Opening Day Shortstops

Xander Bogaerts made the first of we hope many starts at short yesterday. Here are the home grown shortstops that made at least five consecutive opening day starts for the Red Sox, their age at the time of their first start is in parenthesis:

  • Everett Scott (1914-1921) (21)
  • Rico Petrocelli (1965-1970) (20)
  • Rick Burleson (1975-1980) (24)

20 years total of consecutive starts.

Nomar is not on the list. He made four consecutive and then was injured to start the 2001 season (his age 27 year). He then made two more opening day starts before his tenure with the Sox ended.

That’s it. Despite a long and storied history, the Sox have only had three guys meet the homegrown/opening day starter criteria.  Will Xander be the fourth?  This got me wondering if the Sox were unusual in not having a consistent shortstop over the years because even if you look at non-homegrown talent the Sox would only add Joe Cronin to the five consecutive opening day starts group (the year total would grow to 27 years). So, I took a look at the current AL teams that have been around since 1914. These lists below do not focus on home grown talent – it includes anyone who started five or more consecutive opening days.

Baltimore Orioles

  1. Mike Bordick (1997-2002)
  2. Cal Ripken (1983-1996)
  3. Mark Belanger (1969-1981)
  4. Luis Aparicio (1963-1967)
  5. Wally Gerber (1918-1928)

49 years total

Chicago White Sox

  1. Alexei Ramirez (2009-2014)
  2. Ozzie Guillen (1985-1997)
  3. Ron Hansen (1963-1967)
  4. Luis Aparicio (1956-1962)
  5. Chico Carrasquel (1950-1955)
  6. Luke Appling (1939-1943) (1933-1937)

47 years total

Cleveland Indians

  1. Asdrubal Cabrera (2010-2014)
  2. Jhonny Peralta (2005-2009)
  3. Omar Vizquel (1994-2004)
  4. Julio Franco (1983-1987)
  5. Lou Boudreau (1940-1950)
  6. Joe Sewell (1921-1928)
  7. Ray Chapman (1915-1920)

51 years total

Detroit Tigers

  1. Alan Trammell (1981-1992)
  2. Harvey Kuenn (1953-1957)
  3. Billy Rogell (1932-1938)
  4. Donie Bush (1914-1923)

34 total years

Minnesota Twins (Senators)

  1. Christian Guzman (1999-2004)
  2. Pat Meares (1994-1998)
  3. Greg Gagne (1986-1992)
  4. Roy Smalley (1977-1982)
  5. Zolio Versailles (1961-1967)

31 years total

New York Yankees

  1. Derek Jeter (2002-2012) (1996-2000)
  2. Bucky Dent (1977-1982)
  3. Phil Rizzuto (1947-1955)
  4. Frank Crosetti (1935-1940)
  5. Sam Peckinpaugh (1914-1921)

45 years total

Oakland Athletics

  1. Bobby Crosby (2004-2008)
  2. Miguel Tejada (1999-2003)
  3. Mike Bordick (1992-1996)
  4. Bert Campaneris (1967-1972)
  5. Joe DeMaestri (1954-1959)
  6. Eddie Joost (1947-1953)
  7. Chick Galloway (1920-1926)

37 years total.

This doesn’t tell me a whole lot, but was an interesting exercise . The Sox and Tigers are the teams with the fewest number of shortstops with five consecutive opening day starts. They each have four. The Sox, though, have had the fewest total number of years with the same opening day starting shortstop with at least a five year consecutive streak from 1914 to present.

  • Red Sox – 27 years
  • Twins – 31 years
  • Tigers – 34 years
  • A’s – 37 years
  • Yankees – 45 years
  • Tigers – 47 years
  • White Sox – 47 years
  • Orioles – 49 years
  • Indians – 51 years

Red Sox fans have not enjoyed the same kind of consistency over the years at shortstop as other teams. It would be nice to change that and have Xander penciled in for the next decade.  If he is, then he would join some pretty exclusive company. Derek Jeter, Alan Trammell, Lou Boudreau, Omar Vizquel, Ozzie Guillen, Cal Ripken and Mark Belanger. Since it appears that Bogaerts will not be manning shortstop mainly for his glove (see Belanger and Vizquel), he stands a decent chance, if he can start ten straight opening days, of becoming a hall of famer, joining the shortstop greats of Jeter, Boudreau and Ripken. As a brief aside, I believe Alan Trammell should be on that list and in the HOF. But, that is another blog post.

In the end, this was a long post about nothing much, but still pretty interesting.

Today, John Lackey attempts to continue the resurrection of his career. He made four starts against the O’s last year, going 2-1 with a 3.34 ERA in 29 2/3 IP. He allowed 25 hits, 5 walks and struck out 18. In those nearly 30 innings, he did give up six gopher balls, the most of any team he faced last year. He did, though, pitch the most against the O’s last year so there may be some excuse for the six homers. Adam Jones hit three against him, Manny Machado smacked two, but Chris Davis only took him deep once, so he should feel some sense of accomplishment in that.

