Shut ‘em out, hit a home run: “Pappas games”by James Gentile
May 31, 2013
Former major league pitcher Milt Pappas was a guest on the radio broadcast of the final game of the Cubs-Mets series a few weeks ago. He sat in with Pat Hughes and Kieth Moreland for an inning and shared a handful of anecdotes from his playing days for the listeners.
Milt was a fine pitcher with an impressive career, and as a consequence he's prone to tooting his own horn on occasion when asked to reminisce. On this particular afternoon in the press box, however, Milt very uncharacteristically did not once mention his near-perfect game from September of 1972.
Nor did Pappas furiously rant for the duration of his time on the broadcast about umpire Bruce Froemming's infamous call on a 3-2 pitch with two outs during the ninth inning of that nearly-perfect game.
As entertaining as Milt's lively (and still very bitter) recollection of that almost final at-bat can be, he instead tooted his horn about another proud performance from his resume.
When asked about the best hitting pitcher he ever saw, Pappas pivoted and instead reminisced on the events leading up to the afternoon of April 18, 1962:
Well, back in the late 50s and early 60s—I'm not going to toot my own horn—but the New York Yankees were the most dominant team in baseball. They won it every year. And we got beat the first two games they came in town.
A sportswriter came up to me on the third day and said, 'How do you beat the Yankees?' And I just wanted to go home because I was pitching the next day. So I said, "well it's very simple: you shut 'em out, you hit a home run, you win."
And what do I do the next night? I shut 'em out, hit a home run, beat 'em one nuthin'.
Pappas did in fact shut out the very potent Yankees lineup the following afternoon, but was pulled from the game after just six innings. But even with the early departure, Pappas' achievement—shutting a team out for more than six innings and going yard in the process—is still quite impressive.
When we strip a baseball game down to its core, it is really only about two things—scoring runs and preventing runs. When one man can win the war on both fronts just about single-handedly, it is a truly rare and special feat. Of course a pitcher will always rely on his defense during a shutout—there is no denying that. But when that pitcher amidst a shutout can also turn around and score his team's only run on offense, unassisted, his self-reliance deserves a special recognition.
So, as a tribute to Milt's bold prophecy before that cloudy afternoon in Baltimore's Memorial Stadium, I propose all games henceforth meeting those two criteria—shutting 'em out and going yard—should be dubbed 'Pappas games.'
Pappas games since 1950
According to Retrosheet records there have been 169 of these Pappas games since 1950 (google doc). In each case the bullpens held the shutout when needed and the starting pitcher was always victorious. On 116 occasions those pitchers went the full nine for a complete game shutout. In 25 games the pitcher's home run was lost within a rout of at least a 10-0 blowout. In 42 games, the winner was decided by no more than just three runs. In eight rare instances, the pitcher's solo home run was the only run scored in the entire affair.
And on just four spectacular occasions the pitcher went all nine innings and his solo home run stood alone on the scoreboard:
One-run Pappas games
|Pitcher||Date||Score||IP||RA||HA||K||BBA||At the plate|
|Bob Welch||6-17-83||1-0||9.0||0||6||4||5||2 Hits (1 HR), 1 RBI|
|Juan Pizarro||9-16-71||1-0||9.0||0||6||8||2||1 Hit (HR), 1 RBI|
|Jim Bunning||5-05-65||1-0||9.0||0||4||5||1||1 Hit (HR), 1 RBI|
|Early Wynn||5-01-59||1-0||9.0||0||1||14||7||2 Hits, 1 HR, 1 RBI|
|Odalis Perez||8-28-02||1-0||8.0||0||5||4||0||1 Hit (HR), 1 RBI, 1 R|
|Yovani Gallardo||4-29-09||1-0||8.0||0||2||11||1||1 Hit (HR), 1 RBI, 1 R|
|Bob Forsch||8-04-76||1-0||7.0||0||5||1||4||2 Hits (1 HR), 1 RBI, 1 R|
|Milt Pappas||4-18-62||1-0||6.0||0||2||5||1||1 Hit (HR), 1 RBI, 1 R|
Pappas, as it turns out, was also quite adept at this sort of thing. He is one of just 34 pitchers to do it more than once, and one of just five pitchers to do it at least four times. On two of these occasions, Milt did in fact go the distance and record a complete game as well. At the risk of sounding too ridiculous, we might refer to these complete game Pappas games as "super-Pappas games".
In any event, Hall of Famer Bob Gibson astoundingly recorded six of these super-Pappas games in his career, more than any other pitcher in the last half of the twentieth century:
|Pitcher||Pappas Games||Super-Pappas Games|
Naturally, with the slow dying of the complete game in major league baseball, these super-Pappas games have also become more of a rarity in recent seasons. Jordan Lyles is the last pitcher to go all nine with a longball on offense in his shutout of the Milwaukee Brewers on September 30 of last year. Prior to Lyles it was Johann Santana in his 3-0 2010 shutout of the Cincinnati Reds, and prior to that we'd have to go back to Mike Hampton in a 16-0 rout in 2005.
But the flame is still smoldering, dim as it may be. There are young pitchers with plenty of potential both on the mound and at the plate that could lead a new generation. Pitchers like the aforementioned Lyles and Cincinnati's Mat Latos, who now has two non-CG Pappas games to his name, should carry the torch as it's passed from veterans like Cliff Lee and Tim Hudson, both of whom finally achieved their own Pappas games in 2011.
The database I used for this query was only updated to the 2012 season, so there may have even been a Pappas game this season that's slipped through the cracks, though I certainly don't recall one. If you do know of any such game to have occurred so far in the 2013, or one any in the near future, I'd appreciate it if you'd post it to the comments to give it its due respect.
References and Resources
Thanks to Retrosheet, Baseball Heat Maps, and "GIF-guy" Matt Hunter.
James Gentile writes about baseball at Beyond the Box Score and The Hardball Times. You can follow him on twitter @JDGentile