Archive for category Low-hit Gems

An entry from a book I’m working on: Gene Bearden

I’m always working on sports writing, even if it’s not on a daily blog. Here’s an entry from a book that I’m working on about knuckleball pitchers throughout baseball history. This particular entry is about a gem pitched by war hero and Cleveland baseball hero Gene Bearden.

Rookie Bearden Wins Season Debut En Route to 20-Win Campaign

May 8, 1948: Cleveland Indians 6, Washington Senators 1 At Griffith Stadium

Gene Bearden:  8.2 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 4 BB, 5 SO.

Making his season debut, Cleveland Indians rookie knuckleballer—and war hero—Gene Bearden pitched 8.2 innings of three-hit ball to beat the Senators 6-1 at Washington’s Griffith Stadium.

Bearden, who’d made his major-league debut the year before with one relief appearance, was making his second big-league appearance and first major-league start in this outing against the Senators. 

The fact that Bearden was pitching on a major-league mound was remarkable. Although he was a rookie, he was also a war hero who also won a Purple Heart in World War II. A machinist’s mate, Bearden was among the survivors when three torpedoes hit the USS Helena in the South Pacific in July 1943. “Somebody pulled me out,” he later told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “They told me later it was an officer. I don’t know how he did it. The ship went down in about 17 minutes. All I know is that I came to in the water some time later.” Badly wounded, he was hospitalized for two years, and forever after carried a steel plate in his head.

On this afternoon, Washington left fielder Gil Coan had two of the hits off Bearden, who walked four and struck out five. The Cleveland knuckleballer was in control until the bottom of the ninth, when he issued all four of his walks. Following his fourth free pass of the inning—a bases-loaded walk to Tom McBride to break up the shutout—Bearden was lifted for reliever Russ Christopher, who recorded the final out without incident.

It was quite the season debut—and first big-league start—for Bearden, who through the first eight innings had a three-hit shutout while facing 26 Senators hitters, two batters over the minimum.

Bearden would win six of his first seven starts in 1948, tossing four complete games and a pair of shutouts in that stretch.

It was the way he would end the season, though, that was most impressive.

During the final month of the season, Bearden won each of his final seven starts, pitching two more shutouts and winning the one-game playoff against the Red Sox at Fenway Park to capture the AL pennant for Cleveland. By season’s end, he would have 20 wins—including six shutouts and 15 complete games—and an American League-best 2.43 ERA.

He’d then defeat the Boston Braves with a 2-0 shutout in Game Three of the World Series, before recording the final five outs in the Game Six clincher. It was Cleveland’s first title since beating Brooklyn in the 1920 Series. To date, the Indians still have never won another World Series. “He won the pennant and World Series for us,” Indians Hall-of-Fame pitcher Bob Feller reflected in 2004. “If it hadn’t been for Gene Bearden, Cleveland would not have a world championship since 1920.”

But it all started on this date in Washington, where the knuckleballer won his 1948 debut en route to a 20-win campaign as a rookie. “Nobody showed me,” Bearden said that season of the knuckler. “I was just fooling around to see if I could add another pitch to my fastball and slider. I found the batters didn’t like it, so I kept on using it. Now it’s my main pitch. The fastball and slider are just mixed in, now and then, for variety. I use it so much my fingertips develop calluses.”

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Today in Knuckleball History: June 21, 1997

Candiotti Throws Seven Shutout Innings as Emergency Replacement

June 21, 1997

Los Angeles Dodgers 11, San Francisco Giants 0 At 3Com Park

Tom Candiotti:  7 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 6 SO.

So that’s why the Dodgers kept Tom Candiotti around. As insurance, just in case one of their starters went down.

Sent to the bullpen to begin the season, Candiotti finally made his first start of the year, filling in for injured starter Ramon Martinez, who’d complained the night before about a sore right shoulder. The knuckleballer responded by flummoxing the San Francisco Giants for seven shutout innings, lifting the Dodgers to an 11-0 victory over their arch rivals.

Candiotti had been sent to the bullpen because of the emergence of right-hander Chan Ho Park, who joined a Los Angeles rotation which already included Martinez, Hideo Nomo, Ismael Valdez, and Pedro Astacio—a pitching staff that was second in the majors only to the Atlanta Braves’ staff headed by Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz. 

Although Candiotti, with 126 wins and a 3.53 ERA in his 13 big-league seasons entering 1997, was rumored to be traded all spring, Dodger general manager Fred Claire hung on to the knuckleballer, and it proved to be the right decision. 

Through June 10, pitching exclusively out of the bullpen, Candiotti had three wins and a 2.03 ERA in 22 games, with five walks and 18 strikeouts, holding opposing hitters to a .212 average. 

Then, on this Saturday afternoon, he held the Giants to just four hits in seven innings as the Dodgers bounced back from a 5-2 loss in the series opener on Thursday and a blown 7-0 lead on Friday night—a game which saw L.A. use six pitchers. Candiotti even delivered at the plate, driving in the Dodgers’ sixth run on a squeeze bunt. The other Dodger heroes offensively were Raul Mondesi, who smacked an RBI triple and two-run single, and Tripp Cromer, who had three hits and three RBIs.

Candiotti and the Dodgers expected this would be his only start, as Ramon Martinez was expected to return after skipping just this start. As it turned out, though, Martinez’s injury was revealed to be a torn rotator cuff, and the Dodger ace would be sidelined for two months.   