Over his career, Lackey is 13-5 against the O’s with a 3.35 ERA. He is 5-4 in Camden Yards with a 3.69 ERA in 75 IP. He’s been pretty solid in Baltimore. I expect a good outing from him today despite his mediocre spring training.

He faces off against one of the newest Orioles this year, Ubaldo Jiminez. Jiminez put his career back on track last year with the Indians. From 2011 to 2013 Jiminez had been a below average pitcher posting an ERA+ in that period of 93, 77 and 72. His career appeared about over. Last year, however, he turned things around, going 13-9 with an ERA+ of 114. Noticably, his second half was very strong. In the second half he more than doubled his strikeout to walk ratio, lowered his home runs allowed from 13 to 3, dropped his ERA from 4.56 to 1.82, and closed out September with a 4-0 record with a 1.09 ERA. He figured something out at the end and it landed him a big contract. He signed a four year deal with the O’s worth $50 million.

He made one appearance against the Sox last year in April and got hammered.  He lasted only an 1 2/3 innings, gave up two hits, walked five and surrendered seven runs.  I don’t expect the Sox will see that version of Jiminez.

My prediction for player of the day? Mike Napoli. He looks locked in already.

 

Game 1: Orioles top Sox 2-1

Well, it all started again yesterday in Camden Yards where Jon Lester took on Chris Tillman. The Sox lost 2-1 to the O’s and from the radio and television talking heads you’d think (1) the world was coming to an end and (2) that Jackie Bradley does not belong in the show. I hate that blather.

Much of the talking head drivel focused on the fact that Farrell did not pinch hit Jonny Gomes for JBJ in the ninth. I didn’t have a problem with that choice.  First, Tommy Hunter (who goes by the twitter handle @TommyGoesBoom), the new O’s closer, in 2013 held righties to a .141/.190/.344 slash line with no homers. Against lefties? He had a .294/.322/.857 slash line with 11 homers. Yeah, you read that right. Eleven homers allowed against lefties and a miniscule slash line against righties. Gomes was a bad call in that situation. JBJ had a better chance, even if he ended up not looking very good. I also wonder if Farrell wasn’t thinking long term with JBJ, who needs to get used to hitting in those kind of situations if he is going to help the team down the road. I think you have to stick with JBJ for that at bat. For emotional reasons and statistical ones.

Now, the at bat that bugged me that no one seems to be talking about occurred in the eighth. With runners on first and second and two out, the Orioles brought in Brian Matusz, a lefty, to face lefty AJ Pierzinski. This was the situation that screamed out for a pinch hitter; namely, Jonny Gomes, the self-described pinch hitter extraordinaire. While AJ has a neutral line – he seems to hit lefties and righties about the same but with markedly less power from the left side, Gomes has historically been stronger against lefties. And, Matusz is much stronger against lefites and gets hit well by righties.

In 65 games last year, Matusz faced righties 96 times and lefties 112 times. Here are his splits:

  • vs. Righties – .302/.375/.747 with 1 HR.
  • vs. Lefties – .168/.225/.502 with 2 HR.

Doesn’t the above suggest, no demand, that Gomes pinch hit for Pierzynski? Leaving AJ at the dish against Matusz made no sense. Was Farrell worried about upsetting AJ? If so, then even more reason to pinch hit for AJ and get him in line right away.

It’s easy to pick on JBJ, but this was the at bat that was thrown away. Watching the game, it seemed like a crucial at bat and a key opportunity to drive in the tying run. That was the decision that bugged me, not JBJ’s final at bat.

Really, though, the Sox had many chances to win that game and blaming JBJ at the end is wrong headed. The problem was that the Sox left 12 runners on base and were 0-10 with runners in scoring position. Only 10 times did the Sox leave 12 or more runners on base last year. Surprisingly, they were 7-3 in those games. In none of those games, though, did they go zero for anything with RISP.

They just didn’t get the key hit when they needed it. That’s the bottom line. For the most part they did what they are supposed to do yesterday. They made Tillman throw a lot of pitches and had him out after the fifth. They got to the Baltimore bullpen. While they didn’t score off the pen, they still have a few more days in Baltimore and hopefully they will respond better next time they see Meek, Matusz and Hunter. The Sox just didn’t get a hit when they needed to drive in a run. It’s a team game and in this instance, the team just laid an egg when they needed a key hit.

One more game observation: Xander Bogaerts is going to win the AL Rookie of the Year Award. He is going to have a huge year.

On a weirder note, did you see that Don Baylor, while catching the ceremonial first pitch from Vlad Guerrero, broke his femur? Unbelievable.

