Baseball History: Starting Pitcher Getting Knocked Out Early Doesn’t Always End Badly

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I was watching a game on ESPN the other day, and Rick Sutcliffe and Jon Sciambi got into a discussion about starting pitchers getting knocked out of games in the first inning. Sutcliffe, a former Cy Young Award winner, told an amusing tale about a time when he was playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers. It was early in Sutcliffe’s career, before he had established himself as a dominant starter, and according to Sutcliffe’s tale, he went into this particular game confident that he wouldn’t be needed for a while because the Dodgers had their ace, Jerry Reuss, on the mound. In fact, Sutcliffe was so confident that he went and got a “double Dodger Dog” to eat in the bullpen. Unfortunately, Reuss got hurt after facing just one batter, and Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda called on Sutcliffe to replace him. When Sutcliffe got to the mound, he says, Lasorda noticed a ketchup stain on his jersey and unleashed a Lasorda special on him, using multiple colorful words to basically ask, “Why in the world do you have ketchup on your jersey?”

As I often do when I hear these sorts of stories from ex-players, I took to the internet to see how much of the story I could verify. Of course, there’s no good way to confirm whether Sutcliffe actually entered a game with a ketchup stain on his jersey, and I don’t remember the Dodgers ever selling anything called a Double Dodger Dog, but I wanted to see if the details of the game were correct. As it turns out, they were!

The game in question happened on May 31, 1981, with Reuss — the runner-up in the previous year’s National League Cy Young voting and looking even better at 4-1 with a 1.61 ERA on the young season — taking the mound against the division rival Cincinnati Reds. On Reuss’s fourth pitch of the game, he pulled his left hamstring, and Reds right-fielder Dave Collins knocked the pitch into center field for a single. Lasorda, pitching coach Ron Perranoski, and trainer Paul Padilla rushed to the mound to check on Reuss, who tried to take a practice pitch but couldn’t even put enough weight on his leg to do that. So out went Reuss and in came Sutcliffe, possibly wearing a red splotch on the front of his jersey.

Photo of Reuss’s injury from the June 1, 1981, edition of the San Bernardino County Sun.

As Mike Davis of the San Bernardino County Sun described it in the next morning’s edition, “Sutcliffe warmed up for about 10 minutes, then started throwing batting practice to the Cincinnati hitters.” Sutcliffe allowed three runs in the first inning and a leadoff homer to start the second, and the Dodgers found themselves down 4-0 and facing an uphill battle.

Lucky for the Dodgers, the Reds ace didn’t fare too well. Mario Soto, who had finished fifth in the Cy Young voting in 1980, laid an egg in the third inning. Facing the bottom of the Dodgers lineup, Soto allowed the first six batters to reach base — four singles and two walks — and left the game without getting an out in the inning. By the time the inning ended, the Dodgers were leading, 7-4, and they never looked back. A three-run fifth inning and a six-run seventh inning gave the Dodgers 16 runs, and all the relievers who didn’t enter the game with ketchup on their shirts shut down the Reds offense. The seventh inning featured two rarities on one play: a relief pitcher — Dave Stewart — hitting a triple, and Mike Scioscia — who once caused Lasorda to joke that “Scioscia raced his pregnant wife and came in third” — scoring from first.

In the end, the Dodgers won, 16-4, and the official scorer chose to credit the win to Dave Goltz even though Sutcliffe was the pitcher of record when the Dodgers took the lead. The 12-run margin of victory, I thought, must be close to a record for the biggest win in a game in which your starting pitcher didn’t record an out.

And I was right. It is close, tied for the third-largest margin of victory under those circumstances. But while doing this search, I discovered a wonderful game and a downright magical piece of old-timey baseball writing, one of my favorite things.

Box score from the May 16, 1935, edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

On May 15, 1935, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Philadelphia Phillies met up at the Baker Bowl in Philadelphia. The Pirates sent Guy Bush to the mound to face Phillies starter Orville Jorgens. After the Pirates scored four runs against Jorgens in the top of the first, Bush faced seven batters in the bottom of the inning and retired just one. By the end of the inning, he had allowed five runs in 0.1 innings pitched.

Unfortunately for the Phillies, it was all Pittsburgh after that. Pirates reliever Bill Swift allowed six hits but no runs in 8.2 innings. For Philadelphia, Jergens got knocked out of the game in the second inning, and none of the relievers fared much better. Aided by an amazing seven Phillies errors, the Pirated scored 16 unanswered runs and won the game, 20-5.

