By KP Wee
Every pitcher has a bad game now and then, and Tom Candiotti was no different. Interestingly, though, those stinkers were few and far between, despite the fact Candiotti threw an unpredictable pitch like a knuckleball.
Statistically, Candiotti’s worst game came on the night of August 4, 1995, at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, when he was a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers. That night, he was pounded for 10 runs, all earned, on 10 hits over four innings as the Dodgers lost, 15-1. Candiotti also gave up a career high-tying three home runs, hit two batters, and walked two others.
(Yes, three home runs were the most he ever game up in a single game—a feat he accomplished seven times—again a surprising fact given that most people assume knuckleball pitchers give up tons of home runs on a bad night. Fastball pitchers sometimes give up more home runs in a single game; for instance, Randy Johnson gave up four homers in a game three times in his career.)
Ironically, the Dodgers had juggled their rotation so that Candiotti didn’t pitch in the previous series against the Colorado Rockies at Denver’s Coors Field, where his knuckleball wouldn’t dance as well as at other venues because of the high altitude. As it turned out, he still struggled in his next start.
Pitching line, Aug. 4, 1995:
4 IP, 10 H, 10 R, 2 BB, 1 SO, 2 HBP
That season in 1995, Candiotti finished with a 3.50 ERA. Toss out that one start, it would have been 3.09, good for 10th in the majors and seventh in the National League.
Interestingly, Candiotti was not the only Dodger starter to give up that many runs in a single game that season. Just one month earlier, on July 2, Dodger ace Ramon Martinez allowed 10 runs over 4.2 innings in a 10-1 loss to Colorado at Dodger Stadium. Also, Candiotti and Martinez were not the only prominent Los Angeles starters to be tagged for 10 or more runs in a single game. On August 9, 1992, Orel Hershiser also gave up 10 runs over 4.2 innings in Atlanta. Back on June 29, 1983, Fernando Valenzuela surrendered 10 runs in 4.1 innings of work in San Diego. Ismael Valdez (10 runs in Houston in 1998) and Chan Ho Park (11 runs in Los Angeles versus the Cardinals in 1999; 10 runs in Colorado in 1998) would later accomplish the feat as well. It happens.
Another one of the worst starts in Candiotti’s career came on August 27, 1990, when he gave up eight runs in 3.2 innings* against the Red Sox at Cleveland Stadium.
That same game, Boston’s Ellis Burks became only the 23rd player in major-league history to hit two home runs in the same inning, when he victimized Candiotti and reliever Colby Ward in the fourth inning. Burks also had an RBI double off Candiotti in the first inning, and finished the night 4-for-5 with five RBIs.
A big game for the Red Sox centerfielder, for sure, but as Candiotti recalls, Burks probably shouldn’t have had a couple of those RBI opportunities. “Believe it or not, I struck out the first three batters of the game, but they got a run off of me in that inning!” Indeed, Candiotti struck out Marty Barrett, Carlos Quintana, and Wade Boggs, all swinging, to start the game.
“My knuckleball was really moving at the start of the game, so they all struck out swinging.” The problem, though, was that Barrett reached first base when the third strike got away from catcher Sandy Alomar for a passed ball. A wild pitch and another passed ball allowed Barrett to reach third before Candiotti fanned both Quintana and Boggs.
Without the first passed ball, the inning would have been over. Instead, Barrett was on third base, and with two outs, Burks doubled him home and the Red Sox were ahead 1-0.
Three innings later, Burks led off with a home run off Candiotti. “And then they got a whole bunch of hits,” Candiotti recalls. Mike Greenwell singled, Tom Brunansky walked, and John Marzano singled, loading the bases with only one out. Luis Rivera drove in a run with another single, Barrett got a run home on a groundout, Quintana delivered an RBI single for the fifth run, and Boggs chased Candiotti with an RBI double for a 6-0 lead.
“So I left the game, and Burks came up and hit his second home run of the inning! You don’t see that very often.”
The boxscore will suggest that Candiotti was hit hard, as he gave up five hits in the fourth inning. But as he recalls, he could have gotten out of that inning without a lot of damage. “I remember one guy [Marzano] hit a slow roller to third base that went for an infield hit. Then the next guy [Rivera] hit the ball off my glove, and I should have gotten the out there, but it went for another infield hit! The very next hitter [Barrett] hit a double-play ground ball but we could get only one out, so a run scored there and prolonged the inning. That’s back-to-back-to-back hitters that didn’t hit the ball hard, but we couldn’t get the outs.”
