Tagged: Nolan Ryan

The Big Unit vs. Mark McGwire, 6/24/97 in the Kingdome

I would like to describe the weather that June day, but since I was watching in the Kingdome from section 311, row 17, seat 10, all I saw was a gray dome. The Mariners who were good that year winning 90 games had Randy Johnson 11-1 pitching against Oakland’s Steve Karsay, 1-7.  I thought it would be an easy win for the Big Unit, but this is baseball and nothing is a given.

Randy struck out Jason McDonald leading off the third, giving him six strikeouts in the first ten batters. Rafael Bournigal then singled, scored on Geronimo Berroa’s double, who then scored on Mark McGwire’s double, before Randy whiffed Jose Canseco and former Mariner prospect Patrick Lennon.

Mariners down 2-0 when McGwire comes up in the 5th with two down, both on strikeouts. What happened next is what occurs when speed meets power at a precise spot in the bat, the sweetest of the spots, unless of course you are a Mariner fan. I was sitting down the left field line and saw the ball jump off McGwire’s bat with such velocity that when the ball reached it’s apogee, I heard a thundering crack, or was it an explosion. I would like to say I saw the ball after that, but it disappeared from my view as it headed for the scoreboard high on the wall, above the bleachers, and so far away from the plate it was unreachable. I looked at the scoreboard to see what lights the ball would break. But alas, the ball did not get there. In my mind’s eye, however, it got close, real close.

It was estimated to have gone 538 feet into the second deck of the bleachers just below the scoreboard. Naturally it was the longest homerun hit in the Kingdome. And I was there to almost see it.

George Williams homered for the A’s in the 9th to take a 4-0 lead. Randy went the distance striking out 19 and walking zero while giving up 11 hits. He was the fifth pitcher at the time to have struck out 19 in a game. The others being Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Steve Carlton, and David Cone. Carlton, a lefty like Johnson also was the losing pitcher in his 19 K performance. The 19 K’s by Randy was an American League record for a lefty and a Mariner team record.

The M’s lost 4-1, scoring a run in the bottom of 9th on Griffey Junior’s leadoff triple, scoring on Edgar Martinez groundout. Junior had a single, double triple, and walk in the game.

It was memorable game of course as you do not see 19 K’s every day, nor a 538 home run, nor Junior going 3-3 (a homer would have been nice though), but it still burns me 18 years later that Randy had 19 K’s and lost.  I did not know at the time, how could I, that the 538 blast may have been chemically induced. No matter. I lost the ball in the dark gray of the dome.  


Guy Wehring’s major league record and other little known career records

Baseball fans know career records like Cy Young‘s career win total of 511, Walter Johnson’s 110 shutouts, or Nolan Ryan‘s record of 5, 714 strikeouts. But few if any know that Guy Wehring has a career record too. Guy is the career leader in hit batsmen with 277. He accomplished this record pitching from 1887-1901. And just because he pitched and died before any of us were born and that it was not set in the modern era does not belie the fact he holds the record.

On the receiving end of getting hit is Hughie Jennings  (1891-1918) who was hit 287 times, perhaps plunked a time or two from Guy himself. For modern fans, Craig Biggio is second with 285.

Hall of Famer and first baseman Hughie Jenning...

Hall of Famer and first baseman Hughie Jennings played two seasons for the Phillies. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Who holds the record for issuing the most intentional walks? That dear friends is relief pitcher Kent Tekulve with 179 (1974-1989). How a relief pitcher can hold a record like this is curious, but he did pitch 1,437 innings. The player receiving the most intentional passes was Barry Bonds with 688, far surpassing Hank Aaron‘s total of 293. Just another Hank Aaron record the cheater broke.

There are records I did not know existed, but someone at MLB is keeping track. The following only holds true for the modern era. The number of fly ball outs a pitcher has recorded belongs to Livan Hernandez with 3,248 and the batter who has aired out the most is Carlos Lee with 2,785. Switching to the ground Tim Hudson has recorded the most ground outs with 4,355 and the batter with most ground outs is Juan Pierre whose current 3,253 is 17 ahead of Derek Jeter, with Ichiro third.

We know Mariano Rivera is the career leader in saves with 652, but did you know Arthur Rhoades is the career leader in holds with 231? Thought not.  Now you can one up your buddies.

One modern pitcher holds two records I find fascinating. Mark Buehrle holds the career record for getting hitters to hit into double plays with 310 and he holds the record for picking runners off base with 88. Andy Pettitte who gets praise for his ability to pick off runners is second with a mere 51, far behind Buehrle. Tip of the hat to Mark for his two distinguished records. Cal Ripken has hit into most double plays, logging in at 350. Alas no record found on which runner leads in getting picked off.

But there is a record for most pitches thrown, the record holder being C.C. Sabathia with 43, 552. Again a modern record, which I am sure if numbers had been kept we would see Cy Young’s name at the top. The batter who has seen the most pitches is Bobby Abreu at 33, 582, seventeen ahead of Ichiro.

Another blast from the past, like Wehring, is from the forgotten era, and that is Tony Mullane’s (1881-1894) record of 343 wild pitches. Who knew they kept track of wild pitches in those days?

Most balks is 90 by Steve Carlton, doubling the 45 of second place holder Bob Welch.

Most sacrifice flys goes to Eddie Murray with 128, beating out former teammate Cal Ripken who had 127.

