Glancing Back, and Remembering Steve Blass
The ace of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitching staff in the late 1960s, Steve Blass had a career that exemplified the shooting star, both in the height of his achievements and in their brevity. He came, he won, he faded into history, leaving behind a legacy of clutch wins and at times breathtaking performances that demonstrated why, at his best, he was among the best pitchers of his era.
In 1971, Steve Blass had one of his best seasons, going 15-8 with a 2.49 ERA and a league-leading five shutouts. He also won two World Series games.
Blass was signed by the Pirates in 1960 and never played for any other organization. He advanced through the Pirates’ farm system, slowly but steadily, and was successful at each level. He made his debut with the Pirates in 1964, going 5-8 with a 4.04 ERA as a spot starter and long reliever. He returned to Columbus in the International League in 1965, going 13-11 with a 3.07 ERA, and returned to the Pirates to stay in 1966 with a 11-7 record and a 3.87 ERA.
By 1968, Blass was the ace of the Pirates pitching staff, going 18-6 and leading the National League with a .750 winning percentage. His 2.12 earned run average was fifth best in the league, (teammate Bob Veale‘s 2.05 was third in the league) and his seven shutouts were third in the league behind Bob Gibson (13) and Don Drysdale (8) and tied with Jerry Koosman.
Blass won 16 games in 1969 and 10 games in 1970. The he strung together his two best seasons in leading the Pirates to back-to-back Eastern Division titles. Blass went 15-8 with a 2.49 ERA in 1971, leading the league with five shutouts. He won both of his World Series starts against the Baltimore Orioles. Blass outdueled O’s ace Mike Cuellar 5-1 in Game Three, pitching a three-hitter and striking out eight Orioles batters. Blass returned in Game Seven to pitch a 2-1 gem, allowing only four hits in winning the Series clincher for the Pirates.
In 1972, Blass was even better. He went 19-8 with a 2.49 ERA, pitching a career-high 249.2 innings. He was named to the National League All-Star team. In the National League Championship Series against the Cincinnati Reds, Blass won the opener 5-1, then pitched seven strong innings in Game Five, allowing only two runs on four hits in a game the Reds would win in the bottom of the ninth.
At age 31, Blass already had 100 career victories, 78 in the previous five seasons. He should have been at the peak of his career, but instead it was nearly at its end. He won only three games for the Pirates in 1973, and never won a major league game after that. For no explicable reason, he suddenly became plagued with chronic wildness, and never fully recovered, even during a return to the minors in 1974. He retired after being released by the Pirates that same year.
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