Although the Dodgers did not win the division in 1997, losing out to the Giants by two games, Candiotti did do the job for L.A., going 6-2 with a 3.62 ERA in 11 starts during Martinez’s absence. It should have been at least seven wins; he nearly beat San Francisco again on July 12, handing the bullpen a 2-1 lead only to see the Giants rip two relievers for seven runs in the ninth. 

Candiotti pitched well enough as a starter that when Martinez did return in August, the Dodgers dealt fourth starter Astacio (4-8 with a 5.19 ERA over a three-month stretch) to Colorado for second baseman Eric Young while keeping the knuckleballer in the rotation for the rest of the 1997 season.

A free agent after the season—he signed with the Oakland Athletics in the off-season—Candiotti would finish his six-year Dodger career with a 3.57 ERA but just a 52-64 record, thanks primarily to a paucity of run support. No Los Angeles pitcher with an ERA as low as Candiotti’s had a lower winning percentage than his .448 in a Dodger uniform. (It should be noted that Ramon Martinez, who received much better support from the Dodgers, was 72-48 with a 3.67 ERA during that same stretch. In 1995, for instance, Martinez was 17-7 with a 3.66 ERA and a league-leading 81 walks and 138 strikeouts over 206.1 innings. Candiotti, perhaps L.A.’s unluckiest pitcher ever, was 7-14 with a 3.50 ERA in 190.1 innings with 58 walks and 141 strikeouts.)

But, as Charlie Hough often told other knuckleballers, “When the other guys get hurt or don’t pitch well, be there when they need someone.” And that’s exactly what Candiotti did for the Dodgers in 1997.

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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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Classic look-back: Candiotti’s gem vs. Giants in June 1997

Here’s a look back at a classic Candiotti game against the Giants from June 21, 1997.

Los Angeles Dodgers 11, San Francisco Giants 0 At 3Com Park

Tom Candiotti:  7 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 6 SO.

So that’s why the Dodgers kept Tom Candiotti around. As insurance, just in case one of the starters went down.

Sent to the bullpen to begin the season, Candiotti finally made his first start of the year, filling in for injured starter Ramon Martinez, who’d complained the night before about a sore right shoulder. 

The knuckleballer pitched seven shutout innings, lifting the Dodgers to an 11-0 victory over their arch rivals, the San Francisco Giants.

Candiotti had been sent to the bullpen because of the emergence of right-hander Chan Ho Park, who joined a Los Angeles rotation which already included Martinez, Hideo Nomo, Ismael Valdez, and Pedro Astacio—a pitching staff that was second in the majors only to the Atlanta Braves’ staff headed by Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz. 

Although Candiotti, with 126 wins and a 3.53 ERA in his 13 big-league seasons entering 1997, was rumored to be traded all spring, Dodger general manager Fred Claire hung on to the knuckleballer, and it proved to be the right decision. 

Through June 10, pitching exclusively out of the bullpen, Candiotti had three wins and a 2.03 ERA in 22 games, with five walks and 18 strikeouts, holding opposing hitters to a .212 average. 

Then, on this Saturday afternoon, he held the Giants to just four hits in seven innings as the Dodgers bounced back from a 5-2 loss in the series opener on Thursday and a blown 7-0 lead on Friday night—a game which saw L.A. use six pitchers. 

Candiotti even delivered at the plate, driving in the Dodgers’ sixth run on a squeeze bunt. The other Dodger heroes offensively were Raul Mondesi, who smacked an RBI triple and two-run single, and Tripp Cromer, who had three hits and three RBIs.

Candiotti and the Dodgers expected this would be his only start, as Ramon Martinez was expected to return after skipping just this start. As it turned out, though, Martinez’s injury was revealed to be a torn rotator cuff, and the Dodger ace would be sidelined for two months.   

Although the Dodgers did not win the division in 1997, losing out to the Giants by two games, Candiotti did do the job for L.A., going 6-2 with a 3.62 ERA in 11 starts during Martinez’s absence. It should have been at least seven wins; he nearly beat the Giants again on July 12, handing the bullpen a 2-1 lead, only to see San Francisco batter two relievers for seven runs in the ninth. 

Candiotti pitched well enough as a starter that when Martinez did return in August, the Dodgers dealt fourth starter Astacio (4-8 with a 5.19 ERA over a three-month stretch) to Colorado for second baseman Eric Young while keeping the knuckleballer in the rotation for the rest of the season.

A free agent after the 1997 season—he signed with the Oakland Athletics to stay on the West Coast—Candiotti would finish his six-year Dodger career with a 52-64 record despite a 3.57 ERA, thanks to poor run support. (It should be noted that Ramon Martinez, who received much better run support from the Dodgers, was 72-48 with a 3.67 ERA during that same stretch. In 1995, for instance, Martinez was 17-7 with a 3.66 ERA and a league-leading 81 walks and 138 strikeouts over 206.1 innings. Candiotti was 7-14 with a 3.50 ERA in 190.1 innings with 58 walks and 141 strikeouts.)

But, as Charlie Hough often told other knuckleballers, “When the other guys get hurt or don’t pitch well, be there when they need someone.” And that’s exactly what Candiotti did for the Dodgers in 1997.

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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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