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Dance with the four that brung ya

Lew Burdette, Warren Spahn, Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax, Mudcat Grant, Jim Kaat, Jim Lonborg, and Mickey Lolich have long been extinct. Now, it seems that Vern Law, Ken Holtzman, Jon Matlack, John Tudor, Frank Viola, Jack Morris, and Curt Schilling are relics too.
Members of the first group all pitched crucial World Series games on two days rest. Those in the second group all started game seven of a World Series on three days rest after making two prior starts.
This year, however, both the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Boston Red Sox declined to use their ace on three days rest in the crucial fourth game of their respective League Championship Series. Arizona, facing elimination, did not use Brandon Webb despite the fact that he went 18-10 with a 3.01 ERA, and had pitched only 6 innings in game one. The D’Backs opted instead for Micah Owings, whose record was 8-8 with a 4.30 ERA. Owings didn’t make it out of the fourth inning, in which Colorado scored 6 runs on the way to a 6-4 win.
Then the Red Sox, down two games to one, elected to start Tim Wakefield instead of Josh Beckett. Wakefield went 17-12 this year, but gave up 4.72 earned runs per nine innings. Beckett went 20-7 with a 3.27 ERA. Like Webb, Beckett had pitched only 6 innings in the first game of the series. Moreover, Beckett had pitched a shut-out against the Yankees for Florida on three days rest in game six of the 2003 World Series.
Cleveland chased Wakefield in the fifth inning and defeated Boston 7-3. Boston is still alive, and if they win the series behind well-pitched starts in the next three games, manager Terry Francona will be vindicated. If.
In recent playoff history pitchers starting on three days rest apparently have not fared very well. This is odd because modern starting pitchers work fewer innings during the regular season than the likes of Vern Law and Jack Morris did. Moreover, unlike the legends of past post-seasons, they would only be expected to work six or seven innings on three days rest. To be sure, post-modern starters are less accustomed than starters from the 1950-1990 era to pitching on three days rest. But Burdette, Spahn, Gibson, Koufax, Grant, Kaat, Lonborg, and Lolich weren’t used to working on two days rest. All of them except for Kaat and Lonborg pitched extremely well for nine innings when duty called.
Francona was also concerned, I understand, about shortening his rotation and thus forcing his lesser starters (including the 40 year-old Schilling) to pitch on short rest. But Francona could have avoided this, if necessary, by pitching Wakefield in game 5. In my view, his goal should have been to have Beckett start three times. The rest could have been sorted out.
For me, the question is: who are the wimps? I think it’s the modern push-button managers (the ones who designate relievers to work specific innings in close games with little regard to the nuances of the given game), not the starting pitchers.
JOHN adds: I can’t resist a couple of Twins-related anecdotes. Paul noted that Sandy Koufax pitched in the World Series on two days rest. That was in 1965, against the Twins. We wrote about it here. The beginning of the story is Game 1, which Koufax would normally have pitched. But he sat it out because it fell on Yom Kippur. That caused him to pitch games 2, 5 and 7, the finale after just two days rest. Koufax’s fast ball and curve were the two best pitches in baseball at the time, but after a couple of innings he realized that he couldn’t throw his curve ball. So he threw nothing but fast balls the rest away against one of the hardest-hitting teams of modern times–and won a three-hit shutout, 2-0.
The other story is about Jack Morris, who was nearing the end of his career when he helped the Twins win the 1991 World Series. He started Game 7, which turned out to be a classic pitchers’ duel. After nine innings it was a scoreless tie. Legend has it that after Morris retired the Braves in the top of the 9th, Tom Kelly, the Twins manager, came over to Morris on the bench and said, “Jack, you’ve pitched a great game. We can’t ask anything more of you; I’m going to the ‘pen.” Morris protested that he was ready and able to pitch the 10th, and Dick Such, the pitching coach, sidled over and said, “Tom, Jack’s still throwing the ball well. I think he can go another inning.” Kelly reportedly thought for a few seconds and said, “Ah, what the hell. It’s only a game.” He sent Morris out to pitch the 10th; Morris set down the Braves and the Twins won in the bottom of the inning, 1-0.
I infer from that story that starting pitchers don’t have to be wimps; more important, perhaps, managers don’t have to be wimps, either.

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