May 21, 2013
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Monday, July 02, 2012
Forty years ago today, one of the flukier injuries ever happened to a pitcher, derailing what could’ve been a great season. In fact, it derailed a season that could’ve arguably sealed up a Hall of Fame candidacy.
It was July 2, 1972, when veterans Twins starter Jim Kaat pitched against the White Sox. Kaat was having his best season in a long time—perhaps ever. He entered the day with a record of 9-2 and an ERA right around 2.00.
Kaat got off to a rare rocky start, allowing two runs in the first frame before settling down. By the sixth inning, Kaat had a nice 5-2 lead and seemingly could cruise to a win.
Something happened in the sixth, though. In this, the last season before the AL adopted the designated hitter rule, Kaat reached base on a fielder’s choice. Moments later, he had to slide into second to break up a double play and hit his hand but good in the process.
Kaat’s hand stung, but he had the adrenaline of the game to pull him through. After all, the pain would go away on its own soon enough, right?
It looked like it, as he retired the next six batters without any problem, but in the eighth frame, things caught up to him. The pain in his hand hadn’t gotten better. If anything, it was worse. And now Kaat couldn’t throw very well. He gave up two doubles and a single and couldn’t get out of the inning.
After the game, the team’s medical staff finally looked at Kaat’s hand and gave him the bad news; he’d broken it. He was done for the year. He won the game, giving him a 10-2 record. His ERA was 2.07, which would put him in the running for the ERA leader. It wouldn’t have won—both Luis Tiant and Gaylord Perry ended the year with ERAs under 2.00 (and Perry did it while pitching a ton of innings)—but it promised to be a great year of Kaat.
The point isn’t that Kaat was going to have an especially great season. There’s no way he’d overcome Perry in that year’s Cy Young vote. But a full strong season from Kaat that year could considerably affect his Hall of Fame chances.
It was only Minnesota’s 66th game of the year, and Kaat already had 10 wins. Even assuming he’d slack off and/or hit a rough patch, he was a good bet to win 20 that year.
If he wins another 10 games, that gives him 293 wins for his career. No, it’s not the magic number 300, but it’s pretty damn close. And it gives him a fourth 20-win season, including three in four years, as he also did it in 1974 and 1975.
For that matter, did the broken hand continue to affect Kaat in 1973? It was his worst year on the mound in a decade, and it really sticks out in his career. Kaat’s stat lines are that of a man with a delayed peak. After several solid years, he had a great first half to 1972, a pair of high-quality 20-win seasons in 1974-75, and right in between, this dismal little 1973, his only season in a long time as a below-average starting pitcher.
It’s all just water cooler conversation. No, the hand injury likely isn’t the reason why Kaat didn’t win 300. You have to engage in a few rounds of guessing and give him all the benefit of the doubt, but a little bit of alternate history guessing can be fun.
Actually, this sort of problem was all too typical of Kaat’s career. He was a high-quality pitcher in 1965, even better in a 25-win 1966 campaign. Then, in 1967, he got off to a slow start before having the greatest September by anyone you’ll ever see.
He threw 63 innings with an ERA around 1.50—and blew his arm out in his last start. He was still an effective pitcher the next several years, but he wasn’t as good as he’d been before. He didn’t really catch his stride until 1972, only to be freshly derailed by the broken hand suffered 40 years ago today.
Aside from that, many other events today celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is something occurring X-thousand days ago). Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d prefer to just skim.
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It was a really rough weekend for people in Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland, Virginia and Washington D.C. Storms, trees down, power outages and intense heat made it for a really crappy weekend. We were fairly lucky here at Chez Craigy. The power was out for only about 24 hours before coming back Saturday evening.
Even luckier: the ex-wife's power was still out as of late Sunday. Mother Nature can be tough and is usually capricious, but sometimes she's fair. Not that I'm petty about it or anything. OK, a little petty. Anyway, baseball happened yesterday:
Tigers 5, Rays 3: Tampa Bay is in freefall. The Rays dropped three of four to the Tigers. Clearly it was the Tigers dusting off the most awesomest road jerseys they've ever had on Saturday night that did the trick. Seriously, Tigers: keep the pullovers. They're dead sexy. And yes, I realize they didn't wear them yesterday. I just wanted to post this pic.
