Gunning Down Batters

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Tommie Sisk

Tommie Sisk signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1960. He won 14 games in the Pirates’ minor league system in 1961, and won 10 in 1962 when he was called up to the Pirates. After being rocked by the lowly New York Mets in his major league debut, Sisk settled down as a rookie reliever in 1963, going 1-3 with a 2.92 ERA in 57 appearances. Continue reading

Blass from the Past

 

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.

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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No Strikeout Shortage

 

Lights Out: Chris Short Strikes Out 18 in a Game He Can’t Win

When: October 2, 1965

Where:  Shea Stadium, New York, New York

Game Time: 4:29

Attendance: 10,371

By the 1964 season, Chris Short had arrived as a premier pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies. Over the next three seasons, he would be the second-best left-handed starter in the National League, looking up only to a guy named Sandy Koufax.

Chris Short pitched 15 scoreless innings against the New York Mets in 1965 but didn’t get the win as the game was called after the sixteenth inning. Short struck out 18 Mets batters

Chris Short pitched 15 scoreless innings against the New York Mets in 1965 but didn’t get the win as the game was called after the sixteenth inning. Short struck out 18 Mets batters.

Short went 17-9 in 1964 and 18-11 in 1965. He was particularly outstanding during the last month of the 1965 season, making eight starts with two relief appearances, and going 4-2 with one save and a 1.75 ERA in those 10 appearances.

In two of his best games that month, he pitched a combined 24 scoreless innings … and didn’t get the win in either game. The first game was a nine-inning shutout performance against the Pittsburgh Pirates in which he was one-upped by Bob Veale’s 10-inning one-hitter.

The other incredible Short performance occurred on the next-to-last day of the season.

It was the second game of a scheduled twi-night double header with the New York Mets. In the opener, Jim Bunning ran his season record to 19-9 with a two-hit, 6-0 shutout. Short started the second game, and continued the frustration for Mets’ bats.

In that game, Short blanked the Mets for 15 innings, striking out 18 Mets batters. The Mets’ only scoring threat came in the bottom of the third inning, when back-to-back doubles by Ron Hunt and Joe Christopher should have produced the game’s first run had it not been for great hustle and an outstanding throw by Tony Gonzalez (playing right field that day) that held Hunt at third base. With runners at second and third and one out, Short struck out Charlie Smith, walked Jim Hickman intentionally, and then caught Danny Napoleon looking to end the inning without a score.

Short simply outmatched the Mets lineup over the next 12 innings. Unfortunately, Mets rookie starter Rob Gardner, making only his fourth major league start, matched Short’s performance inning-for-inning, allowing just five hits in 15 scoreless frames. Both Short and Gardner were gone as the game entered the sixteenth inning, and the game was called for curfew after 18 scoreless innings and 4-1/2 hours of frustration.

Chris Short pitched 15 scoreless innings against the New York Mets in 1965 but didn’t get the win as the game was called after the sixteenth inning. Short struck out 18 Mets batters

Chris Short had an outstanding month of September to close out the 1965 season. In eight starts and two relief appearances, Short was 4-2 with a 1.75 ERA. In two games, he pitched at least nine scoreless innings with no decision.

The game was replayed the next day when the Phillies swept two games from the Mets to close out the season.

Short’s amazing last month of the 1965 season included five complete games but no shutouts. Had the Phillies scored at least one run in each of the two games when Short pitched enough scoreless innings to qualify for shutouts, he would have been a 20-game winner on the season, and would not have had to wait until 1966 to achieve that milestone.

Ace of Aces

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Sandy Koufax

No superlative can do justice to the performance of Sandy Koufax in his prime. In a decade dominated by overpowering pitchers, none was more dominating or overpowering than the Dodgers’ hard-throwing southpaw.

In his first six major league seasons, Sandy Koufax was 36-40 with a 4.10 ERA. Over the last six seasons of his abbreviated career, Koufax was baseball’s best pitcher: 129-47 with a 2.19 ERA.

In his first six major league seasons, Sandy Koufax was 36-40 with a 4.10 ERA. Over the last six seasons of his abbreviated career, Koufax was baseball’s best pitcher: 129-47 with a 2.19 ERA.

With the 1960s version of Koufax, every start was probably going to be a victory, possibly going to be a shutout, and potentially going to be a no-hitter. (He pitched four.) Most pitchers never experience even a single 20-win season. In his last five years (1962-1966), Koufax won 25 games or more three times; in the other two years, he was on track to win at least 25 games when injuries cut short both seasons – just as they would later abbreviate his career.

Of his four no-hitters, the last one – on September 9, 1965 – was a perfect game. Koufax beat the Chicago Cubs 1-0 that night, striking out 14. He needed only 1:43 to complete his pitching gem.

A career-long Dodger (who never played in the minors), Koufax was mediocre at best in his first six seasons. A great arm and inconsistent control led to a 36-40 record, with season ERAs consistently above 3.00 and often higher than 4.00.

The change over the last six years of his career couldn’t have been more dramatic. On the verge of retiring out of frustration, Koufax worked in the 1960 off-season to re-engineer his pitching mechanics. Something clicked, and his walks per nine innings declined steadily from near 6.0 to as low as 1.7 in 1965. His numbers for hits and strikeouts per nine innings remained pretty much the same. The key for Koufax was control. Once he mastered it, there was no stopping him.

