Forty years ago, Friday, June 14, 1974, the Red Sox played the Angels in a game that typifies how pitching has changed.
There will never be a game like this again. If there is, there will be a Players Association grievance, as well two managers and two pitching coaches fired. There will be outrage throughout baseball.
How could Luis Tiant have pitched 14⅓ innings for the Red Sox and Nolan Ryan 13 innings for the Angels on a pristine night before 11,083 at the Big A?
How could Tiant have thrown 195 pitches and Ryan 235 without their arms dangling from their bodies?
And while Tiant gave you power and finesse, Ryan was all power. He struck out 19 that night, six being Red Sox leadoff hitter Cecil Cooper, who went 0 for 8 in the Angels’ 4-3 win.
Tiant and Ryan each basically pitched the equivalent of two major league games.
“When you took the baseball, you wanted to finish what you started,” said Tiant, now 73. “I didn’t even feel tired. I could have gone as long as I had to go. They beat me on a ground ball that went through the second baseman’s legs. It was the 15th inning and I was OK.”
According to the Worcester Telegram’s Bill Ballou, a baseball historian, no pitcher has gone at least 14⅓ innings since Tiant. In 1980, four Oakland pitchers each went 14 innings in a game — Matt Keough, Rick Langford, Steve McCatty, and Mike Norris. Also in 1974, but before Tiant, Gaylord Perry went 15 innings.
The last major league pitcher to go more than nine innings in a game was Cliff Lee, who went 10 for the Phillies on April 18, 2012. Tommy John had 12- and 13-inning outings in 1983. The most innings by a Red Sox pitcher, since Tiant in 1974, is 12 by Reggie Cleveland on April 12, 1975, and 12 by Tiant on Oct. 3, 1976.
The last Sox pitcher to go more than nine was Tim Wakefield, who pitched 10 on June 4, 1995.
Tiant said he always got pumped up for battles against pitchers such as Ryan, Catfish Hunter, Jim Palmer, Vida Blue, and Ron Guidry. Tiant said, “Any time you faced Nolan you knew it was going to be hard to score runs. You knew you couldn’t give up too many.”
Tiant went 22-13 with a 2.92 ERA in 1974. He started 38 games and completed 25 of them. He threw 311⅓ innings. Five days after pitching 14⅓ innings, he finished a 10-inning, 2-1 win over Blue and the A’s. Five days after that, he pitched a complete-game shutout over the Brewers.
Tiant pitched nine or more innings in 14 starts that season after his 14⅓-inning performance. He threw seven shutouts in 1974. Ryan pitched 332⅔ innings that season.
“Back then, when you took the ball to start the game, it was your game. You pitched nine innings,” said Tiant. “You didn’t always get there because it was up to the manager, but that’s how you thought. It’s different now. Now it’s six or seven innings and the bullpen comes in.”
Rick Miller played center field for the Red Sox in that game and went 0 for 6. Bernie Carbo went 0 for 5 playing in right. Rick Burleson went 0 for 3. Carl Yastrzemski and Mario Guerrero went 2 for 5 and 3 for 5, respectively.
Frank Robinson DH’d for the Angels and went 1 for 5.
A key moment came when Yastrzemski belted a two-run homer in the ninth off Ryan to tie it, 3-3. Tiant wiggled out of a bases-loaded jam in the 12th, retiring Angels shortstop Bobby Valentine on a popup to left and Mickey Rivers on a ground out. But Tiant couldn’t get out of the 15th.
It was described as a heavyweight fight, back and forth. Two pitchers who would not give in.
“It was tough to go into the 15th and lose,” Tiant said. “That was a battle between Nolan and me. It was tough for anyone to lose, but we both fought and fought and fought. I lost, but I know I gave everything.”
Breaking down some defensive metrics
A defensive metric that truly shows the effectiveness of a fielder is defensive runs saved (DRS). After all, what could be more important for a fielder than saving runs?
I asked Scott Spratt of Baseball Information Solutions to explain.
“Defensive runs saved estimates the number of runs a player has saved or cost his team, and it does that by aggregating several different components that change depending on the position of the player,” he said. “I would say the foundational component is plus/minus runs saved. Plus/minus either credits a fielder that converts an out or penalizes a fielder that fails to convert an out relative to how frequently an average player at his position converts similar balls in play into outs. We measure the similarity of balls in play by comparing its location on the field and velocity.”
