LONGSHOTS: Pitch count police trigger another dreamlike episode
by Dave Long
You may recall a few weeks back I shared I dreamed of visiting Vienna to see the renowned Sigmund Freud to help me with my building obsession with Terry Francona’s obsession with sticking to the almighty pitch count no matter what.
It was a lifelike dream, where the advice really made sense. Most notably: if I can’t do anything about I need to just let it go. And I think happy thoughts whenever I feel another attack coming on, like, say, last Friday when Clay Buchholz was pulled after six in a 3-1 game, or Jon Lester with a 6-3 lead Saturday and then Dice-K after six on Sunday. I hung in and so did the bullpen — which only hiccupped in the Lester game as each starter got the win as the Sox swept the Orioles. So I breathed deep, and thought as after months of uncertainty the team’s starting pitching is starting to click, maybe Tito’s got a method to his madness.
But what really got me through it was thinking of the great historical pitching performances I’ve seen or read about over the years. Of course the Doc told me that it won’t go away overnight and he’s right again as happy thoughts triggered another dream. It starred Michael J. Fox reprising his role of Marty McFly in a fourth version of his ’80s time travel fantasy in a film called “Back to the Future — The Baseball Years.” It’s set in 2005 and has lifelong baseball fans Marty and Doc going back to 1903 and Doc absentmindedly giving tips to then Red Sox manager Jimmy Collins from the LaRussification-of-baseball manual. This of course is a major no-no since disrupting the space-time continuum can have disastrous consequences. As you may recall, when that happened in the original film, family members started disappearing from a photo he had with him. And in my latest Almighty Pitch Count dream, Collins starts giving his buds LaRussification tips and as he does, one by one great pitching performances from the pre-pitch count days started disappearing right before my eyes, including these:
Cy Young’s 511 wins: The big fella started a record 815 games and AVERAGED 8.11 innings per game — which is dragged down by 91 relief appearances. Throw in the fact that he started every fourth day, not every fifth as today, and he probably loses 20 percent of his starts and wins (not to mention those won in the eighth, ninth and beyond when he’d be long gone today) — and his record win total is down to about 408. Pretty good, but would they still name the award after him for that?
Don Larsen’s Perfect Game: Even though he was perfect — with the score just 2-0 and the pitch count at 97 and climbing — you never know. Even though no one had touched him all day, my money is on a yank if pinch hitter Dale Mitchell had walked or gotten a hit. Fortunately for Larsen it was a called strike three and the perfecto was saved.
Spahn and Marichal on July 2, 1963: The Giants won 1-0 when Willie Mays homered in the 16th off Warren Spahn. Both the 26-year-old winner Juan Marichal and 42-year-old Spahn (yes, 42) went the distance in one of the greatest pitching duels ever. Couldn’t find the pitch counts, but each faced 55 batters. Marichal K’d 10 and walked four. Spahn had two K’s and incredibly one walk. The only thing I’m more certain of than that they pitched great is that the only way it happens today with Tito in either dugout is if he gets hit with a tranquillizer dart no later than the sixth inning.
Luis Tiant in Game Five In ’75: Not his greatest game, but his signature one for sure. He needed 100 pitches to shut out the Big Red Machine in a 6-0 Game One win — that was harder than it seemed since all six came in the eighth. Any doubt Pap would’ve been in for the ninth after that? But in Game Five when he didn’t have his good stuff, he whirled and twirled his way through 175 pitches (yup, I said 175) to keep the Reds off balance enough to survive 13 base runners in a 5-4 complete game win. The landmark Sox win would never have happened today. And the only question left is: since Game Seven was six days later, why did Bill Lee and not Luis get the start???
Nolan Ryan: He struck out and walked more batters in history by nearly 1,000 in each category, so you know he threw a lot of pitches. He ended in the closer era, but pitched mostly in the non-closer time, when he had over 20 complete games five times and lasted an astonishing 27 years — so what do pitch counts have to do with longevity? But in today’s game how many fewer strikeouts he would have had? And while I’d like to make a case on the no-no’s I will say Jon Lester’s 130 pitches in his no-hitter were eight more than Ryan threw in his final one and the same as in his sixth a year earlier.
John Smoltz and Jack Morris: The best clutch pitching duel I’ve ever seen. Bobby Cox took out the best clutch pitcher of his era with one out in the eighth and former Red Sox Mike Stanton immediately gave up two hits but escaped. The same fate almost befell Morris in the ninth when manager Tom Kelly came out to see Morris — who told him to get the blank off the mound if he was going to yank him. Kelly didn’t, and the Twins made Cox pay for his mistake with a run in the 10th to give Morris and the Twins a 1-0 win and the 1991 series win.
Ralph Terry – Game Seven – 1962: The Giants enter the bottom of the ninth with just two hits off the Yankees righty (remember I said righty) 23-game-winner Ralph Terry. Lefty Matty Alou singles, then Terry whiffs the next two. Willie Mays doubles to put the winning run on second with cleanup hitter and fearsome LEFTY Willie McCovey now coming up. In a move that would NEVER happen today — especially since two years earlier in the same situation Bill Mazerowski hit the only walk-off series homer in history off the verty same Ralph Terry — the righty stays in and McCovey lashes a bullet at second baseman Bobby Richardson. A foot either way and the Giants win. Instead Richardson catches it to make Terry and Ralph Houk series heroes in a move that never would have happened today under ANY circumstances.
Fortunately I woke up after Richardson made the catch in a cold sweat, but none the worse for the wear and moving a step closer in my therapy to quietly sit there and watch Tito and the Almighty Pitch Count march merrily along.
Dave Long can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He hosts Dave Long and Company from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. each Saturday on WGAM – The Game, 1250-AM Manchester, 900-AM Nashua.