Tough break. And don’t forget the back-to-back-to-back strikeouts that began the game, too. “With the knuckleball, you might see a lot of strange things, like that third-strike passed ball. That cost us a run. Then the balls that weren’t hit hard, that didn’t even leave the infield, but got them a few runs too. You won’t see those things show up in the boxscore.”
*That performance ended a streak of 12 straight starts in which Candiotti pitched seven or more innings. That streak was the second-longest by an Indians pitcher since Gaylord Perry had 18 such starts in a row in 1974. Up until 1990, only Bert Blyleven had a longer streak than the knuckleball specialist since Perry in ’74, with 13 in a row in 1985. As of the 2013 season, no other Cleveland starter had a longer streak than Candiotti except Charles Nagy, who had 13 such starts in a row in 1992.
Toronto Blue Jays fans, to this day, still blame Tom Candiotti for his poor outing in Game One of the 1991 ALCS against the Minnesota Twins, where the knuckleballing right-hander gave up five runs over 2.2 innings in a 5-4 Toronto loss.
Interestingly, though, that performance was not the worst Game One effort in postseason play during the decade. In the 1990s, a total of 47 postseason series were played, which featured a total of 94 Game One starters in those series. If we were to judge Candiotti’s opening-game efforts in the 1991 ALCS using Game Score – a metric devised by Bill James to determine the strength of a starting pitcher in a baseball game – we would see his performance was one of the worst among Game One starters in the decade, but certainly not the worst. Candiotti’s Game Score of 23 ranks 87th out of the 94 pitchers on the list, ahead of some of the biggest names in all of baseball. In fact, he ranks just below two of the best big-game playoff pitchers as well:
Game One starters in the 1990s with the worst 10 Game Scores
T-84. Randy Johnson – Game 1, 1997 ALDS – 5 IP, 7 H, 5 ER, 4 BB, 3 SO – Game Score of 32 (Mariners went on to lose series to the Orioles)
T-84. Curt Schilling – Game 1, 1993 WS – 6.1 IP, 8 H, 6 ER, 2 B, 3 SO – Game Score of 32 (Phillies went on to lose series to the Blue Jays)
86. Jaret Wright – Game 1, 1998 ALDS – 4.1 IP, 7 H, 6 ER, 2 BB, 6 SO – Game Score of 29 (Indians went on to beat the Red Sox)
87. Candiotti – Game 1, 1991 ALCS – 2.2 IP, 8 H, 5 ER, 1 BB, 2 SO – Game Score of 23 (Blue Jays went on to lose series to the Twins)
T-88. Jaret Wright – Game 1, 1998 ALCS – 0.2 IP, 5 H, 5 ER, 1 BB, 1 SO – Game Score of 22 (Indians went on to lose series to the Yankees)
T-88. David Cone – Game 1, 1997 ALDS – 3.1 IP, 7 H, 6 ER, 2 BB, 2 SO – Game Score of 22 (Yankees went on to lose series to the Indians)
T-88. Jack McDowell – Game 1, 1993 ALCS – 6.2 IP, 13 H, 7 ER, 2 BB, 4 SO – Game Score of 22 (White Sox went on to lose series to the Blue Jays)
91. Orel Hershiser – Game 1, 1997 WS – 4.1 IP, 6 H, 7 ER, 4 BB, 2 SO – Game Score of 21 (Indians went on to lose series to the Marlins)
92. Charles Nagy – Game 1, 1996 ALDS – 5.1 IP, 9 H, 7 ER, 3 BB, 1 SO – Game Score of 20 (Indians went on to lose series to the Orioles)
93. Andy Pettitte – Game 1, 1996 WS – 2.1 IP, 6 H, 7 ER, 1 BB, 1 SO – Game Score of 17 (Yankees went on to beat the Braves)
94. Ramon Martinez – Game 1, 1995 NLDS – 4.1 IP, 10 H, 7 ER, 2 BB, 3 SO – Game Score of 16 (Dodgers went on to lose series to the Reds)
A couple of observations:
Had Candiotti pitched for the 1993 Blue Jays, his poor outing might not have mattered as that Toronto team lit up both Schilling and McDowell in the opening games of that year’s ALCS and World Series, respectively. Schilling, of course, would go on to become one of the best playoff pitchers in baseball history, while McDowell was a Cy Young winner during that 1993 season.
Also, four of Candiotti’s former and future teammates – Martinez, Nagy, Hershiser, and Wright – each had worst Game One outings during the 1990s.
Interestingly, Cone, one of the Blue Jays’ heroes during their 1992 championship, would not pitch well in Game One of a postseason series. He made three such starts in his career, all with the Yankees in back-to-back-to-back years from 1995 through 1997, and gave up a total of 16 earned runs over 17.1 innings for an 8.31 ERA.