Archive for category Low-hit Gems

Flashback to 1995: A 1-0 gem featuring few, few pitches

I was interested in the Cleveland-Seattle game from July 30 because of the major-league record Felix Hernandez was potentially about to break, but as it turned out, it was the Indians’ starter that was making the headlines.

Corey Kluber, who is now the ace in Cleveland after the Indians traded Justin Masterson earlier in the day, threw an 85-pitch shutout to defeat Hernandez and the Mariners, 2-0. In his previous outing, the 28-year-old right-hander had taken a perfect game into the seventh inning against Kansas City back on July 24 in the Indians’ eventual 2-1 loss to the Royals.

According to Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports, Kluber’s gem against Seattle marked just the seventh major-league shutout on 85 or fewer pitches in the 21st century [1].

That stat – so few pitches in a shutout – reminds me of a game in particular, one that featured Greg Maddux against his former Cubs teammate, Mike Morgan. It was an ESPN Sunday Night Baseball game back in the 1995 season, where the Atlanta Braves beat the St. Louis Cardinals 1-0 in a contest that took under two hours to complete.

That night, Maddux tossed a two-hit shutout to outpitch Morgan, who allowed only six hits and a walk over eight innings [2]. A quick search on Baseball-Reference.com reveals that that game took place on August 20, 1995, with Maddux throwing only 88 pitches – 66 for strikes – in his nine innings.

mike morganAs for Morgan? He threw 84 pitches – 55 for strikes – over his eight innings of work. It might have been his best start of the season – and he did come within two outs of throwing a no-hitter against the Montreal Expos over a month earlier on July 3.

A tidy, efficient game for both pitchers, with the only run of the game coming in the third inning when Marquis Grissom led off with a double, moved to third on Jeff Blauser’s sacrifice but, and came home on Chipper Jones’ grounder to second base. That was all the scoring for the night, with the game lasting only an hour and 50 minutes.

Any baseball fan knows about Maddux’s dominance that season – where the Braves ace right-hander went 19-2 and captured his fourth consecutive Cy Young Award – so I won’t talk much more about him.

Let’s talk a little bit about Morgan, who went just 7-7 despite a respectable 3.56 ERA in 21 starts. Apparently, if you made him throw enough pitches – something that the Braves didn’t do – you were going to get to him in the late innings. More specifically, Morgan was virtually unhittable in his first 75 pitches in 1995, but became a batting practice pitcher on his 76th pitch onward.

That’s what Dodger third-base coach Joey Amalfitano told first baseman Eric Karros before he stepped up to the plate to face Morgan in the sixth inning on August 9, 1995. Next thing you knew, Karros stroked a two-run homer on the Cardinals right-hander’s 76th pitch of the night, and the Dodgers – with knuckleballer Tom Candiotti on the mound – went on to beat St. Louis, 4-2.

Speaking of Candiotti, he himself also once tossed a complete-game 1-0 shutout where he threw only 85 pitches. The knuckleballer fanned three and didn’t walk a hitter in the four-hit shutout. But that was a spring-training game back in 1987 between the Cleveland Indians and the Oakland Athletics, though the A’s did have their everyday players in the lineup that afternoon. According to an old San Jose Mercury News story from March 28, 1987, Tony Phillips (0-for-3), Carney Lansford (0-for-3), Jose Canseco (2-for-3), Reggie Jackson (0-for-3), and Mark McGwire (0-for-3) all played in that game.

Ahhhhh…great memories, and it’s thanks to Corey Kluber, the new ace of the Indians.

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[1] According to that same Yahoo! Sports story, Kluber faced one batter over the minimum in nine complete innings for his second straight start, which marked the first time it had happened in big-league history.

[2] Poor Morgan. He was also the losing pitcher in Dennis Martinez’s perfect game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in July 1991, dropping a hard-luck 2-0 decision. He gave up only four hits in a complete-game effort, with both runs off of him unearned.

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No run support in milestone start…

On July 12, lefty Paul Maholm got his first start in two months and pitched his best game of the season, in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 1-0 victory over the San Diego Padres.

For Maholm, it was his first start since a 3.2-inning, 10-run disaster against the Miami Marlins on May 14, and also his 250th career major-league start. The lefty tossed six-plus shutout innings of two-hit, no-walk ball against the Padres, and the Dodgers won it in the bottom of the ninth off San Diego rookie Kevin Quackenbush [1].

Because the Dodgers couldn’t score when Maholm was still in the game, he received a no-decision to remain 1-4 on the season, though his ERA dropped from 5.18 to 4.69 [2].