Baseball 101 – October 3, 1972

The Sox entered the second to last game of the year needing a win. The Tigers victory the night before put them a half game up with two to go. If the Sox lost this next game, that would be it, the Tigers would claim the division. With that in mind, the Sox sent Luis Tiant to the bump to face Woodie Fryman.

Going into this game Tiant was 15-5 with a stellar 1.88 ERA and Fryman was 13-13 with a 3.35 ERA. This was a bit misleading for Fryman. Fryman had been placed on waivers by the Phillies, who were pathetic in 1972 with a record of 34-61 when jettisoning Fryman. At the time of his release, Fryman was 4-10 with a 4.36 ERA. No great shakes.

I guess the Tigers and GM JIm Campbell saw something in Fryman, or were desperate for some pitching help, and decided to pick him up off waivers.* It was a fortuitous move. Fryman turned his season around with the Tigers. In fact, his first start for the Tigers was a complete game six hit shutout. After the Tigers picked him up he went 9-3 with a 2.21 ERA, before toeing the rubber against Tiant in this key game.

*Campbell also acquired catcher Duke Sims off waivers on August 5 and first baseman Frank Howard was purchased from the Rangers on August 31. Both helped the Tigers stretch run. 

What can I say about Luis Tiant. I loved the guy. Here’s a great picture of him.

800px-Luis_Tiant_1970s

What a contratst, eh? Tiant was just so cool. Still, to this day, when I play wiffle ball as an old man, my favorite wind up is an imitation of Tiant’s. There is just so much twirling joy in how he pitched.

In the month of August, leading up to his final regular season start against the Tigers, Tiant was 11-1. He had been amazing – eleven complete games with six shutouts. At one point, he’d thrown 40 scoreless innings.* He was on a roll and he gave the Sox a decent chance to extend the season one more game.

*Orel Hershisher holds the record for consecutive scoreless innings pitched by a starter at 59. In the history of the game there are 22 streaks of 40 innings or more of scoreless ball by starters. Tiant and Walter Johnson are the only names to appear twice. Tiant had a 40 and 41 inning stretch; Johnson’s two streaks were 40 and 55 2/3.

Before the game, Tiant was not nervous. “Me not nervous,” he said. “Ey, you win or lose. Nervous? No. Another game. Ey, what for be nervous.” What more could a Red Sox fan ask for.

The game started off well for the Red Sox. Tommy Harper led off with a single and stole second.  Aparicio grounded out to third and then Yaz walked to put men and first and second for Reggie Smith.  Smith hit grounder to short for what looked like an inning ending double play, but Dick McAuliffe dropped the throw from shortstop Eddie Brinkman. Harper scored on the error, Yaz was safe at second and Reggie Smith was safe at first. It looked like a big inning was in the making. Unfortunately, Petrocelli struck out looking and Fisk popped out to short right field. That would be the only run the Sox would score.

The Tigers tied the game in the sixth with a single run. Then, in the seventh, Dick McAuliffe doubled and Al Kaline drove him in with a single to left. The Tigers scored another run on an error and that was all they’d need. They won 3-1 and the season for Tiant, Yaz and the rest of the crew was over. Yaz, Pudge and Tiant all cried after the game. It was a bitter loss.

So, it was nice, over forty years later that the Sox asked Fisk and Tiant to throw out the first pitch of game six of the World Series last year. That story line ended much better with the Sox celebrating. It was sweet, as I can attest.

Baseball 101 – October 2, 1972

The season long battle came down to a three game series in Detroit. The first to win two games would be the AL East Champion. Here is what the matchups were for the series:

  1. Mickey Lolich (21-14) v. John Curtis (11-7)
  2. Luis Tiant (15-5) v. Woody Fryman (13-13)
  3. Marty Pattin (16-13) v. Joe Coleman (18-14)

Yaz reminded the press before the series that in 1967 the Sox also went into Detroit needing to win two games to stay in the pennant race. “We went in there in ’67 and needed two games and beat Lolich and won the next night, so we can do it again,” he said.

When the Tigers took the field in the top of the first, 51,518 fans cheered with vigor. Surprisingly, this was not the largest turn out of the year for the Tigers. That came on May 21 when 52,150 showed up to watch Mickey Lolich beat the Indians 5-0. When it came to big games, Lolich was no stranger.

In the 1968 World Series against the Cardinals, Lolich started three games and won all three, tossing three complete games. In 27 IP he allowed 20 hits, walked 6 and struck out 21.  He won games 2, 5 and 7, beating the great Bob Gibson in a game seven showdown. He was named the World Series MVP. Clearly, Lolich was battle tested.

He had a great stretch of pitching from 1967 to 1973 and was beloved by Tigers fans. In part, because he was a portly, everyman type dude. He said he was “the beer drinker’s idol.” Bottom’s up!

The Sox had their work cut out for them, putting a rookie up against Lolich. After the game, Curtis woud say “I didn’t embarrass myself.” Here’s how it went down.

