Here’s a beautiful thing about baseball: It’s probably happened. Whatever you’re thinking. It’s probably happened. Nine hits in a game? Yep, that happened: Johnny Burnett of the Cleveland Indians smacked nine hits against Philadelphia in an 18-inning game (same game that Jimmie Foxx had six hits, three of them homers, and eight RBIs).*
*Philadelphia’s Eddie Rommel had one of the greatest pitching lines in baseball history that day: 17 innings, 29 hits, 14 runs (only 13 earned), 9 walks, 7 strikeouts, 2 wild pitches. And Rommel — who was 34 at the time and was in the last year of a good career — was used mostly in one-inning appearances that year.
Reporter: Skip, when did you know it wasn’t Eddie’s night?
Connie Mack: I thought after the 26th hit he gave up, he started elevating his pitches. But his stuff was still good.
Six wild pitches? Yep, that’s actually happened three times — twice in the same year. J.R. Richard was the first to do it, April of 1979, against the Dodgers. He allowed just one run in nine innings despite six hits, four walks and those six wild pitches. Phil NIekro did it later that year on a day when his knuckler was REALLY knuckling. Bill Gullickson matched them in 1982.
And so on. Baseball is just one of those games … it’s been around for a LONG time, and each season has LOTS of games, and so whenever you see just about anything interesting happen you might think, “I’ll bet that’s never happened before.” But … it probably has.
For instance: Texas’ Cliff Lee on Wednesday will start World Series Game 1 for the second year in a row. You will remember he started Game 1 for Philadelphia last year against the Yankees. Not only is starting Game 1 for the second straight year, but he will be doing it for two different teams. And not only THAT but he will be doing it for two different teams in two different leagues. Crazy right?
Yes. Crazy. But not unprecedented. All three of those things have happened before. Searching for this led me to do WAY too much research in the history of World Series Game 1 starters. I have no illusion that you care at all about this. But, damn it, I looked it up. So here you go.
The last starter to start back-to-back World Series Game 1s was Jack Morris in 1991 and 1992. I originally missed Morris — many Jack Morris Hall of Fame fans think I miss him all the time — and thought that the last starter to go back-to-back was Dave Stewart, who actually started three in a row from 1988-90. But no, it was Morris … more on Stewart in a minute.
Morris, as I’m sure you remember, is also the last one to start back-to-back Game 1s for different teams. In 1991, he started Game 1 for the Minnesota Twins, and he pitched seven solid innings, allowing only two runs, and the Twins beat the Braves. In 1992, he started Game 2 for the Toronto Blue Jays, and he pitched what I have started to call the “solidy start” — solidy rhyming with quality — six innings and three runs. This is the absolute minimum a pitcher can do to qualify for what is generally called a quality start. It’s possible that “solidy” can be used in other forms of “absolute minimum qualifier” — a one-inning, three-run save might be called a “solidy save” for instance, or getting exactly 10 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists might be called a solidy triple-double.* A comedy that gives you JUST enough laughs to make it worthwhile might be called solidy. I’m still working on it.
*In case you were wondering — and I know you were — the solidy triple double (10-10-10) has been done in the NBA three times since 1986. Jason Kid was the last guy to do it in 2006 — he did it against Milwaukee. Andre Iguodala and Penny Hardaway were the other two to pull a solidy.
Anyway, Morris had a solidy start and was out-pitched by Tom Glavine.
Morris was the last to go back-to-back, and the last to do it for two different teams. But what about the last guy to do it for two different team in opposite leagues?
Yep, it has happened: Don Gullett in 1976 and 1977. In 1976, he pitched against the Yankees for the ultra-dominant Big Red Machine. In 1977, he pitched FOR the Yankees against the Dodgers. That was at the beginning of free agency, when many people throughout baseball were certain that the game was doomed — and Gullett was used as a major example. But Gullett got hurt, his career prematurely ended. And baseball, for a variety of fascinating reasons, entered a period of remarkable parity. From 1978-1990 — 13 seasons — we had 12 different World Series champs (only the Dodgers won more than once).