Of course, Maholm hasn’t had a good season so far, with a 4.74 ERA as a starter and an equally-mediocre 4.58 earned-run average as a reliever. But hey, if you pitch into the seventh inning and give up just two hits, you deserve a win, right? Especially in a milestone appearance, such as Maholm’s 250th career big-league start.

Then again, sometimes in baseball you have certain pitchers who just don’t seem to have any luck, even when they pitch well.

I remember lefty Brian Bohanon’s 1998 season when he was acquired by the Dodgers in mid-July from the New York Mets in exchange for veteran reliever Greg McMichael. At the time, eyebrows were probably raised, because Bohanon hadn’t had a stellar career up to that point (and wouldn’t the rest of his days in the big leagues after that ’98 campaign) [3].

bohanonSince making his major-league debut with Texas in April of 1990, Bohanon had compiled a 5.35 ERA in his first eight seasons with four teams (Rangers, Tigers, Blue Jays, Mets). He had appeared in 178 big-league games, only 61 of them starts. In 1994, his last season with the Rangers, his ERA was 7.23. The following year, in his lone season with Detroit, it was 5.54. Then a 7.77 ERA for Toronto in 1996 in 20 appearances, all in relief.

Yet, with the Dodgers in 1998 following the trade with the Mets, Bohanon was immediately inserted into the starting rotation, and the veteran lefty somehow delivered. He logged a 2.40 ERA in 14 starts, tossing two complete games. In 97.1 innings, he allowed only 74 hits and struck out 72 batters.

The problem? The Dodgers couldn’t score for him. As a result, Bohanon was only 5-7 with the Dodgers. Also, as mentioned above, he tossed two complete games with Los Angeles – but he lost both games. On September 11, Bohanon pitched eight innings of seven-hit ball with eight strikeouts in San Diego, but the Dodgers lost 1-0 to Padres righty Joey Hamilton. In his final appearance of the season – and as it turned out, his final game with the Dodgers – he gave up only three runs over his nine innings of work, but lost a 3-2 decision to San Diego right-hander Andy Ashby.

Following the season, he joined the Colorado Rockies, where he would pitch his final three major-league seasons. Though he won 29 games for the Rockies, he also lost 30 and pitched to a 5.82 ERA with Colorado.

But a 5-7 record even with a 2.40 ERA for the Dodgers? That’s pitching in hard luck.

There’s also lefty Odalis Perez – who like Maholm also used to pitch for the Braves. Sure, Perez was mediocre toward the end of his career. But he also won 15 games for the Dodgers in 2002, his first season in Los Angeles. Two years later, he logged a 3.25 ERA in 31 starts, but managed just a 7-6 record as the Dodgers scored two runs or fewer for him 10 times.

Ismael Valdez won 15 games in 1996 with the Dodgers, but the following year was only 10-11 despite a 2.65 ERA in 30 starts. For the 1997 season, he received only 3.38 runs of support [4].

Then there was Tom Candiotti, who on June 16, 1995, made his 300th career major-league start and pitched eight shutout innings of three-hit ball at Wrigley Field. He also took a no-hitter into the sixth in his matchup against Cubs right-hander Steve Trachsel, who at that point in his career was known for his inability to win at home. Alas, the Dodgers couldn’t score at all, and Howard Johnson’s two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth off Rudy Seanez won it 2-0 for the Cubs.

A no-decision for Candiotti despite pitching shutout ball in a milestone start – much like Paul Maholm back on July 12 this year. And that was the type of season for Candiotti, who despite a 3.50 ERA went 7-14.

Sometimes that’s how things are in baseball. Some pitchers are just plain unlucky. Paul Maholm surely knows the feeling.

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[1] The Dodgers would beat the Padres by the same 1-0 score the following afternoon to take three of four in the series.

[2] His mound opponent, right-hander Ian Kennedy, pitched eight shutout innings of three-hit ball.

[3] Another interesting part of the deal was that McMichael began the season with the Mets and was traded in early June to Los Angeles with Dave Mlicki for former Atlanta teammate Brad Clontz as well as Hideo Nomo. Just a month later, McMichael was sent back to the Mets for Bohanon. Mlicki, by the way, was 7-3 with the Dodgers despite a 4.05 ERA in his 20 starts. Probably best known for tossing a shutout in 1997 in the first-ever interleague regular-season game between the Mets and Yankees, Mlicki did throw a complete-game shutout in Colorado while with the Dodgers in ’98, though.