The game story by Edward F. Balinger of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is so outstanding, though, that I feel the only fair thing for me to do is to transcribe the entire thing. So here it is (with some of my favorite parts in bold italics):

Buccaneers Trample Phillies, 20 to 5

Three Home Runs Feature Barrage of Nineteen Hits

(Arky) Vaughan, (Woody) Jensen, (Gus) Suhr Connect for Circuit; Quakers Make Seven Errors; Swift Victor After Relieving Bush

By Edward F. Balinger
Baseball Writer, Post-Gazette

PHILADELPHIA, May 15.—Cutting loose with a hail storm of hits, which included drives out of the lot by Suhr, Jensen and Vaughan, the Buccaneers today flogged the Phillies, 20 to 5, and made a clean sweep of their closing engagement in the East, which consisted of three one-sided combats.

Four Quaker moundsmen were hammered for a total of 19 blows, Lloyd Waner, Woody Jensen, Manager Pie Traynor and Bill Swift each producing three. Guy Bush started for the Pirates but his screw-ball delivery was not working up to snuff and before he made way for Swift six hits had netted five points with only one man retired. Scranton Bill finished and was touched for six more swats, but not a run could be coaxed off his curves.

Phils Make Seven Errors

Jorgens, (Ray) Prim, (Syl) Johnson and (Frank) Pearce were the Pirate victims. The Phile were charged with seven foozles.

When the Buccaneers got four runs before anybody had been retired in the game they figured everything was coming their way but soon found this dope had been exaggerated. Lloyd Waner singled through the box. Jensen bounced to (Lou) Chiozza whose assist was muffed by (Blondy) Ryan, and both runners were safe. Paul Waner walked to fill the bases, and then Vaughan doubled off the right field signs and (Johnny) Moore heaved wild past Chiozza, Lloyd and Jensen going home on the hit while Paul and Vaughan scored on the error.

The Phils clustered six swats in their half to collect five markers. (Ed) Boland singled to right and Chiozza forced him, Traynor to (Cookie) Lavagetto. Allen doubled over center to drive Chiozza across the pan. Moore singled to right scoring (Ethan) Allen. (Dolph) Camilli also hit safely to right, Moore stopping at second. (Johnny) Vergez singled to left, Moore racing home and Camilli reaching third. (Jimmie) Wilson doubled off the right wall, Camilli tallying to tie up the game. Swift relieved Bush and Ryan flied to Lloyd Waner, Vergez scoring after the catch.

Annex Five More

The Pirates recovered their four-run lead in the second round when they annexed five points. Lloyd Waner walked and Jensen flied to Boland. Paul Waner’s drive off the wall in right was held to a single, Little Poison going to third. Vaughan walked to clog the cushions. Traynor doubled over center to knock in the Waner boys. Prim went to Jurgens’ rescue and Suhr saluted him with a homer over the right fence on which Vaughan and Traynor also tallied.

Another Pirate marker was sneaked across in the third. Swift singled to left and Lloyd Waner forced him on a hopper to Chiozza, unassisted. Jensen was safe as Ryan fumbled his scorching drive. Paul Waner beat out a hit off Prim’s glove. With all bases occupied, Vaughan forced Paul from Camilli to Ryan as Lloyd trotted home.

One more Corsair crossed the saucer in the fifth. Swift singled to right, took second on a wild pitch, and went to third as Chiozza tossed Lloyd Waner out. Jensen then doubled over deep left and Swift jogged home.

Johnson pitched in the seventh after a pinch hitter had removed Prim and by bunching two homers the Buccos added four runs to their string. Lloyd Waner singled to center with one gone and Jensen ripped a four-bagger through the wire screen above the right wall, Lloyd also scoring. Paul Waner went clear to second as Boland dropped his fly and then Vaughan smote one far over the sign board.

Pearce occupied the slab in the eighth when five Corsair tallies went in. Lavagetto singled, took third on (Earl) Grace‘s double and both went home as Swift singled. Base hits by Lloyd Waner and Jensen filled the hassocks. Paul Waner was safe on Pearce’s fumble on which Swift scored, and when Lloyd Waner dashed in behind him, Pearce grabbed up the ball and pegged wild past the plate for a second error, Lloyd scoring, Jensen reaching third and Paul going to second. Vaughan roller to Camilli unassisted, Jensen scoring.

What a game, and what a game story! The starting pitcher gets knocked around and gets only one out, and his team ends up winning by 15 runs. Perhaps even more amazing, this game, which featured 31 hits, 25 runs, seven errors, and six walks, lasted just two hours and 19 minutes. The game also featured a relief pitcher (Swift) getting three hits, which has happened 92 times in baseball history, with 87 of those coming prior to 1960. The record is four hits by a relief pitcher, accomplished four times, most recently by Johnny Gorsica in 1941. The most recent reliever to get three hits in a game was Terry Mathews of the Florida Marlins in 1995.

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