The Tigers struck first. In the bottom of the first, hot hitting Al Kaline got a hold of a Curtis fastball and sent it into the seats. It was his third homer in three days. The 51,000 went nuts. But, the Sox had chances, which was the story all night long – squandered chances. In the top of the third, with runners on first and third, Yaz stroked a double over centerfielder Mickey Stanley’s head. The speedy Aparicio was on first and held up when he got to second to make sure Stanley did not catch the ball. Then Aparicio sped toward third  with Yaz close behind. Unfortunately, after rounding third Aparicio fell and had to scramble back to third. That gave Yaz no place to go and he was tagged out. Instead of up 2-1 with one out and a runner on third, it was 1-1 with two out and a runner on third. Reggie Smith then struck out to end the rally.

Then in the fifth, Aurelio Rodriguez led off with a homer to break the tie. He also knocked in single runs in the sixth and ninth to push the final score to 4-1 Tigers. Lolich went the distance, striking out 15. Later, he said that he felt he had his best stuff of the season that night.

The Sox manager, Eddie Kasko, remained confident. “I’m willing to take my chances with Tiant tomorrow,” said Kasko. “And I like Marty Pattin in the final game against Joe Coleman.” Unfortunately, as we shall see tomorrow, Luis could not twirl his team to victory and the Sox chances at the division would end in a crash.

 

Baseball 101 – October 1, 1972

October 1, 1972 

Milwaukee v. Detroit

The final game of a three game set between these two. The Tigers sent John Hiller to the mound and the Brewers countered with twenty-three year old Bill Parsons, a below average pitcher. Parsons would end the season 13-13 with an ERA+ of 77. Hiller, as mentioned yesterday, was returning from a year off after a heart attack. Before his heart attack, he’d been a solid pitcher making more relief appearances than starts and managing an ERA+ of 125 in 1967, 126 in 1968 and 124 in 1970. In the 1970 offseason he suffered a heart attack at age 27. Like many other pitchers of this era, he considered conditioning a four letter word and avoided it. Hiller gained weight and smoked and by the time his heart attack struck he weighed in at 220 pounds. When he left the hospital, after recovering, he was down to 145. He quit smoking, began working out and even had intestinal bypass surgery, an experimental procedure at the time. He came back in 1972 and was offered the job as an instructor with the Tigers and took it. Persistent, he bugged Tigers’ executives until they brought him up to the big club in July. The Tigers did not know what to expect but they’d seen good stuff from Hiller in the past so I suppose they were hopeful. Prior to his start in this game, Hiller had appeared in 23 games with an ERA of 2.29. He’d made only two short starts that year.  One on August 11 where he went three innings and the other on September 19, the second game of double header, in which he tossed four innings of two hit ball. I suspect the Tigers were hoping for five or six innings from Hiller in this outing against the Brewers.

They got better than that, much better. Hiller tossed a complete game five hitter allowing only  a single run in the ninth. The Tigers won the game 5-1 on Hiller’s arm, a three run homer by Aurelio Rodriguez, and solo blasts in the eighth by Dick McAuliffe and Al Kaline. The Tigers did what they needed to do and looked toward the scoreboard to see what had transpired in the Sox and O’s game.

Red Sox v. Orioles

The Sox had righty Lynn McGlothen on the mound against Mike Cuellar. Cuellar was the better pitcher and would finish his season at 18-12 with a 2.57 ERA. McGlothen was no slouch, he was, however, only twenty-two and in his rookie season. He would finish the year at 8-7 with a 3.41 ERA. McGlothen was drafted by the Sox in 1968 and after a good 1972 season in AAA where he went 9-2 with a 1.92 ERA he got the call to Boston. He made his debut on June 25 and pitched well for 7 1/3 innings against the Brewers but took the loss 2-0. The Sox ended up trading him and another young pitcher, John Curtis, to the Cardinals for Diego Segui and Reggie Cleveland. McGlothen would move around a bit after that and finish his career at the age of 32. Tragically, he died at the age of 34 in a mobile home fire in Louisiana.

On this day, the Sox needed McGlothen to out pitch a guy who won the Cy Young award in 1969. No small order. This is how it played out.

The O’s took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the third on a Boog Powell single to left that scored Davey Johnson from third. Johnny Oates tested Evans arm in left and was nailed going from first to third.

The Sox challenged in the fourth with a single from Aparicio, a check swing excuse me single by Reggie Smith and then a Rico Petrocelli infield hit loaded the bases. Fisk flied out and Dewey strode to the plate. He laced a 2-0 pitch down the third base line. The only problem? That territory was patrolled by Brooks Robinson, the human vacuum cleaner. He stabbed the rocket and managed to force Petrocelli at second, snuffing out the Red Sox rally.

