Saturday, April 09, 2005

 

April 9th, 1961

Kirk McCaskill Born

In 1991 Kirk McCaskill lost a MLB-high 19 games for the Angels, avoiding twenty losses in part because he sat out the Angels last eight games. Demonstrating once again that they were staunch believers in the “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” theory of baseball card writing, Topps’ comment for Kirk McCaskill, on his 1992 card is “Kirk and his wife are the parents of one child, Reily.” To be fair McCaskill was more unlucky than bad in 1991; his ERA was just four percent worse than league average and the Angels scored a grand total of thirty-five runs in his nineteen losses, or about 1.8 a game, and were shut out five times. McCaskill’s 1991 is also noteworthy for his having had a decision in ninety-six percent of his starts, which is sixth all-time.

Despite his 1991 troubles, McCaskill who was from Kapuskasing, Ontario, also ranks second all-time for wins by a Canadian-born pitcher (behind Ferguson Jenkins) with one hundred six which earned him induction into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, Class of 2003.


Friday, April 08, 2005

 

April 8th, 1985

Tom Seaver Opens White Sox Season


Continuing our theme (here at TATDiBH, one day prior is a theme) of obscure Opening Day related records, we come to Tom Seaver. "Tom Terrific" started for the White Sox at County Stadium, pitching six and two-third innings, giving up two runs and earning the victory in a 4-2 White Sox triumph which, incidentally, marked the debut of current Sox skipper Ozzie Guillen. The Opening Day start was notable as it represented Seaver's fifteenth Opening Day start, which was a Major League Record, breaking Walter Johnson's record fourteen for the Washington Senators. Seaver's were divided with ten coming with the Mets, three with the Cincinnati Reds and two with the White Sox. Seaver would add an additional Opening Day start to his record the next year and retired after that season, finishing his career with sixteen Opening Day starts (out of twenty seasons in the Majors), just another in the boatload of honors and records held by one of the greatest pitchers of all time.


Thursday, April 07, 2005

 

April 7th, 1987

Rick Mahler Throws Shutout


Rick Mahler, who died earlier this year at age fifty-one, was a largely mediocre starter who had some good years for the Braves mixed in with some pedestrian ones. However, given the nature of Braves' pitching in the pre Maddux, Glavine, et al days, Mahler was often pressed into duty as the Braves' Opening Day starter. While Mahler is not the typical example of an ace to open the season for a team, something about Opening Day seemed to bring out the best in him. His shutout in 1987, against the Phillies, was his second straight Opening Day shutout, as he also pitched one against the Expos the year before. Furthermore, in 1985, Mahler had started the season for the Braves and pitched seven shut out innings before giving way to Bruce Sutter. For the three year stretch 1985-1987, Mahler started three Opening Days for the Braves and pitched a combined twenty-five shutout innings.

That's not the whole story however. Mahler was also the Braves' Opening Day starter in 1982 (a year they would win the division under manager Joe Torre) and pitched a shutout on that day against the Padres, which would combine with his later two to give him three Opening Day shutouts. Mahler also started the Braves' 1988 Opening Day, although he lost his touch, going just five innings while allowing four runs.

Despite the 1988 performance, Mahler's career Opening Day line remains impressive: 4-0 with a 0.92 ERA in thirty-nine innings, 3 shutouts, 15 Ks. Mahler pitched only three and a third innings in two playoff appearances (he was on Cincinnati’s World Series winning team in 1990 in addition to the Braves' 1982 appearance) so it is hard to say if he could have been playoff clutch. If you had just one game to win however, and it was Opening Day, Rick Mahler was your man.



Wednesday, April 06, 2005

 

April 6th, 1973

Ron Blomberg Draws Walk


Here's a bar bet I guarantee you will win ninety-five percent of the time, but might also get you smacked fifty percent of time: who was the first DH to have an at-bat in an official regular season game? Now, the answer most people will give you is Ron Blomberg. Blomberg, a Yankee, came to the plate against the Red Sox on Opening Day 1973 and faced Luis Tiant with the bases loaded. He drew a walk, driving in a run, giving the Yankees a 3-0 lead, in a game they would go on to lose 15-5 after Mel Stottlemyre got creamed. The answer to the bar bet question however, is the Red Sox Orlando Cepeda, who struck out in the top of the second inning.

The reason you win the bet, of course, is also the reason you're likely to get smacked, it’s all a matter of semantics and rules. Although Blomberg was the first man to come to the plate as a DH, by drawing a walk Blomberg was credited not with an at-bat, but rather with a plate appearance. It was not until Cepeda struck out that an actual at-bat was recorded by a DH. So next time you're a little short of funds at your favorite sports bar, ask 'em who the first DH to have an at-bat was. Just watch out for that left hook.



Tuesday, April 05, 2005

 

April 5th, 1978

Brandon Backe Born


Well, that's certainly the most alliterative title I've had in these three something months. Despite being on a team that featured a surefire Hall of Famer (Roger Clemens) and a damn good pitcher (Roy Oswalt), the best starting pitcher for the Houston Astros in the 2004 NLCS was a man who had pitched the previous two seasons for baseball’s worst franchise, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. In fact, Backe had posted ERAs of 6.92 and 5.44 in small parts of two seasons for the Devil Rays.

