Archive for category Shutouts & Scoreless Streaks

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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Flashback to 1991 Candiotti/Henke One-Hitter

On August 6 at Rogers Centre, Toronto pitchers Drew Hutchison (8.2 IP) and Casey Janssen (0.1 IP) combined on a one-hitter in a 5-1 victory over the AL East-leading Baltimore Orioles, preventing the O’s to take an even more commanding lead over the second-place Blue Jays. (It also allowed Toronto to stay one game ahead of the Yankees for the second AL wild-card spot, as New York defeated Justin Verlander and the Tigers by the same 5-1 score.)

I don’t want to get into the performance of Hutchison, who came within a Chris Davis second-inning opposite-field homer of taking a no-hit bid into the final innings. This is not the blog for that sort of analyst.

I do want to go back to the 1991 season, when the Blue Jays got another clutch combined one-hitter against the Orioles. The game I’m referring to happened on August 28, 1991, at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium, with the Blue Jays and Orioles playing the finale of their three-game series.

Toronto had won the first two games, and had never before swept a series in Baltimore. Going into that day, the Blue Jays were in first place in the AL East, with a one-game lead over the Tigers, who had No. 1 starter Bill Gullickson (16-6) on the mound against California. Gullickson, despite a high ERA (4.12), had a league-leading 16 victories, as Detroit seemed to always score runs for him.

It was a crucial day in the pennant race, because if the Tigers won and the Blue Jays lost, both teams would be tied for first place, and Toronto would be at a disadvantage because that year the Blue Jays were the “swing team” and would play only (the tougher) AL West clubs in the final weeks of the season. (That year, all of the AL West teams finished .500 or better.)

Gullickson certainly delivered, pitching a complete-game five-hitter…only to lose 1-0 to the Angels and Jim Abbott in an afternoon game. (Gullickson, though, would get 5.66 runs of support throughout the season, and go on to win 20 games with a 3.90 ERA.)

Then Tom Candiotti took the mound for the Orioles, and was in trouble in the first inning when Joe Orsulak (a perennial Candiotti-killer hitting .529 off him going in) hit an opposite-field single off the glove of third baseman Kelly Gruber. A walk and passed ball later, and the Orioles had runners on second and third with two outs.

Randy Milligan, a .444 hitter against Candiotti at the time, worked the count to 3-and-2 before striking out swinging.

From there, Candiotti didn’t allow another baserunner, taking the one-hitter into the ninth inning. Gene Tenace (the interim manager with Cito Gaston out due to a back problem) opted to go to closer Tom Henke in the ninth, and the Blue Jays stopper pitched 1-2-3 inning to close out the 3-0 victory.

It was Candiotti’s best game with the Blue Jays, with the team in a pennant race with the Tigers, and it came three days before his birthday.

Yet, the combined one-hitter has been forgotten. It was one of the most underappreciated – and yet clutch – pitching performances of the year. (As an aside, when I spoke with former Blue Jays reliever Bob MacDonald three years ago about this game, he admitted he didn’t remember anything about it, adding that it was probably because the no-hitter was broken up in the first inning. Had it been broken up in the late innings, it might have been more memorable.)

Like Hutchison in 2014, Candiotti was only two batters away from perfection going into the ninth, and similarly he also retired 22 straight Orioles like Hutchison did. Like Hutchison, it was an opposite-field hit early in the game and a walk that prevented a perfect game bid.

I know in 2012 when I flipped through the Blue Jays media guide, I found no mention of the 1991 Candiotti/Henke combined one-hitter in the section listing one-hitters, even though other combined one-hit efforts in franchise history were listed.

The 1991 Blue Jays, by the way, won the division, something that the 2014 team will not do. Because that 1991 club lost the ALCS to Minnesota, however, Candiotti has always been criticized by the Toronto media for his struggles against the Twins in that series. They forgot that without Candiotti’s regular-season contributions – a 2.98 ERA in 19 starts after a mid-season trade from Cleveland following ace Dave Stieb’s season-ending injury – the Blue Jays might not have made it to the postseason.

So, thanks to Drew Hutchison, we get an opportunity today to celebrate Tom Candiotti’s gem from that 1991 season.

Meanwhile…time to take another shot at tsn.ca. Read that first sentence carefully, and then you do not need to read any longer. How can you take that column seriously if they make such a mistake? (The mistake is magnified when you look at the very next sentence.) Do they even do fact-checking there?

tsn again

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

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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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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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Shutout ball and strikeout records…

On June 8, Seattle ace right-hander Felix Hernandez had a dominant outing at Tropicana Field, tossing seven shutout innings with a career-high 15 strikeouts in the Mariners’ 5-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays.

Unfortunately, Hernandez got a no-decision as the Mariners couldn’t score until the ninth inning, when they plated all five of their runs off Grant Balfour. Hernandez, who lowered his ERA from 2.57 to 2.39, gave up only four hits with a walk as his record remained at 8-1.

Of course, getting no run support is nothing new for Hernandez, who from 2010-2013 logged an ERA of 2.95 over 131 starts only to go just 52-45 — just seven games over .500. This season has been a nice change for him, as prior to the start against the Rays, he had received 5.66 runs of support from the Mariners offense.

Still, a special outing for Hernandez with the seven shutout innings and a career high in strikeouts.

That reminds me of a start by Tom Candiotti on August 8, 1991, when the knuckleballing right-hander pitched seven shutout innings of four-hit ball with 12 strikeouts and only three walks against the Detroit Tigers. Candiotti, however, also got a no-decision because his Toronto Blue Jays were shut out in a 4-0, 14-innings loss.

Candiotti’s 12 strikeouts tied a career high and also equaled the Blue Jays’ franchise record for a single game.

It was Candiotti’s eighth start with the Blue Jays following a mid-season trade, and the fourth time with Toronto he had begun a game with seven shutout innings.

The Blue Jays’ single-game mark of 12 strikeouts would be surpassed in 1994 by Pat Hentgen, and then Roger Clemens eventually set the current club record of 18 four years after that.

What’s interesting is that, for years and even to this day, the Blue Jays record books have kept showing that Candiotti walked nine batters in that August 8, 1991 start to equal a club record even though he issued only three bases on balls that night! I’ve also seen this error in print by going through the Blue Jays media guide. This despite the fact that I had written to the Blue Jays back in 2010 to notify them of the error.

Well, at least Candiotti remains in the Toronto record books for something, right?

Anyway, congratulations to Felix Hernandez for the shutout ball and the personal strikeout record. Congrats too to Candiotti for continuing to be in the books for a record he wasn’t even a part of.

“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.

Candiotti August 8 1991 pitching line

Blue Jays Single-Game Records

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