“I never could imagine that it wasn’t a hit,” said Dewey. “I drilled it.” Dewey learned the hard way, you can fire a rifle down the line toward Brooks and he would still get a glove on it.

The Sox tied the game in the sixth on a two out single by Fisk that knocked in Reggie Smith.

Then, in the bottom of the frame, the O’s answered right back on a Bobby Grich blast to edge ahead 2-1. Cuellar set down the side in order in the seventh and the eighth.

Cuellar took the mound in the ninth and promptly got Fisk to ground out. Dewey then slapped a single to center and Doug Griffin followed with a single of his own. With runners at first and second and one down, Kasko sent Bob Montgomery to the plate. Monty had earlier in the month smashed a game winning homer off Sparky Lyle to beat the Yankees. I imagine Kasko sent him up hoping for some similar heroics. Monty tried. He smoked a shot toward center but it bounced once and ended up in the glove of shortstop Bobby Grich, who flipped the ball to Davey Johnson to start a game ending double play. The Sox lead was down to a half game.

This meant that whichever team won two of the next three games in the Detroit would be the division champ. And, the Tigers had their ace Mickey Lolich waiting. The Red Sox would turn to John Curtis.

One final note, on this day, Nina Kuscsik won the second NYC women’s marathon in 3:08:41.

 

 

 

 

Baseball 101 – September 30, 1972

Saturday, September 30, 1972: 

Before games are played this day, this is where the teams stood.

  1. Boston   84-67     –
  2. Detroit    83-69   1.5

Milwaukee v. Detroit 

The Tigers sent Joe Coleman to the mound to face off against Skip Lockwood. Coleman was a young pitcher in the middle of a terrific three year run with the Tigers. He had come to the Tigers in 1971 in one of the worst trades ever made by the Washington Senators. Afer the trade, this is what he did for the next three years with the Tigers:

  • 1971 – 20-9 with a 3.15 ERA
  • 1972 – 19-14 with a 2.80 ERA
  • 1973 – 23-15 with a 3.53 ERA

He tossed 280+ innings each of those three years encompassing his age 24-26 seasons.  He would slowly drop off after that and would be out of baseball at age 32 but really a shell of himself by age 28. This is another sad story of a stud young pitcher who, for whatever reason, flames out. Too many inning pitched? Bad luck? Bad genes? Anyway, it worked out for the Tigers for three years.

The Senators were not so lucky. They got Denny McLain in the deal. Now, McLain had been a great pitcher in 1968 and 1969 when he won 31 and 24 games. You read that right, he won 31 games in 1968, the last pitcher to win 30 games. McLain was a gifted pitcher for those two years ,but then his life went awry.

In 1970, Sports Illustrated published a story about McLain’s involvement with bookmaking activities. He was suspended for the first three months of the 1970 season by Commissioner Bowie Kuhn. When he returned to the Tigers he did not pitch well and things continued to spiral downward. He would receive another suspension, this of the seven day variety for dumping a bucket of water on two Detroit sportswriters.  Then, when that suspsenion was up he was suspended for the rest of the season for carrying a gun on a team flight.  Sounds like trouble, doesn’t it?

On top of that, McLain, despite being the Tigers first $100,000 player, filed for bankruptcy. Despite all this baggage, the Senators figured they’d take a flyer on McLain and “buy low” as they say.  Unfortunatley for them it wasn’t really a buy low situation for the cost was one of their best young pitchers, far from a low cost. As Bowie Kuhn would later say, he thought it was a “foolish gamble.” On top of that, Senators manager Ted Williams, yep that Ted Williams, wanted nothing to do with McLain and his high living lifestyle. McLain spent the 1971 season feuding with Williams, trying to get him fired. He was a shell of himself and would go 10-22 with a 4.28 ERA for the Senators. He would be traded away the next year.

Fortunately for the Tigers, Coleman was no Denny McLain. A bit of background on Coleman. He grew up in Natick, MA. His father, Joe Coleman Sr., pitched for the Philadelphia Athletics for many years, finishing with a 52-76, 4.38 record.  Coleman  was the third overall pick by the Senators in the 1965 draft and was sent immediately to AA, where he struggled. But, the Senators still gave him a September call up. Coleman was all of 18 years old. As often happens, he surprised the world by promptly winning his first two starts, both complete game victories. He did not pitch again in the majors again until the end of the 1966 season. He then threw another complete game, beating the Sox 3-2. He was 19 and had won his first three major league starts, all complete games.* His whole life was spread out in front of him. I’m sure he could see the stardom in his future. Great things were possible. But, it  didn’t turn out that way for him.  While still pretty good through his age 26 season, he just didn’t make it to the superstar level. He had three great years and then not much else. This happens all too often. It is so hard to be a great ballplayer for an extended period of time.

*There have been only six pitchers that started their careers with 3 straight complete game wins. Coleman was the only one under the age of 20.

