Archive for category Knuckleballs

This Day in Knuckleball History – May 15

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.

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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.

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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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Video of Candiotti pitching in 1993

Thanks to YouTube, we are able to once in a while come across rare videos uploaded by people just like you and me. I recently came across a video of Tom Candiotti pitching for the Dodgers in Philadelphia back in 1993, posted by a YouTube user called Classic Phillies TV. Thank you, CPTV!

Now, this wasn’t one of Candiotti’s best games, and most baseball fans will be more interested in seeing a young Pedro Martinez pitch a few innings late in the game. However, following this contest, one in which Candiotti fell to 0-3 with a 6.55 ERA through four starts, the knuckleballing Candy Man would then have a dominant four-month stretch that has since been forgotten. In his next 22 starts following this disaster in Philadelphia, Candiotti posted a minuscule 1.85 ERA and the Dodgers won 15 of those games. Unfortunately, Candiotti’s won-loss record wasn’t great because the Dodgers rarely gave him much support, resulting in a modest 8-2 record in those 22 outings, even with that 1.85 earned-run average. Included in that stretch was a 15-start undefeated streak which saw Candiotti go 5-0 with 10 no-decisions. One of his two losses in those 22 starts was a 2-0 defeat to Atlanta’s John Smoltz, where Candiotti gave up just one run – on four hits – in eight innings (the only run came on a sacrifice fly and then the Braves added that second run in the ninth inning off Pedro Martinez).

In the 22-start stretch after the Phillies game, here were Candiotti’s numbers:

155.2 IP, 122 H, 43 BB, 120 SO, 6 HR, .217 opposing BA

It’s pretty amazing given the fact that Candiotti threw a knuckleball and yet averaged under 2.5 walks per nine innings. And only six home runs given up in those innings with nearly a 3-to-1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio.

That run actually gave Candiotti the National League ERA lead going into September, at a major league-best 2.43.

Thanks again, CPTV, for posting the video.

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Uhm, how about doing some homework before you speak?

This post isn’t about baseball or knuckleballs, but rather, about commentators mouthing off about football when they don’t know what they’re talking about.

Last night on TSN 1410, a sports talk station in Vancouver, Canada, David Pratt was a guest on one of their shows and proceeded to talk about things that made him look like he needed to do more homework about the NFL before speaking.

*He talked about how the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, at 2-11, still had a shot at the NFC South because both Atlanta and New Orleans led the division at 5-8. Uhm, no. If he’d bothered to do his research, he would have realized that the Falcons and Saints play each other once more, meaning that there would be a winner in that one. So, either Atlanta or New Orleans would, at worst, have six victories. Even if Tampa Bay were to win out, the Bucs could finish only at 5-11. Last I checked, six wins beats five victories for the division. Perhaps Pratt was doing his own system of math there. Okay, even if the Falcons-Saints game ended in a tie, we’ll say that New Orleans, for example, would finish at worst, 5-10-1. Again, that’d still put them ahead of Tampa Bay. So, obviously, during their current three-game losing streak, the Bucs had already been eliminated from the playoffs, but Pratt still was talking like they were alive and had more to play for the rest of the year. Nice try – how about knowing the facts before going on the air?

*Pratt also mentioned how he was annoyed that the Miami-New England game was being shown on TV in the Vancouver area, instead of the Cincinnati-Cleveland game with Johnny Football (Johnny Manziel) making his first ever NFL start. Uhm, again, please do some research. Yes, both games are AFC matchups, meaning traditionally they would be airing on CBS (as FONFL_on_FoxX does the NFC games). So, yes, the Dolphins-Patriots tilt is being shown on CBS in the Vancouver market, but FOX actually has the Bengals-Browns game because the latter network didn’t have enough 1:00 p.m. Eastern games so the Cincinnati-Cleveland contest was moved to FOX. This was a new rule that was in effect beginning this season and had already affected some other games earlier in the year. Even I knew that FOX had gotten the Manziel game earlier in the week, so it is laughable that a professional radio personality was clueless about that. (From what I heard, FOX had already gotten this game even before the Browns announced Johnny Manziel would start against Cincinnati.) So, instead of lamenting the fact he had to watch Miami-New England, Pratt should have been crying about how Green Bay-Buffalo on FOX in the Vancouver market was being aired instead of Johnny Football’s first career start. Get it right, bro! And by the way, if you’re not happy you get to watch Tom Brady and the Pats or Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, then something’s wrong with ya!

Anyway, since we’re on the subject, I was thinking that the Falcons, with their silly 5-8 record, was going to lose something like 58-34 to Pittsburgh, which has been on a roll with Le’Veon Bell carrying the load and playing well. I still hope New Orleans wins that division, though if the Saints lose at home to Atlanta next week, then they’re done.

As for baseball, it was announced earlier today that the White Sox have signed Melky Cabrera. I believe he’ll have a big year and will make the Blue Jays regret not re-signing him. R.A. Dickey could lose 18 games for Toronto this year, I say. He’s no innings-eater in Toronto. So many times last season when I looked at the boxscores, I noticed he was logging 6 innings or 6.1 innings consistently. I thought a knuckleball pitcher was supposed to go eight innings instead of being a six-inning pitcher? He gives up way too many home runs at Rogers Centre, and I predict a horrible 2015 season for him.

Chris SaleWas talking to a buddy a few days ago, and I still contend that Chris Sale and Felix Hernandez rank as the top two pitchers in baseball. Don’t get me started about Clayton Kershaw. NL pitchers don’t have to face the DH, and Dodger Stadium is a pitchers’ park. What Sale and Hernandez, in particular King Felix, have been doing the past few seasons, facing the DH and pitching against tougher AL opponents, should put them at the top of any lists concerning the best pitchers in baseball.

I’m no White Sox fan, but perhaps this season Chris Sale will win the AL Cy Young Award, Melky Cabrera will contend for the AL MVP, and Chicago will make it to the one-game AL Wild-Card game? I’m still not sure about Jeff Samardzija, whom the White Sox acquired from Oakland last week, as he hasn’t really proven himself over a long stretch. But at least he’ll be giving Chicago a lot of innings – something that R.A. Dickey, Mr. Six-inning Knuckleballer, hasn’t been for Toronto.

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