Posts Tagged Justin Verlander

Few, few pitches, Part 2

Since right-hander Kyle Drabek was called up over the weekend by the Toronto Blue Jays from Triple-A Buffalo – and to continue an earlier post about the same topic – I wanted to discuss one of the best games his dad, Doug Drabek, threw during his major-league career.

drabekOn September 30, 1990, Doug Drabek (now a pitching coach with the Short-Season Single-A Hillsboro Hops, Diamondbacks’ affiliate) pitched a complete-game three-hitter to beat the Cardinals 2-0 in St. Louis, clinching the NL East title for the Pirates. It was their first division title in 11 years, as Pittsburgh won its seventh straight game and 10 of 11.

The Pirates’ only two runs came in the eighth off hard-luck Joe Magrane on a sacrifice fly and a groundout. The unfortunate Magrane fell to 10-17 despite a 3.59 ERA, but the big story was Drabek, who got the shutout by throwing only 80 pitches. It was also Drabek’s 22nd victory, and the right-hander would go on to win the NL Cy Young Award in 1990.

That’s probably one of the best-pitched games of the decade – a complete-game shutout on only 80 pitches to clinch a division title – but it’s largely been forgotten. People might remember more about Mike Scott’s 1986 NL West-clinching no-hitter, because it was a no-no, but still, Drabek’s gem was spectacular.

BT cardsSpeaking of the Cardinals, in 1990 St. Louis finished last in the East with a 70-92 record, with Joe Torre taking over in the latter part of the season as manager. Though the Cards were a last-place outfit, there was one highlight on August 17 at Busch Stadium, when Bob Tewksbury threw a one-hitter to beat Bill Gullickson and the Houston Astros, 5-0. That night, Tewksbury lost his perfect game bid when Franklin Stubbs doubled to left on the first pitch leading off the eighth, and the Cardinals right-hander went on to throw just 79 pitches to complete the one-hitter. Had he gotten the no-no, it would have been the second in the majors in three days, following Terry Mulholland’s gem against San Francisco.

As it turned out, Stubbs would be the only Houston batter to reach against Tewksbury.

But 79 pitches in a one-hitter, a near perfect game? It’s all been forgotten as well.

Then on July 8, 1994, Tewksbury shut out Greg Maddux and the Braves 2-0 in Atlanta, where he used only 90 pitches in the complete-game four-hitter. It was a game where both he and Maddux went the distance, with neither one issuing a walk.

DETROIT-OAKLAND IN OCTOBER? Ahhhh, remember when Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander said back in July something about the Athletics acquiring Jeff Samardzija for the purpose of defeating Detroit in the postseason? It was something like this:

“I found it very interesting,” Verlander told reporters Saturday, according to MLB.com. “Really, when I saw that trade, I thought that they made that trade for us. No doubt about it in my mind.”

What I find interesting, just over a month later, is that the Tigers and Athletics could meet in October…but in a one-game showdown for the AL Wild Card to advance to the Division Series. How interesting that would be if things turned out that way!

Going into action on August 19, Detroit (66-56) and Oakland (73-51) were the two wild-card teams in the junior circuit, with the Tigers two games behind Kansas City (69-55) in the Central and the Athletics a half-game back of the Angels (73-50) in the West.

The Tigers (.5409) are actually only percentage points ahead of the Mariners (67-57, .5403) for the second wild-card spot, following Seattle’s loss to Jerome Williams and the Phillies 4-1 on Monday night in Philadelphia. Detroit was idle.

Should be an “interesting” finish to the season!

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“Tom Candiotti: A Life of Knuckleballs,” a biography of former big-league pitcher Tom Candiotti by KP Wee, is now available from Amazon.com or through the McFarland & Company website.

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They think they know it all, but they don’t…

Ahhhh, every year these so-called experts in the media make these “intelligent” predictions, thinking they’re right. And more often than not, they turn out to be wrong.

For instance, just last week, certain sports-talk radio hosts on Fox Sports (whom I won’t name because I don’t want to give them any additional publicity) were saying how untouchable the Detroit Tigers were. At that time, the Tigers were in New York for a four-game series against the Yankees, with their trio of Cy Young Award winners going in back-to-back-to-back games in the first three contests from August 4 through August 6. That would be Max Scherzer (2013 Cy Young winner), David Price (2012 winner), and Justin Verlander (2011) going for the Tigers in three straight games.

verlanderThe Yankees opened the series by beating Scherzer behind the pitching of Arizona castoff Brandon McCarthy (4-0), before dropping a 12-inning affair in Price’s Tigers debut. That’s when the sports-talk guys started bashing New York, saying stuff like, “Guess what? You just lost a game started by David Price, and now you’ve got to face Justin Verlander!”

Except that this was the Justin Verlander who’s been struggling in 2014. The Yankees got two runs off of Verlander (10-10) and journeyman Chris Capuano outpitched the 2011 AL Cy Young and MVP, as New York won 5-1. The Yankees then made it three out of four in the series with rookie Shane Greene – in just his sixth career major-league start – beating Rick Porcello (13-6) by a score of 1-0.