  1. John Whitehead
  2. Stu Miller
  3. Juan Marichal
  4. Dave Ferriss
  5. Joe Coleman
  6. Craig Chamberlain

In 1972, Coleman wasn’t even the best pitcher on his team. He played second fiddle to staff ace Mickey Lolich. This is evidenced by the fact that the Tiger rotation was set up so that Lolich would pitch the first game of the Boston series. Despite being the number two man, Coleman was a key figure for the Tigers and got the ball in the middle game of the Brewer series. And, importantly, he’d be the starter for the final game of the Boston series – the final game of the season for one of the two teams.

HIs opponent on this day was Skip Lockwood, another 25 year old but not quite of the same pedigree as Coleman.  Lockwood would end the year 8-15 with 3.60 ERA. His ERA+ was 84 so he was a below average pitcher. The Tigers made quick work of Lockwood, knocking him out in the first inning after he retired only two batters.  The killer blow was a three run homer by Tiger shortstop Ed Brinkman which put the Tigers up 6-0.  The Brewers clawed back a bit, scoring two in the 8th to close the gap to 8-4 but the Tigers were having none of this comeback stuff and rudely sent the Brewers on their way by scoring five runs in the bottom of the 8th to complete a 13-4 drubbing.  The Brewers did not put up much of a fight the first two games of this series, allowing 12 and 13 runs.

Sox fans could only hope that the Sunday finale would turn out better. The Tigers had tapped John Hiller as the series finale starter. Hiller had suffered a heart attack in 1971 and had not made the team out of spring training. Hiller started the 1972 season as a batting practice pitcher. He was recalled in July and had appeared in 22 games, making two other spot starts. Starts that lasted three and four innings each. Hiller had pitched well, but it looked as if the Tigers would need to get into their bullpen before the Sox series and tire some guys out. Sox fans were rooting for a Brewers offensive awakening.

On a final note, this Tigers win eliminated the Yankees from the pennant race.

Meanwhile ….

Boston v. Baltimore

Marty Pattin v. Pat Dobson

Another good pitching matchup. Dobson went 20-8 the year before. What was remarkable about that year was the three other Orioles who won 20+ games as well: Jim Palmer, Mike Cuellar and Dave McNally. That was a pitching staff. One of only two teams to have four twenty game winners.* In 1972, Dobson wasn’t that much different a pitcher than he was in 1971, but his record was worse. He ended the 1972 season at 16-18. His ’72 ERA+ was identical to ’71, his WHIP was lower, he allowed fewer hits per 9 innings, allowed fewer homers per nine. He walked a tad more per nine and struck out a tad less, but overall, he was pretty much the same pitcher. As many numbers people argue, wins shouldn’t be how we value a pitcher. Pat Dobson ’72 v. Pat Dobson ’71 is a prime example of this.

*The other? The 1920 White Sox.

The game started off on the right foot, or should I say, the left bat of Yaz, who clubbed a single to center to drive in Tommy Harper who had singled and stolen second to start the game. The O’s did not get to Pattin until the third. Light hitting Mark Belanger singled to left and Dobson bunted him to second. With two outs, Paul Blair lined a single to right and the speedy Belanger came in ahead of the throw from Reggie Smith in right. I guess Dewey had not by this point in his rookie year found his way into his rightful outfield spot.

The Sox came right back in the top of the fourth. Reggie Smith singled and stole second, Rico Petrocelli singled softly to right and Smith moved to third.  Fisk was walked and up came Dewey with the bases loaded and nobody out. Dewey grounded into a double play but Reggie Smith managed to score from third. That was all the Sox could eke out from the bases loaded situation. The game remained a tense one for Sox fans.

In the top of the 8th, Dobson was replaced by Grant Jackson, a decent lefty who had a productive 18 year career. Jackson was brought on to face Yaz and the switch hitting Reggie Smith. The move backfired. Yaz worked the count to 2-2. Jackson threw him a curveball that Yaz nearly chased but held up. The home plate umpire, Jim Odom, indicated that Yaz had indeed  checked his swing. Earl Weaver erupted from the bench. Spit flew as he went into a tirade with Odom. When Odom refused to consult with the third base umpire, Earl lost it and got himself tossed. Wouldn’t you know it, but the next pitch was a grooved fastball from Jackson and Yaz took it deep into the night to give the Sox a 3-1 lead.  Phew, time to breath easy Sox fans. But no, the excitement was not over.

Pattin started the ninth by giving up a hit to Brooks Robinson, who was replaced by pinch runner Al Bumbry. Bumbry was in his rookie season and had only been called up earlier that month. Just two years earlier, Bumbry was in Vietnam. While in college he joined the Reserve Officer Training Corp so that he would be assured of finishing school before being drafted to go to Vietnam. After his return from Vietnam, he started his baseball career but admitted it did not have the same significance to him after his war experience. On a more mundane note, he was known as the “fastest player in Oriole history.” His speed would get him in trouble this game.