[4] It should be noted, though, that three of his losses came during a stretch from May 31 to June 20, when he really struggled. In that five-start span, Valdez was 0-3 with a 6.41 ERA, with the Dodgers losing four of those games. On June 20, he was chased after only 5.1 innings despite being staked to a huge 7-0 lead against the Giants, a game which the Dodgers eventually won in extra innings.

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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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Dominant streaks: Clemens, Johnson, Pedro… and who?

Back on June 29, Seattle Mariners ace right-hander Felix Hernandez allowed only one hit over eight shutout innings to defeat the visiting Cleveland Indians 3-0, giving up just Lonnie Chisenhall’s fifth-inning single.

For Hernandez, who walked three, it was his ninth consecutive start where he had pitched at least seven innings while giving up two runs or fewer. During that stretch, Hernandez was 6-1 with a 1.30 ERA with 77 strikeouts and just 10 walks over 69 innings. In those nine outings, he surrendered a total of 42 hits and one homer.

The nine consecutive starts with seven or more innings with two or fewer runs is a Mariners club record, and in fact is a rare feat in baseball. According to Baseball-Reference.com, Tom Seaver holds the longest such streak in big-league history, going 13 straight starts in 1971 where he allowed two runs or fewer while working at least seven innings.

From 2001-2013, only six pitchers had such a streak of at least eight consecutive starts, which shows how rare Hernandez’s feat has been.

ClemensAs for the 1990s? Well, only five pitchers in that decade had a stretch of eight straight starts where they gave up only two runs or fewer while pitching at least seven innings. The list includes fireballers Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, and Pedro Martinez. You would expect to see those names, as Clemens, Johnson, and Martinez were three of the most dominant pitchers in the 1990s, as well as in baseball history. Surprisingly, Ed Whitson accomplished this feat during the 1990 season, when he went 5-0 with a 0.99 ERA in those eight consecutive starts from July 25 to September 2 for the San Diego Padres. During his streak, Whitson walked just eight batters in 63.1 innings.

Who was the fifth pitcher to accomplish that rare feat in the 1990s with eight consecutive such starts? No, not Greg Maddux [1]. Not Tom Glavine or John Smoltz. Not Mike Mussina.

Nope. The fifth guy who did it was Los Angeles Dodgers knuckleballer Tom Candiotti, who accomplished the feat in 1993.

During a season which saw the Dodgers finish 81-81, the highlights were rookie Mike Piazza’s monster season and the team’s 12-1 rout over the Giants on the final day of the year to knock San Francisco out of the postseason.

But there was also the overlooked Candiotti and his pitching throughout the summer, as he had a 1.85 ERA in 22 starts from May 1 to the end of August. Entering play on September 1, Candiotti’s 2.43 ERA was the best in the major leagues, marking the second time in three years that he had the ERA lead at one point in the final weeks of the season.

The knuckleballer’s streak of eight straight starts with two or fewer runs and seven or more innings took place from July 18 to August 25, when he pitched to a 1.32 ERA over 61.1 innings while allowing only 17 walks and four home runs. Included in that streak was a 2-1 win on July 28 in San Francisco, where he held Giants sluggers Will Clark, Matt Williams, and Barry Bonds to one hit in 10 at-bats.

Candiotti went only 5-0 in that streak because he didn’t get enough support in the other three starts. On August 9, he gave up two runs over eight frames but the Dodgers lost 3-2 in 11 innings against Colorado. (The Dodgers couldn’t touch Rockies right-hander Greg Harris, who would be 4-20 with a 6.60 ERA in a Colorado uniform in 1993-94.) On August 20 in St. Louis, Candiotti allowed two runs over seven innings but left the game trailing 2-0 against rookie Rene Arocha, before the Dodgers rallied for three runs in the ninth to spare him a heart-breaking loss. Five nights later, he gave up one run on four hits over eight innings against Pittsburgh, only to leave the game trailing 1-0 to Pirates rookie Paul Wagner. The Dodgers tied it in the bottom of the eighth but ultimately lost 2-1 in 12 innings.

That performance in that last outing on August 25 lowered Candiotti’s ERA to 2.43, tops in all of baseball.

Certainly, when you think about long stretches of dominant pitching, you think of guys such as Felix Hernandez, Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, and Pedro Martinez. Ed Whitson? Well, at least he threw a fastball.

Tom Candiotti, a guy who threw a knuckleball? You would have never figured he had had such a long run of great pitching. But it happened. Back in that underrated 1993 season.

