Saving Precious Leads

Oh, What a Relief: Don Elston

Once he was moved full-time into the bullpen, Don Elston emerged as one of the National League’s most effective relief pitchers at the end of the 1950s. While overshadowed statistically by the Pittsburgh PiratesRoy Face, Elston brought a day-in, day-out consistency to protecting leads for the Chicago Cubs, a team that had precious few leads to protect.

Between 1960-1964, Don Elston averaged 55 relief appearances per season, with a 3.90 ERA and 32 saves.

Between 1960-1964, Don Elston averaged 55 relief appearances per season, with a 3.90 ERA and 32 saves.

Elston was signed by the Cubs in 1947 and toiled in their farm system for nearly a decade. He won 18 games in 1952 and 17 games in both 1954 and 1955, but didn’t find a permanent spot on the Cubs’ pitching staff until 1957, and he earned his place via the Brooklyn Dodgers, who had acquired Elston in a trade for Don Hoak, Russ Meyer and Walt Moryn. He appeared in one game for the Dodgers and then was traded back to Chicago, where he was 6-7 with a 3.56 ERA in 29 appearances, 25 as a reliever.

In 1958, Elston was used exclusively as a reliever, appearing in 69 games (tops in the National League) and finishing 39. He was 9-8 with 10 saves and a 2.88 ERA for a Cubs team that finished the season at 72-82. His nine victories tied him with Moe Drabowsky for second on the team after Glen Hobbie (who had 10 victories).

Elston followed up in 1959 by leading the league in both appearances (65) and games finished (49). He completed the 1959 season at 10-8 with a 3.32 ERA and 13 saves. In 1960, Elston was third in the National League in appearances (behind Face and Lindy McDaniel) with 60, finishing 33 games and saving 11. His record in 1960 was 8-9 with a 3.40 ERA.

In nine major league seasons, Don Elston appeared in 450 games, 449 with the Chicago Cubs and one with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

In nine major league seasons, Don Elston appeared in 450 games, 449 with the Chicago Cubs and one with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

From 1960 through 1964, Elston was 24-30 with a 3.90 ERA. He appeared in an average of 55 games per season. His best season in the 1960s was 1963, when he was 4-1 with a 2.83 ERA in 51 appearances.

Elston retired after the 1964 season with a career record of 49-54 and a 3.69 ERA. He appeared in 450 games and saved 63. Elston was a member of the 1959 National League All-Star team.

Strikeouts When Needed

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Moe Drabowsky

Moe Drabowsky and his Baltimore Orioles teammates stunned the baseball world in the autumn of 1966 when they chewed up and spit out the Los Angeles Dodgers, the reigning World Series champions. Drabowsky won Game One in dramatic fashion and set a World Series record for clutch pitching that still stands.

Drabowsky was a star pitcher for Trinity College when he was signed by the Chicago Cubs in 1956. By the next season he was a member of the Cubs’ starting rotation, going 13-15 in his rookie campaign with a 3.53 ERA. His 170 strikeouts that season were second in the league to Philadelphia’s Jack Sanford.

Arm problems limited Drabowsky’s effectiveness for the Cubs after that. His record slipped to 9-11 in 1958 and 5-10 in 1959.  In the next two seasons, he pitched for three different teams, landing in Kansas City in 1962. He was a member of the Athletics’ bullpen through the 1965 season, compiling a record of 14-32.

Moe Drabowsky struck out 11 Dodgers in 3.1 innings in the first game of the 1966 World Series.

Moe Drabowsky struck out 11 Dodgers in 3.1 innings in the first game of the 1966 World Series.

Drabowsky was acquired by Baltimore at the end of 1965 and had his most productive seasons out of the Orioles’ bullpen. He went 6-0 in 1966 with a 2.81 ERA and seven saves. In the opening game of the 1966 World Series, Drabowsky entered the game in the third inning in relief of starter Dave McNally. He issued a walk to Junior Gilliam that allowed Lou Johnson to score and cut the Orioles’ lead to 4-2.

But it was the last run Drabowsky would allow in that game, or that the Orioles would allow in the Series. Drabowsky struck out 11 Dodgers batters in picking up the Game One victory, a World Series single game record for a reliever. The Orioles would shut out Los Angeles over the next three games to complete the sweep.

Drabowsky pitched for Baltimore for two more seasons, and pitched well in both of them. In 1967, he was 7-5 with 12 saves and a 1.60 ERA. In 1968 he went 4-4 with 7 saves and a 1.91 ERA.

Prior to the 1969 season, Drabowsky was selected by the Kansas City Royals in the expansion draft and spent two seasons with the Royals before being traded back to Baltimore, where he went 4-2 in 21 appearances with a 3.78 ERA. He spent the 1971 season with the St. Louis Cardinals, going 6-1 with 8 saves and a 3.43 ERA. He retired after splitting the 1972 season with the Cardinals and the Chicago White Sox.

Over a 17-year career with eight different teams, Drabowsky compiled an 88-105 record with 55 career saves and a combined ERA of 3.71.

 

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