For example, Spratt said, “If a batter hits a hard ground ball between first and second base that an average second baseman would turn into an out only 40 percent of the time, and if [Dustin] Pedroia makes that play, the plus/minus credits him with 0.6 plus/minus (which is 1 minus 0.4). If Pedroia had not made the play, we’d penalize him 0.4 plus/minus. When you aggregate all his plus/minus numbers, it tells you the number of plays a player has made compared to average. So far this season, Pedroia has made 10 plays more than an average second baseman. Next, we convert plus/minus so it is on a scale of runs.”
There’s all sorts of other measures within the measures, such as components for bunt defense (for corner infielders, pitchers, and catchers), grounded into double play (GDP) defense (for middle infielders), outfield throws, and stolen base prevention (for pitchers and catchers).
Looking at the Red Sox, Spratt noted, “There has been a defensive falloff in center field from 9 DRS in 2013 to minus-1 DRS so far this season. That is because Jacoby Ellsbury saved the team 13 runs in center field last season. However, Ellsbury has cost the Yankees seven runs in center field so far this year, so it’s unclear if he would have duplicated his success had he returned to the Red Sox.
“In addition, the Red Sox have improved at third base and declined at shortstop. Overall, the Red Sox have saved eight runs this year, third best in the American League [behind Oakland and Kansas City].”
These numbers change constantly, but through Thursday, Pedroia was the Red Sox’ best fielder, saving them seven runs. Xander Bogaerts had been Boston’s worst defender, costing them seven runs at shortstop (33d out of 35 qualifiers) and three runs at third base. Mike Napoli was plus-4 and Grady Sizemore a plus-3.
Jonny Gomes was minus-6 in left field. Jackie Bradley Jr. had saved four runs in center field and two in left. Also at two runs saved were Daniel Nava, Shane Victorino, Burke Badenhop, and Junichi Tazawa. A.J. Pierzynski had saved one run, while David Ross had cost them one run. In his four games, Stephen Drew had saved the Red Sox one run.
Apropos of nothing
1. Biggest bandwagon fans? In other words, fans who jump off when the team isn’t doing well? Two Emory University professors conducted a study from 1998-2013, and the “winners” were Phillies fans. Red Sox fans were 27th, which means they support the team through thick and thin. The team with the fewest bandwagon fans was the Yankees, followed by the Cardinals, Marlins, Red Sox, Diamondbacks, and Dodgers. After the Phillies on the list of bandwagon fans were the Orioles, Athletics, White Sox, and Tigers.
2. After watching the Nationals last week, Giants general manager Brian Sabean said, “That’s a team ready to break out. They have excellent starting pitching, their hitting is turning the corner, and they don’t even have [Bryce] Harper back.”
3. I was interested to learn that Juan Nieves’s father’s occupation was training and fighting roosters in the cockfighting arenas of Puerto Rico. Nieves grew up in that environment, and cockfighting remains legal there. Years ago, I ventured out with the late Ivan Calderon to some cockfighting events in Puerto Rico. Calderon had a stable of roosters, approximately 200, that he trained. The matches were gruesome. Calderon was murdered in 2003 when he wouldn’t give up his son’s whereabouts in a drug deal gone bad.
4. The team that was supposed to have the best starting pitching has been killed by their starting pitching. During their 7-16 nosedive, the Tigers were 8 for 23 in quality starts. Four of those eight quality starts were by Anibal Sanchez. Justin Verlander was 1 for 5 during that stretch. Verlander for the season: 6-6, 4.61 ERA.
5. Joe Pittman, a longtime scout with the Astros, died last week. Pittman begged the Astros to draft Frank Thomas and sign him for $50,000. But Thomas went to Auburn to play football. When his football career ended because of injuries, he continued to play baseball, and the White Sox chose him with the seventh overall pick in the 1989 draft. Thomas will be inducted into the Hall of Fame in July.
6. The strikeout rate per nine innings sat at 7.78 through Thursday’s games. If that keeps up, it would the highest in major league history. Last season, a record was set with 7.57 strikeouts per nine innings, eclipsing the mark of 7.56 set in 2012. Through 977 games in 2014, there were 15,184 strikeouts. Teams are on pace this season for a total of 37,766 strikeouts, which would smash the record of 36,710.
7. Year of the reliever? Forty-one relief pitchers have posted ERAs of 2.00 or below (minimum 15 innings). Last season, a record 14 relievers finished with ERAs of 2.00 or below (minimum 50 innings). Prior to 2013, the record of 13 relievers was set in 1992, and tied in 2003 and 2010. Through Thursday, the Nationals had the best bullpen ERA at 2.36. Four Washington relievers — Tyler Clippard (1.23), Drew Storen (1.29), Rafael Soriano (1.44), and Aaron Barrett (1.90) — had posted ERAs of under 2. The Giants bullpen, led by Jean Machi’s major league-best 0.31 ERA (among relievers), had 17 bullpen wins, followed by the Pirates with 16 and Indians with 15.