So, what happened to those so-called experts proclaiming how great the Tigers starters were, how they were going to dominate New York? Heck, what happened to the Tigers in losing three of four to a supposed inferior team with no pitching? Letting Shane Greene and Chris Capuano and Brandon McCarthy outpitch your aces? Not counting Greene’s 1-0 victory, the Yankees starters gave up just three earned runs in 27.1 innings compared to the Tigers aces’ eight runs in 29.2 innings!

oswaltOnce again, this is what the so-called experts do, proclaiming how great such-and-such a pitching staff is. Weren’t the 2011 Philadelphia Phillies’ starting rotation supposed to be the greatest of all-time with Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels, and Joe Blanton? That’s what multiple media outlets were suggesting back then. The 2011 Phillies, as it turned out, didn’t win the World Series, and Oswalt spent several weeks on the DL because of a back injury. Actually, the Phillies didn’t even make it out of the NLDS, with Oswalt getting pounded for five runs against the Cardinals in Game Four in a loss to Edwin Jackson (!) as St. Louis evened the series at 2-2. The Cards then finished off the Phillies 1-0 two nights later.

Anyway, getting back to the 2014 Tigers, they had a chance to bury the Toronto Blue Jays, with Scherzer and Price going back-to-back in the final two games of their series at Rogers Centre on August 9-10. Scherzer did his job, but the offense got only two runs off rookie Marcus Stroman (who got lit up by the Chicago White Sox in his next start on August 15, by the way) and the bullpen blew a 2-1 lead in the ninth and lost, 3-2, in 10 innings. Closer Joe Nathan, by the way, has been brutal all season, and that game marked his seventh blown save of the year as his ERA climbed to 5.36.

But not to worry, right, as David Price would start Sunday in the series finale. The Tigers lit up the overrated Mark Buehrle (whom the Toronto media thought was going to win the Cy Young this year when he raced to a 10-1 start) and jumped out to a 5-0 lead, but the bullpen again coughed up the lead in the ninth. The game didn’t end till the 19th, when the Blue Jays won it 6-5 to take two of three in the series and the Tigers were forced to use starter Rick Porcello for two innings at the end. So much for the Tigers’ vaunted pitching. (As for the Blue Jays, they are dead anyway, getting swept in Seattle immediately following the Tigers series. At least the Mariners’ Cy Young winner did his job, as Felix Hernandez shut down the Blue Jays in the opener of that series with Toronto facing Scherzer, Price, and Hernandez in three straight games.)

Since Price (who gave up four runs) couldn’t get the job done against Toronto, the bullpen had to be taxed and the Tigers – who had placed right-handers Anibal Sanchez and Joakim Soria on the DL before the contest – used everyone except for Scherzer and Verlander.

Obviously, that meant the Tigers needed Verlander to give them a lot of innings the following night in Pittsburgh, but the former AL MVP and Cy Young winner was pounded for five runs in the first inning in the Pirates’ 11-6 victory. To make things worse, Verlander was taken out of the game after pitching just that one inning with right shoulder soreness, and the loss along with Kansas City’s 3-2 win over Oakland moved the Royals into first place ahead of Detroit in the AL Central.

hernandezSo much for the Tigers’ vaunted pitching staff. Verlander has had a bad year. In a tight game in the late innings, you can’t really trust the likes of Joe Nathan and Joba Chamberlain in the Tigers’ bullpen. And now, heading into the highly-anticipated David Price-Felix Hernandez matchup on August 16, the Tigers are trailing the Mariners for the second AL wild-card spot because Seattle spanked them 7-2 in the series opener in Detroit. The Royals, who won their third straight on August 15, now lead the Tigers by 1.5 games for the AL Central.

I’m still not convinced the Royals will hang on, but with the Tigers’ woes….perhaps we can stop thinking about the so-called “SI Jinx” but maybe think about the “Sports-Talk Radio Host Jinx” with these radio guys saying how untouchable the Tigers were and then this happens. Who knows, the 2014 Tigers could be the 2012-2013 Texas Rangers, a heavy favorite to win the division that ended up having to play in a 163rd game in order to advance further. (For the record, the Rangers lost both times, first the Wild Card Game to the Orioles in 2012 and then the wild-card tie-breaker game to the Rays in 2013).

Speaking of Tampa Bay, the Rays got to .500 by beating the Yankees on August 15. The Rays were now 61-61, which is remarkable since they were 18 games under .500 at one point (24-42 on June 10) and were the majors’ worst team. According to the AP, Tampa Bay became the fourth team in major-league history to reach the break-even point after falling 18 games under in the same season, joining the 1899 Louisville Colonels, the 2006 Florida Marlins, and the 2004 Devil Rays.

Tampa Bay is not going to make the postseason, but it should at least finish ahead of the Blue Jays (63-60), who are only 1.5 games better than the Rays right now. Ahhhh, remember way back when – it was in May – when the Toronto media thought the Blue Jays would just bash their way into the postseason and were laughing at the Rays? Well, perhaps those Rays will march into Rogers Centre from August 22 to 24 and spank those Blue Jays. Those media folks were the same people who thought a late-September series between Baltimore and Toronto would have some significant meaning for both clubs. Laughable. Perhaps the significance for Toronto would be to see if the Blue Jays can finish above .500 – or how many games within .500.

In any event, it should be an interesting race for the AL’s second wild-card spot the rest of the season. I don’t think Kansas City can hang on in the AL Central, because the Tigers are a more potent team. But if the Tigers somehow can’t recover and have to battle for the second wild-card spot,….then let’s call it the “Sports-Talk Radio Host Jinx” or something as those radio guys seemed to have an ALCS spot locked up for them weeks earlier.

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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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