Backe did not exactly pitch a huge amount in
Houston either, starting just nine games and posting an exactly league average ERA. Despite this, after the Astros required five games to dismiss the Atlanta Braves in the NLDS with Oswalt and Clemens starting Games Four and Five respectively, and with Andy Pettitte long since lost to surgery the only options were Backe and Peter Munro. Backe was frankly unimpressive in Game One, going just four and two-third innings, giving up three runs before giving way to Chad Qualls who allowed a fourth of Backe's runs to score in a game the Astros would lose 10-7 with Qualls getting the loss.

Backe redeemed himself in Game 5 however. The game was a crucial one with the series tied 2-2 and the last of the series at
Minute Maid Park. If the Astros lost, they would have had to win two straight games at Busch Stadium in Saint Louis. Backe however pitched a gem, allowing no runs and just one hit in eight innings to a team that had averaged more than a five and a quarter runs per game during the season. Backe was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning, and the Astros' brilliant closer Brad Lidge pitched the ninth inning and received the victory when Jeff Kent hit a walk-off home run.

The Astros, of course, would go on to lose the next two games at
St. Louis, without Backe throwing a pitch. His numbers for the series then were a 0-0 record but an impressive 2.84 ERA in twelve and two-third innings. No Astros pitcher threw more innings and only two, Lidge and Dan Wheeler, had a lower ERA. Backe is back in the Astros' rotation in 2005, probably as the fourth starter behind Clemens, Oswalt and a recovered Pettitte. Having lost Kent and Carlos Beltran, it is unlikely the Astros will repeat their success of 2004 this season. If Backe can find his form of the NLCS and extend it across a full season, it will do a lot towards pushing the Astros back to the playoffs.



Monday, April 04, 2005

 

April 4th, 1997

Indians Play at Angels


Although this was just the third game of the season for both teams, it proved to be an interesting start to the season, a battle between two teams that would finish within two games of each other in the standings, although thanks to divisions, one of them, Cleveland, would go to the playoffs and the pennant, while the other, Anaheim, would watch the World Series from home.

The game began with neither Indians' starter Bartolo Colon or Angels' hurler Allen Watson pitching well.
Colon allowed two runs in the bottom of the first, but Watson allowed the Indians to respond on a Sandy Alomar home run. The Angels responded with two off Colon in their half of the second, but Watson allowed a two-run Matt Williams double to tie the game. After three innings then, the score was 4-4 with neither starter impressing. After that however, the game would remain scoreless as Colon, Watson and three relievers on each side combined for seven shutout innings.

The game again took a wild turn in the eleventh. With knuckleball pitcher Dennis Springing in for Anaheim, David Justice walked and Sandy Alomar hit a ground-rule double, putting him on second and pinch-runner Chad Curtis on third. Tony Fernandez wrapped a double off the centerfield wall, scoring Curtis and Alomar, and putting the Indians up 4-2. After a Marquis Grissom walk, Jim Thome singled but Fernandez was thrown out at home plate by centerfielder Jim Edmonds.

Now down two runs, the Angels rued their performance in the 10th, when they had loaded the bases with nobody out only to see a pop-up and 8-2 double play get
Cleveland out of the inning without allowing any runs. Darin Erstad singled to lead off the bottom end of the eleventh and Luis Alicea followed with a single of his own. Jim Edmonds ran the count to three and two and after fouling off a pair of pitches drew a walk, again loading the bases with nobody out.

Indians reliever Paul Shuey ran the count to three and two again, this time on clean-up hitter Tim Salmon. After Salmon fouled off a split-fingered fastball, Shuey came back with a straight fastball and Salmon parked it straight over the fence for a walk-off grand slam, the exclamation point on a 8-6 Angels win.



Sunday, April 03, 2005

 

April 3rd, 2001

David Eckstein Debuts

In 1933, an electrical draughtsman (whatever that is) named Harry Beck took some time after his day job working for the London Underground--the Tube--and designed a new map of the route. Beck's map was remarkable in that its creator had stumbled upon a remarkable notion: so long as the map correctly illustrated the order of stations for the Underground and the transfer points, it need not bear any resemblance to what was going on above ground. Beck's employers were initially doubtful of the map's possibilities, and introduced it first in limited pamphlet form. It was an instant success, and Beck's concept remains the basis for the modern Tube map, although that one has been altered so it bears at least a vague resemblance to the goings-on above ground.

Just like the Tube map's relation to the world above itself, David Eckstein bears only a vague resemblance to the real thing, in this case, a Major League shortstop. Eckstein is baby-faced (and a fan of wearing the Charlie Brown style hat) and his listed measurements of 5'8" and 170 pounds suggest the Cardinals conducted his physical while Eckstein was soaking wet with rocks in his uniform pocket and wearing a pair of high-heeled shoes. In the field Eckstein sometimes appears comical, often needing a hop-step to get his throws to first base, and with a goofy batting stance, compounded by his fondness for the Charlie Brown style helmet as well. In contrast, Christian Guzman looks like a shortstop. He is listed at 6'0" 190, both believable measurements. His hat fits, and he's got a little goatee thing. Guzman looks foolish neither at bat nor afield.

The only problem with these judgments is that they are mostly baseless. Eckstein isn't a significantly better player than Guzman, but he offers a little more stick, and despite all appearances, better defense. Both were free agents this winter. The younger Guzman signed a four year deal with the Nationals good for 4.2 million a year while Eckstein received a three-year contract from
St. Louis good for 3.4 million a year. Harry Beck and the London Underground understood the value of functi0n over appearance. Evidently that lesson hasn't quite crossed the Atlantic.


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