So, yes, the two straight years for two teams in two leagues things has happened before.
Some Game 1 numbers: There have been 156 different pitchers to start a World Series Game 1. This Game 1 start, of course, meant a little more back before 1969, before the playoffs, back when teams, more or less, could ALWAYS pitch their No. 1 starter in Game 1. It’s not like that now. I was thinking that if the Yankees had managed to extend the Rangers series one more game, then Texas would not have started Lee on three days rest. And we would have had this exciting Lee-Tim Lincecum match-up taken away from us.
The 10 best pitchers to NEVER start a World Series Game 1:
1. Randy Johnson
2. Pedro Martinez
3. Steve Carlton
4. Robin Roberts
5. Juan Marichal
6. Gaylord Perry
7. Ferguson Jenkins
8. Nolan Ryan
9. Phil Niekro
10. Roy Halladay
Of the 156 pitcher to start Game 1 of the World Series, 34 did it more than once. One of these pitchers was named Orval Overall. He won 20 twice for the Chicago Cubs.
The pitchers who started three Game 1s in a row include Allie Reynolds for the Yankees in the early 1950s, Ken Holtzman for the Bad Boy A’s of the 1970s, Don Gullett as mentioned, and Dave Stewart. You know Dave Stewart had an utterly remarkable career — and not just because he had the odd Mike Tyson voice when he talked. He was called up to the Dodgers as a 21-year-old pitcher in 1978, threw in one game with the Dodgers behind 12-3. He got out of his first jam by getting Bob Shirley to line into a double play.
They called him Smoke, and it appeared that would define his career. Smoke. By the time he turned 30 he had been traded twice and also released. He had a 39-40 record. After a promising 1983 season, he had problems on and off the field until he arrived in Oakland in 1986.
And the next four years, he won 20 games each season. We’ve often gone over the problem with judging a pitcher by wins, but hey, 20 victories is 20 victories, and anyway over the last 50 years only six pitchers have won 20-plus four straight seasons. It was a remarkable change, not only in performance but also in the way he was perceived, the aura he projected. Quite suddenly, Smoke Stewart was viewed as one of the toughest pitchers in baseball, the guy you wanted on the mound when the team needed a victory. He not only started the consecutive World Series Game 1s, he also started three consecutive American League Champions Series Game 1s. In the 1988 World Series Game 1, he threw eight solid innings and was in position to win the game when this guy, oh, what’s his name, you know, Kirk somebody came up with two outs and a man on base against Dennis Eckersley*.
*You know what I had forgotten? Mike Davis had pinch-hit right before Kirk Gibson’s at-bat, and he had drawn a walk — an utterly amazing thing in that:
1. Dennis Eckersley almost never walked anybody.That year, he had walked 11 batters — two intentionally. the next year, he would walk three.
2. Mike Davis had spent the bulk of his career NOT walking. He had a career .313 on-base percentage.
Mike Davis walked. Jack Buck could have done his “I don’t believe what I just saw” thing right there. And then Davis stole second base — not bad for a 30-year-old who had lost much of his speed. Had Gibson merely singled Davis in there instead of homering and the Dodgers gone on to win, that walk and steal might be pretty famous.
In the 1989 Game 1, Stewart threw a shutout against San Francisco. And in the 1990 Game against Cincinnati — after two dominant performances in the ALCS against Boston — Stewart gave a up two-run bomb of a home run to Eric Davis that really let everyone know that the Reds meant business. Stewart was pulled for a pinch-hitter in the fifth — the only of his 10 World Series starts that he did not go at least six innings.
