.

It was Smoltz’s first career postseason loss – despite the fact he struck out 10 Phillies and gave up zero earned runs. What was interesting too, was that reliever Mark Wohlers walked three and struck out five in two hitless innings, meaning Atlanta pitching struck out 15 Philadelphia hitters but the Phillies still prevailed [1].

Oscar AzocarThen, on to Tom Candiotti. On August 3, 1990, the Cleveland Indians knuckleballer took a no-hitter into the bottom of the eighth inning at Yankee Stadium. He retired the first two batters and was four outs away from history, with a 4-2 lead. The Yankees had scored two runs in the first inning on a hit batsman, an error by second baseman Jerry Browne, a Candiotti wild pitch, and an RBI groundout by Mel Hall.

With two outs in the eighth, Steve Sax walked before Jim Leyritz reached on an error by shortstop Felix Fermin. Yankees rookie Oscar Azocar, in his first month in the majors, broke up the no-hitter with a single up the middle, cutting the deficit to 4-3.

At that juncture, Indians skipper John McNamara pulled Candiotti in favor of closer Doug Jones, who gave up a first-pitch home run to Hall, turning the 4-3 lead into a 6-4 deficit. That was the way the game ended, with Candiotti charged with the loss and the following line:

7.2 IP, 1 H, 5 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 7 SO.

All five runs off Candiotti were unearned because of the fielding errors by Browne and Fermin.

Then on June 30, 1995, Candiotti was pitching for the Dodgers against the Colorado Rockies, and gave up two first-inning runs because of an error by third baseman Tim Wallach. At the time, the two runs seemed insignificant because Rockies starter Kevin Ritz was just 11-24 with a 5.78 ERA going into the season, and you would figure a lineup featuring Mike Piazza, Eric Karros, and Raul Mondesi would do some damage against a mediocre pitcher.

Unfortunately, the Dodgers couldn’t touch Ritz, who gave up just three hits over six shutout innings (though he also walked five and struck out only one). Karros finally homered off Curtis Leskanic in the ninth to break the shutout, but the Dodgers couldn’t get the tying run home in the 2-1 loss.

The line for Candiotti:

7 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 7 SO.

It was as good a start as Candiotti had had at Yankee Stadium five years earlier – but again only good enough for a loss. It would be that type of a season for the knuckleballer, who went 7-14 despite a respectable 3.50 ERA for a first-place Dodger team [2].

Funny stat lines – they happen in baseball from time to time, and thanks to Dan Johnson for reminding me of these couple of examples.

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[1] Kent Mercker, who also appeared in the game for the Braves, recorded two outs but did not issue a walk or notch a strikeout.
[2] Teammate Ramon Martinez was 17-7 with a 3.66 ERA.

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And how do you score that one again?

On July 3, Minnesota’s Chris Parmelee extended his hitting streak to 13 games with a first-inning RBI double against Yankees rookie right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, but the Twins still went on to fall 7-4 to New York.

Parmelee, who is batting .440 during the streak and .286 on the year, was also tagged out on an unconventional 9-4-2-5-7 play when he tried to stretch his two-bagger but then stopped and tried to return to second base.

Sure, it was also a game which saw Tanaka (12-3) become the winningest Yankees rookie before the All-Star break, surpassing the 11 first-half victories collected by Spec Shea in 1947 (according to the Elias Sports Bureau), and fellow rookie Zelous Wheeler homered in his major-league debut after spending nearly eight years in the minors… but how often do you see a 9-4-2-5-7 play in a ballgame?

This reminds me of a strange play in an Indians-Royals game back on April 16, 1990, where an unusual 6-4-4-5 double play – with an assist to the umpire – took place on a rainy day in Kansas City.

Tom Candiotti was on the mound for Cleveland that afternoon, and though he often pitched in hard luck throughout his career, actually benefited this time – with help from this particular odd (and controversial) double play.

candiottiThere were two Royals runners on base – Jim Eisenreich on second and Kurt Stillwell on first – with nobody out in the second inning.

Because it was early in the game and Candiotti also couldn’t get a good grip of the knuckleball in the rain, the Indians ace wasn’t throwing his knuckler. With Candiotti tossing very hittable pitches, Willie Wilson hit a hard line drive that Indians shortstop Rafael Santana caught, but the ball dropped out of his glove. Second baseman Carlos Baerga picked the ball up, and stepped on the bag to force Stillwell out. But Baerga dropped the ball as well!

“This was a rainy afternoon in Kansas City,” Candiotti recalls years later, “and the field was wet, the ball was wet… everything was ugly out there.”

However, Baerga then alertly picked up the ball again and stepped on second base once more, beating Stillwell to the bag. For some reason, second-base umpire Rich Garcia missed the play and called Stillwell safe. And for some reason, Eisenreich was caught between second and third.

