Archive for category Oh those blown saves…

This date in history: July 18, 1994 – Candiotti pitches seven innings in relief in New York

Here’s a look-back to a Tom Candiotti start from July 18, 1994.

After Candiotti posted a 7-7 record with a 4.12 ERA for the L.A. Dodgers in 1994, skeptics said the veteran knuckleballer was washed up.

In those days, unfortunately, people looked mainly at won-loss records and determined that a pitcher “didn’t know how to win” if he did not post a high number of the left side of that column. 

But during that 1994 season, Candiotti was most certainly a valuable pitcher on the Dodgers. And his value was evident during a crucial road trip immediately following the All-Star break, even if it’s been forgotten years later. 

At the All-Star break, the Dodgers sat atop the NL West standings, owning a five-game lead over Colorado and a seven-and-a-half-game cushion over San Francisco. A 13-game post-break road trip followed—with stops in Philadelphia, New York, Montreal, and San Francisco—and that was where Candiotti repeatedly bailed out the Dodgers. He gave the club a quality outing each time out when nobody else seemed capable of providing even five innings. He pitched on short rest and in relief. 

The bullpen was a disaster during the trip, with Todd Worrell (15.75 ERA), Jim Gott (9.39 ERA), Roger McDowell (9.82 ERA), and Omar Daal (5.40 ERA) all pitching poorly. The starters, meanwhile, were not getting it done either, with Pedro Astacio going 0-2 in two starts with a 22.85 ERA while lasting a total of 4.1 innings. Ramon Martinez was 1-2 with a 5.19 ERA in his three starts. Kevin Gross was 0-2 and 6.11 in three starts. Orel Hershiser pitched just once, getting pounded in San Francisco for five runs in five innings. Ismael Valdez, normally a reliever then, made one start and lasted one-plus inning. Candiotti, however, was not part of the problem, posting a 2.60 ERA in four games and working at least six innings each time.

The Giants would get hot and win 13 out of a 16-game stretch, while the Dodgers would go 3-10 on that road trip and see their lead over San Francisco shrink to only a half-game.

Candiotti pitched on July 15 in Philadelphia, throwing a six-inning four-hitter in a 3-2 victory. He was then called upon on this date, July 18, on only two days’ rest in relief because of the ailing staff. 

So, on July 18 in New York, Candiotti was supposed to just be a spectator, but Orel Hershiser had a strained left rib cage muscle and could not start, so Ismael Valdez, a rookie, became the emergency replacement. But Valdez himself had to leave the game after recording just three outs because of a blister. 

In came Candiotti on two days’ rest, and he threw seven relief innings of three-hit baseball and the Dodgers won, 7-6, in 10 innings—after Todd Worell inexplicably blew Candiotti’s 6-3 lead in the bottom of the ninth. 

Candiotti’s line: 7 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 4 BB, 7 SO. This was on two days’ rest! The only runs off him came on an RBI groundout in the fourth and two errors in the sixth. The Mets’ other run before the ninth inning came off Valdez.

Once again, it was another example of Candiotti coming up big for the club. For the third straight game, a Dodger starter had not lasted past three frames. First, it was Hershiser taking himself out of a game in Philadelphia during his warm-up pitches because of a muscle strain. Ramon Martinez, the emergency starter that day, was clobbered for nine runs in 4.1 innings. The following day, Pedro Astacio allowed six runs in 2.1 frames as the Dodgers lost three of four to the Phillies (with Candiotti getting the lone win). Then it was the Valdez game against the Mets where the rookie had to leave early, and Candiotti provided seven relief innings.

Here is where baseball’s rules concerning wins and losses are flawed. Candiotti worked seven innings and was effective. Worrell gave up three runs on five hits and a walk in his one inning of work, blowing a three-run lead, and yet he was credited with the win after the Dodgers won it in the 10th. Worrell, the most ineffective pitcher on the night, was credited with the victory just because he was “the pitcher of record,” which wasn’t fair.

Candiotti should have gotten the win. And, of course, going back to what I mentioned at the start, people will look at that 7-7 record and deem him a pitcher who didn’t know how to win. 

Sure, there were some games during the course of the season where he got roughed up, but there were three other no-decisions in 1994 where he went seven or more innings allowing two earned runs or fewer: April 29 against the Mets, May 20 in Cincinnati, and June 21 in San Diego. That’s four extra wins that he should have picked up, and an 11-7 record vs. a 7-7 mark makes a big difference. 

Then, in his next outing after the July 18th no-decision in New York, Candiotti was again outstanding in Montreal—giving up only a sac fly and an RBI single in his seven innings of work—but suffered a 2-0 loss to Jeff Fassero and the Expos. Next up, he took a 1-0 lead into the eighth inning in San Francisco, but ran out of gas as the Giants scored four times in the eighth. It didn’t help that the Dodgers scored just one run against Bill Swift. Take those games in Montreal and San Francisco and say that if he had gotten more support, his record would have been 13-6—not a measly 7-7.  

