Posts Tagged Roger Clemens

What Cy Young?

I was asked the following question on Quora.com earlier today:

How many times has a Cy Young award winner gone 0-2 or worse in the post-season?

My response was as follows:

Well, it’s happened to the best. Obviously, I am assuming this question was posted following Los Angeles Dodger lefty Clayton Kershaw‘s second loss in the 2014 NL Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, a defeat that sent L.A. home for the winter.

In 1997, Seattle’s Randy Johnson, the AL Cy Young winner two years earlier (and a 20-game winner in that current season), went 0-2 against Baltimore in the Division Series as the Mariners lost three games to one. The following year, Johnson was 0-2 for Houston in the NL Division Series versus Kevin Brown’s San Diego Padres, with the 102-win Astros embarrassed in four games. (In 1997, Johnson was 20-4 with a 2.28 ERA, finishing second in the Cy Young race to Roger Clemens. In 1998, the Big Unit was 10-1 with a 1.28 ERA following a late-season trade to the Astros.)

madduxSpeaking of Brown, his wild-card Florida Marlins beat Greg Maddux twice in the 1997 NLCS, giving the four-time Cy Young-winning Maddux an 0-2 record in that series. The Braves, who won 101 games during the regular season and finished nine games ahead of Florida in the standings, lost to the Marlins four games to two. Maddux had won the Cy Young in 1992, 1993, 1994, and 1995, and was 19-4 with a 2.20 ERA in 1997. [1]

Brown’s 1998 Padres also handed the Braves’ Tom Glavine an 0-2 mark in the NLCS, with San Diego knocking off Atlanta in six games. Glavine had won the Cy Young in 1991 and would win it again that same 1998 season with a 20-6 record and a 2.47 ERA. The Padres had a good year with 98 victories, but they were underdogs against the Astros (102-60) and the Braves (106-56). San Diego’s brilliant run ended in the World Series, where the Padres were swept by the 114-win Yankees.

In 1993, the Toronto Blue Jays beat Cy Young winner Jack McDowell (22-10, 3.37 ERA in the regular season) twice in the ALCS as his Chicago White Sox went down four games to two. It was McDowell’s second straight 20-win season that year, and he was named the 1993 Cy Young in the offseason. McDowell was 0-2 with a 10.00 ERA in that 1993 ALCS, and then two years later in the AL Division Series with the Yankees against the Mariners, was 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA (with the second loss coming in relief in the decisive fifth game).

So, it’s happened before. I’m sure others will chime in as far as exactly how many times it’s happened.

[1] 1997 was truly an odd season. In addition to Maddux and Johnson, a couple of other top pitchers went 0-2 in that year’s postseason. Brown himself went 0-2 in the World Series against the Cleveland Indians. Though Brown never won the Cy Young, he was runner-up to Atlanta’s John Smoltz a year earlier, and was also a 21-game winner in 1992. Andy Pettitte of the Yankees, meanwhile, was 0-2 also in the AL Division Series against Cleveland, one year after finishing second to Pat Hentgen for the AL Cy Young. The Indians also won two games in the 1997 ALCS that were started by Baltimore’s Mike Mussina, who got a pair of no-decisions as the Orioles couldn’t score in those two contests.

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Will the meltdown in Keizer unravel the Dust Devils’ pennant hopes?

Things looked perfect on Sunday evening (August 24) for the Northwest League’s Tri-City Dust Devils, the Short-Season Single-A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies.

They were ahead of the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes 5-2 going into the bottom of the ninth inning at Volcanoes Stadium in Keizer, Oregon. If they hung on, the first-place Dust Devils would take a two-game lead over the idle Vancouver Canadians in the standings for the North Division’s second-half pennant.

Then, the Dust Devils would return home, where they would play their final eight games of the regular season.

The scenario was perfect. Three more outs, and then go back home with a two-game divisional lead.

Tri-City had just gotten out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the bottom of the eighth, and when catcher Robbie Perkins caught Johneshwy Fargas’ pop-up in foul territory to begin the ninth—with the ball coming out of his glove before it settled in at the last moment—the Dust Devils were two outs away.

What happened next was just incredible. With Dylan Stamey on the mound, the Volcanoes loaded the bases on a pair of singles and a walk, loading the bases with one out. In came Josh Michalec, who hit his first batter to force in a run to make it 5-3. Ryder Jones followed with a two-run single off Michalec to tie the game, and Aramis Garcia then delivered a walk-off RBI single, stunning the Dust Devils 6-5.

The divisional lead had shrunk to just a single game.

Then the following night, Tri-City opened its season-ending eight-game homestand by getting blown out 8-1 by the Hillsboro Hops (who had won the first-half pennant in the South Division and had little to play for until the postseason). In Eugene, Oregon, the Vancouver Canadians won their game, 3-1, and suddenly the divisional lead for the Dust Devils was gone.

Both Tri-City and Vancouver had identical won-loss records in the second half entering play on August 26, but the Dust Devils no longer control their own destiny as they do not own the tie-breaker over the Canadians. That means, for the Dust Devils to make the playoffs, they need to finish ahead of Vancouver in the standings with only seven games to play.