Pattin then walked Bobby Grich and that was the end of his evening.  Two on and nobody out and only up by two. Ouch. Eddie Kasko, the Sox manager, called for Bob Veale to come on in relief. Veale got Johnny Oates to foul out on his third bunt attempt. One down. I must suggest here that Weaver must have been irate at the decision to have Oates sacrfice. Weaver hated giving up outs.  Next up was Davey Johnson*, pinch hitting for Mark Belanger.

*Oddly, both Oates and Johnson would go on to manage in the big leagues. And, both managed the Orioles for a time. Oates from 1991-1994 and Johnson from 1996-1997.

Johnson got behind in the count 1-2. Veale threw a strike over the inside part of the plate, and as he wound up, Bumbry broke for third.

“I was surprised,” said Rico Petrocelli the third baseman. As if in harmony, Fisk added, “I was surprised.” Surprised or not, Johnson was out on a called third strike (out number two) and Fisk took a short step to his right to get a good angle for his throw and to avoid Johnson. Fisk fired and Petrocelli received the ball knee high. “Perfect. I took the ball and swept it around and had the guy by a little bit. It was some throw and I’ve never seen a game end that way in my whole life,” said Petrocelli.

Another win for the Sox. They had managed to keep their meager 1.5 game lead over the Tigers. One more game with the O’s before heading of to Detroit. Up next, though, another tough O’s pitcher, Mike Cuellar, the Cy Young winner in 1969 and winner of 20+ games each of the previous three seasons.

A final note, Clemente got his 3,000th hit this day.

Tomorrow – Sunday, October 1, 1972.

Baseball 101 – September 29, 1972

I’ve been meaning to talk about the 1973 Red Sox but seem to get sidetracked. I’ll admit to an immediate sidetracking today. We are going to talk about the end of the 1972 season, the one where the Sox played 1 fewer game than the Tigers and finished a half a game out of first place. I suggested earlier that the Sox should have been able to make up that missing game. Maybe so, but as we shall see, the Sox had their chance to claim the division the final week of the ’72 season and could not come through.

To end the 1972 season, the Sox played two three game series, one against the Orioles and one against the Tigers. Yep, they ended their season against the eventual champion Tigers in Detroit. To show you what a big deal this final week was, the Sox owner Tom Yawkey, for the first time in twenty-two years, accompanied the team on the road trip to Baltimore and Detroit. The last time Yawkey saw the Sox in an away game was during the 1967 World Series and before that in 1950 when he flew to Detroit to fire manager Joe McCarthy.

A little more stage setting. In mid June the Tigers were battling with the Orioles for the top spot in the division, the Sox were six and a half games back. The Sox, though, roared back, playing .626 ball (20 games over .500) through September 28 to pull ahead of the Tigers with a week to go.

With six games left on the schedule, the Sox held a one and a half game lead over the Tigers, who were playing the Brewers at home before hosting the Red Sox. The Sox and Tigers split a four game series the week before at Fenway and the final week was a barn burner.  Here’s how the final week went down for the Sox and the Tigers.

The Tigers were on an emotional roller coaster their two games prior to their three game series with the Brew Crew. Two nights before they beat the Yankees, coming back from a 5-1 deficit in the bottom of the eighth. They scored three in the eighth of Yankee ace reliever Sparky Lyle (a former Red Sox who was traded in 1971 to the Yankees for Danny Cater) and then two more in the ninth to beat the Yankees 6-5.

The next night, the Tigers lost to the Yankees 3-2 in 12 innings. Mikey Lolich (who would end the year at 21-14) pitched all twelve inning for the Tigers. He took a 1-0 lead into the eighth, but the Yankees pushed the tying run across with a Thurman Munson blast to left center field. Lindy McDaniel held the Tigers scoreless in the bottom of the eighth.  Then, shockingly, the Yankee reliever – McDaniel – (remember the DH wouldn’t come about until next year) took Lolich deep to put the Yankees up 2-1.  Oh, my.*

*McDaniel hit only three home runs in his career. This was his third. Surprisingly, this was not the last homer by a pitcher before the DH came along. That honor goes to Roric Harrison of the O’s  who hit one on October 3, 1972. That is Harrison’s claim to fame for he was out of baseball by the age of 28, well almost, he missed two years and returned at age 31 for a nine game stint. Harrison had pretty good power though hitting six homers in his short career. Marty Pattin hit the last pre-DH homer by a Red Sox pitcher two days before McDaniel’s shot. It didn’t help the Sox, they lost to the Brewers 6-4. Sox pitchers hit 4 homers in 1972. Two by Pattin, one by Bill Lee and one by Sonny Siebert. In case you ever get some bizarre baseball quiz on this minutae you can thank me later.