I mean, he just didn’t have any luck. Yes, he ended with a 4.12 ERA. But c’mon. Didn’t Storm Davis win 19 games with a 4.36 ERA in 1989? Jack Morris win 21 games with a 4.04 ERA in 1992? Bill Gullickson, 20 wins in 1991 with a 3.90 ERA?

Tom Candiotti never had a year like that where his team scored a lot of runs for him to be able to rack up a bunch of victories. On this date, July 18, 1994, the Dodgers scored enough runs and Candiotti came through with seven magnificent relief innings. But Worrell blew it.


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Blow the save, get the win…

It’s been a tough week for closers, with Jason Grilli temporarily losing his job in Pittsburgh, Ernesto Frieri struggling with the Angels, and the Tigers’ Joe Nathan blowing another save.

The latest meltdown for Nathan came on June 21 in Cleveland, where the veteran stopper was trying to nail down a 4-3 victory for Justin Verlander, who was just one out away from winning for only the second time in seven starts. Alas, Michael Bourn tied things up with a two-out single, giving Nathan his fifth blown save of the season.

The Tigers still went on to win the game 5-4, with Miguel Cabrera stroking an RBI double in the top of the 10th to plate the winning run.

Because Nathan had finished the bottom of the ninth, he was the pitcher of record when Cabrera cashed in the game-winner in the next half-inning. Thus, the veteran closer, who gave up a run on three hits in his lone inning of work to raise his ERA to 6.18, was credited with the victory. Verlander, meanwhile, got the no-decision despite his seven innings of four-hit, two-run ball.

Obviously, it doesn’t seem fair but that’s how the baseball rules work in terms of who gets the win in such a situation. Unfortunately, the official scorer isn’t allowed to use his/her discretion and award the victory to a more deserving hurler, in this case, the starter Verlander.

This reminds me of an outstanding pitching performance from 1994 at Shea Stadium in New York, where a reliever pitched seven innings and handed the lead to the closer, only to see that stopper blow it and yet pick up the win. In that case, it was also a first-place team (same as the Tigers), and it was also a struggling closer that couldn’t nail it down.

In this particular game, though, it was a three-run lead that was coughed up.

First, some background. It was the second half of the 1994 season, with the All-Star break just over. The Los Angeles Dodgers, sitting atop the NL West, were on a tough 13-game road trip to begin the second half. Tom Candiotti had just pitched six innings to defeat the Phillies 3-2 in Philadelphia in the second game of a doubleheader on July 15.

worrellThree days later in New York, the Dodgers were forced to start rookie Ismael Valdez, who had never started a game in the majors (but was making his 13th career appearance), because of an injury to Orel Hershiser. Unfortunately, Valdez lasted only seven Mets batters before leaving the game with a blister on his pitching hand. It was only the second inning, and a runner on second with none out, as Valdez departed and the Dodgers leading the game 3-1.

In came Candiotti on only two days’ rest, and the knuckleballer proceeded to strike out the side and strand the runner on second. He went on to log seven innings, allowing only three hits with seven strikeouts, and handed a 6-3 lead to closer Todd Worrell to start the bottom of the ninth.

With the knuckleballing Candiotti gone, the Mets hitters were delighted. They got to Worrell for five hits and three runs in the ninth, miraculously tying the game at 6-6. The tying run actually came home on a Jeff Kent groundout, when Dodger second baseman Jeff Treadway got the forceout at second but couldn’t turn what would have been a game-ending double play.

Dodger first baseman Eric Karros, though, saved the day with a go-ahead RBI single in the top of the 10th to give Los Angeles a 7-6 lead, and Jim Gott nailed down the save despite a shaky bottom half of the 10th which saw him give up two singles before getting the final out.

Gott got the save, and of course, Worrell was credited with the win because he was the pitcher of record.

Candiotti, who got the no-decision, was clearly the best pitcher of the game, with the following line: 7 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 4 BB, 7 SO.

Worrell, meanwhile, had this line: 1 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 0 SO.

Just one of those rules in baseball that allows the closer to pitch ineffectively, blow the save, and still get credit for the W.

Precisely what happened to Joe Nathan on June 21 – though he did a little better than Worrell did in that July game in 1994 [1].

[1] And oh, by the way, the Dodger bullpen was horrible that year and the team went 3-10 on that road trip, but Los Angeles still finished in first place when the strike took place in mid-August because of the mediocrity of the rest of the NL West. Would have been interesting to see how that race in the West would have turned out had the season been played to a conclusion.

“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 or through the McFarland & Company website.

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