Marlins 5, Phillies 2: Miami sweeps the Phillies who have lost five straight. Ricky Nolasco said after the game:
"A sweep against anybody is big, but we know how good that team is and we're trying to prevent them from getting on a roll as well"
I see quotes like this from Phillies opponents a lot lately. Question: at what point do the other teams have to stop paying lip service like this to how good Philly is and treat wins over them like they would wins over any team with a .444 winning percentage?
Giants 4, Reds 3: Nice vulture job by Santiago Casilla. It was a perfect one, actually, because not only did he blow the save and vulture the win, but he also allowed an inherited runner to score thereby stiffing his predecessor with an earned run. Casilla entered the top of the ninth with a one-run lead and Jay Bruce on first; he had gotten there via a single off Javier Lopez. Casilla allowed Bruce to score, trying the game and blowing the chance for Ryan Voglesong to get the win after a good day's work, when he gave up three singles. He finally sets down the side and watches from the dugout as Buster Posey hit a double and Angel Pagan doubled him in (with help from Jay Bruce) with the winning run. Hard-earned win there, Mr. Casilla.
Brewers 2, Diamondbacks 1: Tied at one in the ninth, pinch-runner Carlos Gomez at first. They try to pick him off a gajillion times but they don't get him. he finally steals second, the throw from the catcher sails into the outfield and the throw to get him at third sails into the stands. Gomez trots home. Ballgame. You know those are the kinds of fundamentals that Kirk Gibson just loves to see screwed up. I'm sure he was something other than placid after the game.
Padres 2, Rockies 0: Great for Kip Wells winning his first game in nearly three years, but him throwing seven shutout innings against Colorado in Coors Field may be the biggest indictment yet against this pretty-frequently indicted 2012 Rockies team.
Angels 10, Blue Jays 6: Mike Trout hit the go-ahead homer in the eighth and the Angels scored seven runs in the final two innings to ruin Canada Day in Toronto. Trout went 2-for-4 with a walk and scored three times. He's now batting .339 on the year.
Twins 10, Royals 8: Trevor Plouffe homered twice. The Twins came back from being down 5-1, went up 10-5 and then held on to win 10-8. Josh Willingham homered, too. Despite having 17 of those on the year and 55 driven in, he was left off the All-Star team. But hey, three days off, yes?
Cubs 3, Astros 0: A sweep of the Astros by Chicago behind seven and two-thirds shutout innings by Travis Wood. Anthony Rizzo drove in another run.
Cardinals 5, Pirates 4: The Cards salvage one. Allen Craig continues to abuse Pirates pitching with his second homer in three days.
Yankees 4, White Sox 2: With starters dropping like flies lately, the one thing the Yankees seriously need is for dudes like Phil Hughes to step up. And up he has stepped his past couple of starts. In this one he allowed two runs over eight innings, helping save the bullpen on a day it needed a rest.
Nationals 8, Braves 4: Ryan Zimmerman homered and drove in four as the Nats take two of three from the Braves, as they always seem to do. Well, except for four-game series in which they always seem to take three of four.
Indians 6, Orioles 2: Jim Thome made his Orioles' debut but he didn't mash any taters. Shelley Duncan mashed a tater, however, and drove in two on a 3 for 4 day.
Red Sox 2, Mariners 1: Jason Vargas couldn't get any run support on a fine day of pitching, so it entered extras tied at one. In the 10th two runners reached on Brandon League and then David Ortiz hit a sac fly to score what would be the winning run off Lucas Luetge. Oh, and Will Middlebrooks left the game with hamstring tightness. I wonder if the White Sox are willing to deal their third baseman.
Athletics 3, Rangers 1: Yu Darvish struck out 11, but Travis Blackley still out-pitched him despite striking out three. Because strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they're fascist. Throw some ground balls—it's more democratic.
Dodgers 8, Mets 3: The Dodgers gave away a Hello Kitty bobblehead last night and they won. I submit that they should give away Hello Kitty bobbleheads all 81 homes games of the season.