In the bottom of the ninth, with the Tigers down one run, Kaline singled to center and then Tiger catcher Duke Sims (a lifetime .239 hitter but in 1972 he hit a career high .316 in limited playing time) grounded a single to right fielder Rusty Torres, who threw the ball away trying to toss Kaline out at third, allowing Kaline to score the tying run. Back and forth the teams would go. Until, with one out in the top of the 12th, Roy White belted a home run to give the Yankees a 3-2 lead. Sparky Lyle survived a first and third two out jam by striking out the final Tiger.

After that, the Tigers had little time to recover before facing off with the Brewers, who were just playing out the string. The Brewers were in last place, twenty-one games back. The stage is now set.

Friday, September 29, 1972:

Brewers v. Tigers 

The Tigers sent Woodie Fryman to the hill against now Brewer but former Sox star Jim Londborg.*

*Londborg, along with George “Boomer” Scott and others, was traded away by the Sox after the 1971 season to the Brewers for Tommy Harper and Marty Pattin. The trade was about even for the 1972 season. After that, it was arguably a loss for the Sox. In 1972, Londborg went 14-12 with a 2.83 ERA for the Brewers, The Boomer smacked 20 HRs, drove in 88 and had a slash line of .266/.321/.426. For the Sox, Pattin was 17-13 with a 3.24 ERA. Danny Cater (part of the Sparky Lyle trade) would man first for the Sox and hit 8 homers, drive in 39 and have a slash line of .237/.270/.372. He’d lose his job when Evans came up and Yaz took over first. Harper hit lead off for all but ten games, played centerfield and hit .254/.341/.388 with 14 homers and 25 stolen bases. I generously say this was a wash. Arguably, it was a bad trade for the Sox.

An afternoon rain fell in Detroit so neither team got batting practice before the game. That didn’t seem to bother the Tigers who erupted for three runs in the first, a run in the second and seven in the third. After the game, Tiger manager Billy Martin expressed some disgust with the Brewers. He was peeved that the Brewers had not pitched Londborg against the Red Sox, instead holding him back for the Tiger series.

“I guess that’s why we hit him so bad, because they saved him for us,” said Martin.

Londborg had his shortest outing of the year. He’d make one more start, against the Yankees, and would pitch a complete game 3 hit shutout. If only he’d done that against the Tigers.

Red Sox v. Orioles

In Baltimore, the Sox had Luis Tiant facing off against Jim Palmer. Ace against Ace. Both pitchers would be stellar this evening, going 10 innings each with Tiant pulling off the win in a stirring 4-2 triumph.  The loss would eliminate the O’s, the defending league champion each of the previous three seasons.

Tiant would end the season at 15-6 with a league leading 1.91 ERA. Palmer would finish out the ’72 campaign at 21-10 with a 2.07 ERA.  Tiant would finish 6th in Cy Young voting and Palmer 5th. Gaylord Perry for the Indians would eke out a win over Wilbur Wood for the Cy Young award. Both pitchers won 24 games that year but Perry’s 1.92 ERA was just a tad better then Wood’s 2.51 ERA.

Back to the game. Both teams scored in the first. Luis Aparicio homered off Palmer and in the bottom of the first Boog Powell doubled in Paul Blair, who was on base due to a botched double play grounder by Rico Petrocelli.

The O’s took a 2-1 lead in the sixth on a homer by Powell, that landed just out of the reach of Tommy Harper, who said, “I just did miss that thing.”

The Sox came right back in the seventh with a single by Carlton Fisk, a single by Dewey and then a double by Doug Griffin drove in Fisk. Tiant batted with two outs and lifted a pop fly to Belanger at short. The game would stayed tied at 2-2 until the top of the tenth.

With Palmer still on the mound, Tommy Harper laced a double to left center and moved over to third on the second out of the inning, a grounder by Aparicio to second.  Up came Yaz. Earl Weaver went to the mound to talk with Palmer.

“You want to walk him?” asked Weaver.

“No, I’ll pitch him high and outside,” said Palmer.

Indeed. With Weaver’s love of numbers you’d think he know that Yaz was on fire in September. Up to that point he’d launched 6 homers, driven in 20, and raised his batting average from .254 to .263. He was in a Yaz Zone. So, it should have come as no surprise when he took Palmer deep to left center. Paul Blair the O’s centerfield whiz raced back, timed his leap and just missed the ball. “I just felt it hit the end of my fingers,” said Blair after the game. The Sox went up 4-2.

Tiant took the mound in the bottom of the tenth, something you’d never see today. The inning would prove uneventful with a fly out, a strikeout and a ground out to second.  The Sox held serve and stayed a game and a half ahead of the Tigers. Tiant would go 11-1 from August until the end of the season. That one loss (spoiler alert)  would come four days later and end the Sox hopes for a title. But, there’s a lot to go before we get there.

Tomorrow – September 30, 1972.