The King of Game 1 starts is Red Ruffing. Between 1936 and 1942, Ruffing started Game 1 in five of the seven World Series. You know, Dan Shaughnessy really built up the curse of Babe Ruth in Boston, but in many ways the curse of Red Ruffing was just as powerful and baffling. Ruffing was an astonishing 39-96 for the Red Sox, he led the league in losses twice, he was 25 and going nowhere when the Red Sox in a fit of disgust (I can only assume) dumped him on the Yankees for a no-hit outfielder named Cedric Durst, who had made a small name for himself by homering off Pete Alexander in the 1928 World Series (two batters before Babe Ruth did the same). Durst would also hit one home run for the Boston Red Sox before retiring (or being retired) at the end of the season.
And Ruffing would go 234-124 in his years with the Yankees. He started 10 World Series games and the Yankees won seven of them. Only once did the Yankees lose a Game 1 with Red Ruffing on the mound, that was in 1936 when the Yankees were befuddled by the great Carl Hubbell.
But while Red Ruffing is the King … Whitey Ford is the Ace of Game 1s.
Most World Series Game 1 starts
1. Whitey Ford, 8
2. Red Ruffing, 6
3. Allie Reynolds, 4
(tie) Chief Bender, 4
5. Jack Morris, 3
Dave Stewart, 3
Don Gullett, 3
Ken Holtzman, 3
Paul Derringer, 3
Carl Hubbell, 3
Waite Hoyt, 3
Ford started four Game 1s in a row from 1955-58 — that little feat has only happened twice in baseball history. The other time? Whitey Ford, from 1961-64.
He started against Don Newcombe, Sal Maglie, Warren Spahn (in back to back years), Jim O’Toole, Billy O’Dell, Sandy Koufax (who actually only started one World Series Game 1, and sat one out for Yom Kippur) and Ray Sadecki.
Ford didn’t always pitch well in his Game 1s. The Dodgers ripped him in ’56. The Dodgers and then the Cardinals got to him in 1963 and ’64. On the other hand, he threw a two-hit shutout against the Reds in 1961, and allowed just one run in a complete game win against Milwaukee in 1957. Interestingly enough — at least to me — his best individual World Series came in 1960 against PIttsburgh, the year the Yankees DID NOT throw him in Game 1. They went with Art Ditmar in Game 1 and lost. Ford pitched Games 3 and 6 of that series and threw shutouts in both (the Yankees won those games 10-0 and 12-0). Someone hit a famous home run in Game 7 for PIttsburgh.
So there’s a little Game 1 history to impress people at the office. This is one of the more exciting World Series Game 1 match-ups ever, no doubt about it, with a two-time Cy Young winner in Lincecum, against a Cy Young winner and resident artist in Cliff Lee. And they’ll be pitching in a pitcher’s park, with just about every hitter in both lineups likely feeling some World Series jitters. Lincecum vs. Halladay in the NLCS was exciting — and Halladay’s Game 5 performance with a pulled groin is memorable — but I’m not quite sure either game quite lived up to the hype (that, admittedly, I was pushing as hard or harder than anyone else). This game won’t have quite the same hype, I don’t think. But it could, should be terrific.
And Lee IS in position to do something that nobody has ever done. He will start consecutive Game 1s for different teams in different leagues. But, as you know, he’s also a free agent after the season ends. And as you know, the Yankees enter this off-season in that two-hours-before-Christmas-Eve-and-I-still-need-presents hysteria. When Lee was throwing his masterful eight innings against the Yankees in the ALCS you could almost see his free agency tote board spinning higher and higher with every pitch, not unlike the National Debt Scoreboard in New York. The Yankees might offer him the richest pitching contract in baseball history, or they might even offer him a shopping spree at The American Girl Store — whichever ends up being worth more.
So, yes, it’s not impossible that Lee will pitch three straight World Series Game 1s for three different teams. That has never happened before. BUT three different people named Lefty — Lefty Grove, Lefty Gomez and Lefty Stewart — have started Game 1s. Also Babe Ruth did. Also a guy nicknamed Hippo. So that’s almost as amazing.