“Then Baerga saw Eisenreich, and threw to Brook Jacoby at third base,” recalls Candiotti. “They got the guy out. So, it looked like we got just that one out at third base, and there were still two runners on with one out.”

Third-base umpire Steve Palermo, however, overturned Garcia’s call and signaled Stillwell out, which was the correct play. So now there were two outs, and two pitches later Candiotti was out of the inning as he retired Frank White on a lineout to centerfield.

“It was a double play, but how do you score that?” asks Candiotti.

Simple: You score it Candiotti as the winner, as Cleveland went on to win 6-3 in the rain.

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

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Six innings of one-hit ball… Flashback to 23 years ago…

On June 14th, San Diego Padres rookie Jesse Hahn gave up just one hit – an infield single by Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada to lead off the bottom of the first – over six innings in only his second major-league appearance, winning a 5-0 decision over New York.

The right-handed Hahn, who was just called up from Double-A San Antonio to make the start, even contributed an RBI single as he picked up his first major-league win. He had made his big-league debut on June 3rd against Pittsburgh, allowing four runs on six hits – including two home runs – over 3.2 innings. Hahn was then optioned to Double-A the following day.

But with lefty Robbie Erlin on the disabled list since May 22nd and Tim Stauffer struggling while briefly being used in the rotation (a total of nine runs allowed over three innings in his last two starts), the Padres turned back to Hahn.

If the rookie right-hander can continue pitching the way he did in his second career start in the majors, he might stick around for a while. Doesn’t get much better than six innings and allowing just one hit in your second major-league start.

That reminds me of a game between Cleveland and Toronto 23 years ago – almost to the day. Back on June 12th, 1991, a rookie right-hander by the name of Mike Timlin made his first big-league start for the Blue Jays, facing Tom Candiotti and the Indians. Timlin had already appeared in 26 major-league games – and had notched four victories against three defeats – but was making his first start since Single-A ball in 1989. Used as a closer in the minors, Timlin had pitched to an unimpressive 3.92 ERA in his first two months in the majors.

And yet Timlin opened the game with three perfect innings before walking Alex Cole to lead off the fourth. He took a no-hitter in the sixth inning, before Felix Fermin broke it up with an infield single. That proved to be the only hit the Indians managed off Timlin in his six full innings of work.

Cleveland would get just one more hit after that, coming in the seventh off lefty Bob MacDonald – another rookie. Thanks to the Indians’ punchless offense, Candiotti was a hard-luck 1-0 loser despite throwing a complete-game three-hitter of his own [1].

Timlin, meanwhile, would appear in 1,054 major-league games as a reliever while making just four starts. In his second start six days after beating Candiotti, Timlin was roughed up for three runs on seven hits and two walks over 3.2 innings in a loss to the Yankees. Naturally, in his third major-league start on June 23rd, he tossed five shutout innings against Cleveland. The opposing pitcher that night? Once again, Tom Candiotti.

Timlin wouldn’t make another start until 2002 with the St. Louis Cardinals, when he allowed four runs over 4.1 innings in Milwaukee in what turned out to be his final starting assignment in the majors. Remarkably, in two starts against Candiotti, Timlin had a 0.00 ERA. In his two other starts, 0-2 with a 7.88 ERA.

Obviously, though, Timlin was a successful reliever in the majors for 18 years, notching 141 career saves while pitching for six clubs. He was also part of four World Series championship teams, winning rings with the 1992-93 Blue Jays and the 2004 and 2007 Boston Red Sox. He was also on the mound for Toronto for the final out of the 1992 Series, throwing out Atlanta’s Otis Nixon at first base – with the Braves fleet-footed outfielder trying to bunt for a hit – to clinch the title for the Blue Jays.

Getting back to Jesse Hahn, perhaps the San Diego rookie will torment the Mets again the next time he faces them – like he did in his second major-league start. Or he might just dominate the rest of the National League. Perhaps he’ll turn out to be a dominant reliever some day. He might even pitch the Padres to the World Series. We’ll see how he does moving forward.

[1] It was an interesting – albeit low-scoring – three-game series between the two clubs. One day earlier, in the series opener, the Blue Jays took a 1-0 lead into the eighth before Jerry Browne’s two-out RBI single off David Wells brought home the tying run. The Indians ultimately won it in the bottom of the 12th when, with the bases loaded, Toronto lefty Ken Dayley hit Cole with a pitch to force home the winning run. Then in the series finale, Jimmy Key tossed a complete-game two-hitter and the Blue Jays beat Charles Nagy and the Indians 1-0, with the only run of the game coming on a throwing error by second baseman Mark Lewis.

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

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