His break-out year was 1961, when he won 18 games with his best ERA up to that point, a respectable 3.52. Koufax led the majors in strikeouts for the first time (269) and pitched 15 complete games. The 1962 season turned out to be a prophetic one for the remainder of Koufax’s career. He started fast, winning 14 games by the All-Star break. Yet injuries brought his season (and for all intents and purposes, the Dodgers’ pennant hopes) to a halt as Koufax didn’t win another game the rest of the year. Even with his shortened season, Koufax led the league with a 2.54 ERA. From this point until the season following his retirement, no one else would lead the National League in earned run average.

Sandy Koufax won three Cy Young awards and pitched four no-hitters. He averaged 24 victories and 307 strikeouts from 1963-1966.

Sandy Koufax won three Cy Young awards and pitched four no-hitters. He averaged 24 victories and 307 strikeouts from 1963-1966.

The Koufax era of dominance began in earnest in 1963. With the benefit of a complete and healthy season, Koufax racked up a 25-5 record with 306 strikeouts and a 1.88 ERA. He led the majors in all three of those pitching categories, as well as topping all major league pitchers with 11 shutouts. He won both the Cy Young and Most Valuable Player awards for 1963. And in the 1963 World Series against the Yankees, Koufax spearheaded the Dodgers’ four-game sweep with two victories, with a 1.88 ERA and striking out 23 batters in 18 innings.

In 1964, Koufax was leading the league in nearly every pitching category when he injured his pitching elbow while sliding into base. The injury ended his season with six weeks still remaining. He finished 19-5 (good for fourth in victories). Despite missing a month and a half, Koufax ended up fourth in strikeouts with 223, only 27 behind league-leader Bob Veale. Koufax led the majors in ERA (1.74) and shutouts (seven).

The elbow Koufax damaged in 1964 continued to bother him for the next two years, but you wouldn’t know that from his statistics. In 1965, he went 26-8, with a 2.04 ERA, a major league record 382 strikeouts in 335 innings, and 27 complete games – leading the majors in all of those categories. He was even better in 1966, going 27-9 with a 1.73 ERA, 317 strikeouts in 323 innings, with 27 complete games and five shutouts – again leading the major leagues in all of those categories. He was the unanimous Cy Young award winner both seasons.

Having Koufax available to pitch full seasons meant a National League pennant for the Dodgers in both 1965 and 1966. Koufax won two games as the Dodgers defeated the Minnesota Twins in the 1965 World Series. He lost in his only appearance in the 1966 World Series as the Baltimore Orioles swept the Dodgers.

That 6-0 loss to the Orioles (and to a 20-year-old future Hall of Famer named Jim Palmer) marked Koufax’s last major league appearance. He retired in November of 1966 as a consequence of continued arthritic deterioration of his left elbow. He was only 30. In 1972, Koufax at age 36 became the youngest man elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

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Loaded with Special K

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Bob Veale

Bob Veale stood tall and especially intimidating on the higher pitching mound that prevailed for most of the 1960s. And much like left-hander Randy Johnson three decades later, Veale’s fastball was as intimidating as his stature. He threw very hard, and was just wild enough (with such overpowering stuff) that he kept batters thinking as much about their heads as they were about pitch location.

Bob Veale led the National League with 250 strikeouts in 1964.

Bob Veale led the National League with 250 strikeouts in 1964.

Veale was signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates off the campus of Benedictine College in 1958. After four seasons in the Pirates’ minor league system, Veale made his debut in Pittsburgh in 1962 at age 26. He went 2-2 with one save in 11 appearances, including two complete games. He also struck out 42 batters in 45.2 innings.

He started the 1963 season in the Pirates’ bullpen, appearing 27 times in relief. He closed out 10 games, saving three of them with an 0.70 ERA. Veale was given his chance to start at the end of the year and went 4-2 as a starter with two shutouts. He finished the 1963 season with a 1.04 ERA.

Veale picked up in 1964 where he left off at the end of 1963. He went 18-12 with a 2.74 ERA. He led the National League both in strikeouts with 250 (something he would do only once in his career) and in walks with 124 (something he would do four times during his career). He followed in 1965 with a 17-12 season. He had seven shutouts and 14 complete games with a 2.84 ERA. He also recorded a career-best 276 strikeouts, still the highest total for any Pirate pitcher in the Twentieth Century.

Veale won 16 games in both 1966 and 1967, and then had back-to-back 13-14 seasons in 1968 and 1969. He was 10-15 for the Pirates in 1970, his last season as a starter. Now 35, Veale and his fading but still K-potent fastball were limited to spot relief situations, and he posted a 6-0 record with a pair of saves in that role in 1971, his last full season with the Pirates. He was sold to the Boston Red Sox in 1972. In 2+ seasons with Boston, Veale went 4-4 with a 3.45 ERA and 15 saves.

In a 13-season career, Veale posted a 120-95 record with a combined ERA of 3.07. He struck out 1,703 batters and pitched 20 shutouts. A two-time All-Star, he is second to Bob Friend among all Pirate pitchers in career walks and strikeouts.

 

 

 

 

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