It’s so tough because just two nights earlier, they were poised to take a two-game lead when they had that three-run cushion in the ninth inning. With the rest of their games at home following that contest, the second-half pennant was theirs for the taking…

Hey, perhaps they could still bounce back. If you root for underdogs, you would certainly root for Tri-City. For the season, the Dust Devils are 29-40 entering play on August 26, and only a modest 15-16 in the second half, but they still have a shot at making the playoffs. In their way now are a Vancouver Canadians team that has won each of the last three Northwest League titles, so it would be nice if the Dust Devils could somehow eliminate them during this final week of the season and put an end to the championship run. The two teams will not play each other in the season’s final seven games, so Tri-City will need some help in order to finish ahead of Vancouver.

We’ll see what happens over the next seven nights in the Northwest League.

I know this is short-season, and it’s completely different from the majors, but I suddenly thought back to the 1993 major-league season.

The Red Sox, coming off a last-place finish a year earlier, would end up fifth in the AL East in 1993, 15 games back of the Blue Jays with an 80-82 record. The Yankees, Orioles, and Tigers all finished ahead of Boston. Just by looking at the standings, you would think they were totally irrelevant all season.

But not so.

On July 25, the Red Sox won their 10th straight game, beating Oakland 8-1 to complete a four-game sweep at Fenway. They had won 12 of their last 13, and were in a three-way tie for first place in the East, along with Toronto and New York. (Technically, they were percentage points ahead of both clubs, with a 55-43 record—a .561 winning percentage—while the Blue Jays and Yankees were 56-44 for a .560 winning percentage.)

The following night, July 26, the Yankees lost 5-2 in Detroit, with Tigers lefthander David Wells outpitching Jimmy Key. The Blue Jays, meanwhile, were idle. That meant if the Red Sox won in Milwaukee, they would be in sole possession of first place in the AL East.

Now, coming off a last-place finish a year earlier, it was no small feat for the Red Sox to be in first place in the final days of July. With Roger Clemens on the mound, they had a great shot against the Brewers, who were last in the East with a 39-57 record that was even worse than the Cleveland Indians (47-52), who at the time were perennial doormats in that division.

The Brewers had Rafael Novoa on the mound, a rookie lefthander who would go 0-4 with a 5.06 ERA in 22 major-league appearances. He had logged an 0-1 record with a 6.75 ERA with the Giants in 1990, pitched the next two seasons in the minors, and was now making his debut with the Brewers against the Red Sox. It was just his eighth career big-league appearance and third career start.

The Red Sox, who hadn’t seen him before, struggled against Novoa, who gave up just five hits and two walks over 8.1 innings. The only runs the young lefty gave up came as a result of a two-run homer by Mo Vaughn in the fourth with Andre Dawson aboard.

Thankfully, Clemens was even better, tossing five-hit ball with one walk and five strikeouts over 7.2 innings and turning over a 2-1 lead to the bullpen. After lefthanded relief specialist Tony Fossas retired lefthanded-hitting Darryl Hamilton, who was Milwaukee’s No. 3 hitter, on a flyout to end the bottom of the eighth, the Red Sox were three outs away from sole possession of top spot in the AL East.

Yes, again, this was just late July, but considering how the Sox had finished last in 1992, this was a miracle for Boston.

But there was the bottom of the ninth to be played. Fossas stayed in and struck out lefthanded power hitter Kevin Reimer, but B.J. Surhoff (yet another lefthanded batter) bunted for a single. In came closer Jeff Russell, who retired pinch-hitter Greg Vaughn on a fly to right. The Red Sox were one out away.

russellExcept the would-be final out came to the plate in the person of Tom Brunansky, the former Red Sox rightfielder who was one of the key players in Boston’s 1990 AL East championship season. In the final eight games of that 1990 season, Brunansky hit .400 with five home runs and 12 RBIs (with three of those dingers coming in a crucial game against Toronto on September 29). He is also remembered for his sliding catch of Ozzie Guillen’s liner in the rightfield corner at Fenway to clinch the division on the final day of the season.

Now in 1993, he was a Brewer, and was hitting only .178 going into the game against the Red Sox. And there he was, lining an 0-1 pitch from Russell over the leftfield fence for a game-ending two-run homer.

The stunned Red Sox never recovered. They (along with the Yankees) fell out of first place, a half-game back of the idle Blue Jays. Boston never got close again the rest of the season. Well, the Red Sox hung around for a bit but a four-game series sweep at home at the hands of the Indians in late August really helped bury them.

I’ve always wondered how things would have played out had Boston hung on for its 11th straight win that night in Milwaukee. I mean, Russell was only one out away. Had they won the division that year, he wouldn’t have attacked the city of Boston the following year after he’d left town. (I still remember the media talking about Russell’s comments on the radio back then, and those were the days without the Internet and social media. Had he made those comments today, he would be heavily crucified for what he said.)

Well, the 2014 Tri-City Dust Devils are much closer to first place. They do have fewer games remaining, though, to try and finish ahead of Vancouver. The season wraps up on Labor Day Monday, September 1. Yes, I know it’s totally different from the big leagues, but still, it did make me think back to the 1993 Red Sox. And Tom Brunansky. And Jeff Russell (and his comments about Boston).

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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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