Updates on nine
1. Marco Scutaro, 2B, Giants — It’s reaching the point where when he returns from his back injury, he will likely become the Giants’ utilityman. General manager Brian Sabean is trying to add a second baseman by the trading deadline. A great fit would be Chase Utley, but there’s three issues: Would the Phillies want to deal him, would Utley waive his 10/5 rights, and would the Giants give up a bounty for him? It would seem the Giants’ sights would be somewhat lower.
2. Cliff Lee, LHP, Phillies — Lee will likely have to be a post-waiver deadline deal as he continues to rehab his strained pitching elbow. It doesn’t appear Lee will have enough time to show he’s healthy by the July 31 trading deadline as he’s still just playing catch, and would then need minor league rehab starts before returning. Because he has two years left on his contract at $25 million each, he may clear waivers when he is healthy.
3. Ryan Zimmerman, 3B/LF, Nationals — Zimmerman has played left field fairly well, but manager Matt Williams wants him back at third when Bryce Harper returns from the DL. Harper would then go to left, Anthony Rendon to second, and Danny Espinosa would return to the bench. The other option could be to move Harper to center, keep Zimmerman in left, and send Denard Span to the bench. The Nationals finally have some options as they appear to be hitting again.
4. Jonathan Papelbon, RHP, Phillies — Papelbon earned his 300th career save last week. He’s pitching a lot better and there’s an expectation that he could be one of the first Phillies to go once they decide to deal. One AL scout who has watched Papelbon’s outings indicated, “I’ll give him credit. I think he’s learning to pitch with what he’s got left. He’s not 96-98 [miles per hour], but he’s getting back up to 92-93 and making a lot of good adjustments.” A future Tiger, Oriole?
5. Bud Black, manager, Padres — Black is one of the best managers in the game in the eyes of a lot of baseball executives, so blaming the Padres’ dismal season on him would be a mistake. Padres CEO Mike Dee came out with strong words, indicating possible changes if the season doesn’t turn around. Hard to imagine Black being fired, but the coaching staff could be in peril, particularly hitting coach Phil Plantier, because the offense has been putrid.
6. Yoenis Cespedes, LF, Athletics — His 300-foot throw to nail a runner notwithstanding, Cespedes sometimes boots balls, but he has nine outfield assists (the A’s have 20 to lead the league) and has prevented eight runs from scoring, seven with throws. Cespedis has five tools, for sure, and “once he gets his offense right he’s going to win the MVP,” said one AL GM.
7. Steven Wright, RHP, Red Sox — After missing the early part of the season while recovering from groin surgery, Wright has emerged as a call-up candidate with a 1.35 ERA, five walks, and 23 strikeouts in three starts for Pawtucket. While the Red Sox have younger prospects in Allen Webster, Anthony Ranaudo, and Matt Barnes at Triple A, Wright could be the choice based on his experience and the fact he throws a knuckleball.
8. Joe Nathan, RHP, Tigers — Closers go up and down during the course of a season, so to give up on Nathan so soon is not an option. Nathan allowed 10 runs in a recent 3⅓-inning stretch, which is as many runs as he allowed with Texas last season. One downer for Nathan is that he doesn’t get to face the Tigers, against whom he converted 36 straight save situations. The Tigers do have Joel Hanrahan on the mend from Tommy John surgery and he could fortify the end of the bullpen by the All-Star break.
9. Jason Hammel, RHP, Cubs — Hammel is having a good season (6-4, 2.81 ERA, 0.984 WHIP), but the scouting community is mixed on what impact he’d have on a contending team if he gets dealt before the deadline. The questions are whether he can keep up this pace or whether he’ll morph into more of an end-of-the-rotation starter. Even positive comments came with the caveat you wouldn’t give up the farm for him.
From the Bill Chuck files — “The diminishing effectiveness of Justin Verlander’s fastball: 2011, .215 batting average against; 2012, .235; 2013: .278; and 2014, .279.” . . . Also, “When facing changeups and curves, Grady Sizemore is hitting .132, Jackie Bradley Jr. .139, and David Ortiz .216.” . . . Happy birthday, Tony Clark (42), Ramiro Mendoza (42), and Wade Boggs (56).