[1] Even in Maddux’s dominant 1994-95 seasons, when he had sub-2.00 ERAs of 1.56 and 1.63, respectively, he didn’t have that many starts in a row with seven or more innings with two or fewer runs allowed. The longest streak he had in those seasons lasted “only” a half-dozen. Maddux had six consecutive such starts in 1994, and again six straight in 1995.

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Seven shutout innings for the third consecutive start…

While the two Detroit Cy Young winners – Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer – made headlines by getting lit up for 17 runs in the first two games of the Tigers’ series with Kansas City earlier this week, an unheralded pitcher in the same division has quietly put together a brilliant run without much fanfare [1].

On June 18, Minnesota’s Kyle Gibson tossed seven shutout innings for the third consecutive start, blanking the Boston Red Sox on only one hit at Fenway Park. Unfortunately for the Twins right-hander, who is in his second season in the majors, got a no-decision as Minnesota couldn’t score against Red Sox starter John Lackey, who allowed only three hits over nine shutout innings.

The Twins eventually lost 2-1 in 10 innings on back-to-back homers by David Ortiz and Mike Napoli.

Gibson retired the first 14 Red Sox batters before Daniel Nava stroked a fifth-inning double for the only Boston hit off of him. Back on June 7, the sophomore righty pitched three-hit ball in his seven innings of work to beat Houston 8-0. Six nights later, he won 2-0 in Detroit with a seven-inning five-hitter. Then in the Red Sox game, one hit over seven innings with no walks and eight strikeouts.

But that’s not all for the young right-hander, who now sports a 3.25 ERA. Back on May 28, he tossed six shutout innings of six-hit, no-walk ball against Texas but received a no-decision in the Twins’ 1-0 loss. In Minnesota’s 1-0 win at Cleveland on May 5, Gibson pitched seven innings of two-hit ball in another no-decision. He also blanked Toronto on a four-hitter over eight innings on April 17, winning 7-0. That’s six scoreless starts through his first 14 outings. In three other starts, he gave up exactly one run.

So, a fantastic season so far for Kyle Gibson, and three straight scoreless starts and counting.

Though Greg Myers had never caught a knuckleballer prior to Candiotti's arrival in Toronto in 1991, he still handled the new Blue Jays knuckleball pitcher very well. In the eight games that the pair worked together, Candiotti notched a 0.91 ERA.

Though Greg Myers had never caught a knuckleballer prior to Candiotti’s arrival in Toronto in 1991, he still handled the new Blue Jays knuckleball pitcher very well. In the eight games that the pair worked together, Candiotti notched a 0.91 ERA.

I do want to bring up Tom Candiotti’s 1991 season, where the knuckleball specialist had six scoreless starts and also seven outings where he allowed only one run. That’s 13 of his 34 starts where he gave up one run or none, not bad for a knuckleball pitcher.

Candiotti nearly had the same streak as Kyle Gibson, but it ended in the ninth inning on July 16, 1991 in Kansas City.

Candiotti had been traded from Cleveland to Toronto on June 27, and in his second start with the Blue Jays threw seven shutout innings against Minnesota on July 3 for a 4-0 win. On July 11, it was eight shutout innings in a 2-0 victory over Texas.

Then came July 16, where Candiotti took a 1-0 shutout in the bottom of the ninth inning against the Royals. So, if he came out of the game then, he would have had three straight scoreless starts. However, he was left in the game to try and complete the one-run shutout, and Kirk Gibson tripled before scoring on a passed ball by catcher Greg Myers. The Royals then got the winning run off Candiotti in the bottom of the 10th, thanks to a throwing error by Myers.

So, Candiotti was that close to getting a third straight scoreless game.

That wasn’t it for the knuckleballer. On September 18, he took a 1-0 lead into the bottom of the eighth in Seattle before the Mariners tied the game off of him on an Omar Vizquel triple followed by a Ken Griffey Jr. single. On September 7, Candiotti took a shutout into the ninth inning but gave up a home run to Carlos Martinez in the eventual 4-1 Blue Jays victory.

In eight of his first 16 starts with Toronto following the mid-season trade, he took a shutout into the eighth inning – that’s half of his outings with the Blue Jays!

With Kyle Gibson in 2014, six scoreless starts through his first 14 outings…perhaps he’ll add on to those numbers before the season is done.

[1] According to the June 17 game recap on ESPN, STATS noted that the 17 runs allowed by the two Tiger aces were the most ever by two teammates with Cy Young Awards in back-to-back team games. The Royals moved ahead of the Tigers atop the AL Central in the Scherzer game, and then defeated Detroit again the following afternoon by a 2-1 final in the third of their four-game set, ensuring that they would leave town in first place regardless of what happened in the series finale.

“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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