And finally one record that will never be broken is 512, the number of sacrifice bunts held by Eddie Collins (1906-1930). The game has little small ball left, it is a power game. But throughout baseball history it is a game of numbers. And now you have some more to chew on.

Seattle Mariners create polydactyl monster

It’s a good thing I am a writer not a speaker, for I can type polydactyl, but I can’t pronounce it. Polydactyl actually refers to a person with six fingers and toes, and to be political correct, so as not to offend, they are not monsters.

What the Mariners have created has nothing to do with fingers or toes. Instead they created a six headed pitching rotation for the rest of the season, or the Mariners change their mind, whichever comes first. I don’t know the word for six headed so polydactyl will have to do.


Polydactyl (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This afternoon (Thursday) Joe Saunders will wrap up the series in Kansas City. The home stand beginning with Tampa Bay will have Iwakuma on Friday, James Paxton making his major league debut Saturday, Ramirez on Sunday, then Houston comes to town Monday when Walker will pitch, then Saunders on Tuesday. Felix has been pushed back to Wednesday giving his back more rest.

With roster expansion during September it gives the Mariners a chance to rest arms. They do not want Walker to pitch more than 165 innings or so. They want to baby him as Washington did with Stephen Strasburg.  Of course Strasburg had Tommy John surgery in 2010. The surgery has become common for young pitchers whose arms are babied. I have talked about this before, and will again.

It would do baseball good, not to mention young pitchers, to listen to Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan, both Hall of Famers, who know something about pitching. But baseball people have trouble seeing the obvious. Year after year young arms need surgery and baseball can’t figure it out. Pitches who throw lots of innings build up arm strength, those who don’t have arm breakdowns.

And now back to the Mariners. Pray for Taijuan Walker‘s arm. James Paxton’s too while you’re at it. The Mariners can use all the sound arms they can find. We shall see how the polydactyl monster works, not just for the two rookies, but for Saunders, Felix, and Iwakuma, none of whom are accustomed to an extra days rest. Their arms may atrophy.

Should the Mariners be worried about Joe Saunders?

Spring training has not been kind to Joe Saunders, a veteran pitcher expected to be a solid starter for the Mariners this season. In 11.2 innings he has allowed 20 hits, walked 6, given up 17 runs, 15 earned, checking in with a 11.57 ERA.

His numbers deserve a closer look, in spring, as well as regular season, to determine what to expect from him this season.

His spring training for 2011 were worse. He pitched 17.1 innings, 31 hits and a 12.46 ERA. During the regular season, however, he was 12-13, but with a solid 3.69 ERA. Arizona was not a bad team, they won 94 games, so looking at his numbers, the first impression is that his run support may not have been good. There is always one pitcher who is the hard luck guy on any team.

Last season in spring was another train wreck.. 14.2 innings, 25 hits, and a 7.98 ERA. During the regular season he was 6-10 with a 4.22 ERA with Arizona, then was traded to the Baltimore Orioles for the stretch drive and was 3-3 and a 3.63 ERA.

English: Joe Saunders

English: Joe Saunders (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Three horrible spring training seasons in a row, but each year pitching better once the regular season got under way, though not with spectacular numbers.

Many veteran pitchers work on various things during the spring. It may be a new pitch, it could be tinkering with old pitches, getting mechanics down, any number of things. Nolan Ryan was notorious for getting hit hard during the spring. He went to the Hall of Fame, so spring is not a guide to how a player will perform.

Saunders best years were with the Angels in 2008 and 2009, when he had back to back years of 17-7 and 16-7. Since then he is 30-43. The latter numbers are what is scary. He is not the pitcher he once was, certainly not the numbers expected of a number two starter. We don’t know yet where he will fit, but third or fourth is a likely landing spot.

He is a six inning pitcher. That is the average number of innings per start in his career, so saying he is a six inning pitcher is not a negative statement, like it would be for Eric Bedard, who had a reputation for coming out of games after six. Saunders numbers simply reflect his career, not a reputation.

I don’t think the Mariners should be worried about his spring, but based on his 30-43 record since his best years, I would not expect much. A .500 record would be an improvement.

The Nolan Ryan Almost No-Hitter In The Kingdome

The no-hitter is the Holy Grail for baseball fans. Everyone wants to say “I was at that game.” And when Nolan Ryan was pitching, it was the Holiest of Holies.


Were it not for Julio Franco I would have seen a no-hitter.


Texas Rangers in the Kingdome to play the Mariners, June 3, 1989 with the immortal Nolan Ryan pitching for Texas. The pitcher for Seattle that day was the very mortal Clint Zavaras making his major league debut.


That day, I am sure, is one of two things Clint will remember about his brief career, the other being his lone win. In his only season in the show Clint would start 10 games, pitch 52 innings, give up 49 hits, strike out 31 and walk 30, finishing with a 5.19 e.r.a. and a 1-6 record.


He pitched well for a young kid going up against Ryan. His butterflies had to have had butterflies, which no doubt contributed to his walking Cecil Espy, the first batter he faced, who would later score on Clint’s own error. He also walked the leadoff batters in the second and third, the latter being Espy again, who would steal second and score on a Jeff Kunkel single.


But Clint settled in, allowing only one hit the next five innings, a Ruben Sierra home run. When Sierra led off the ninth with a double, Tom Niedenfuer came in to pitch. Jay Buhner made an error accounting for two unearned runs.


But it was really Nolan Ryan’s day.


The first batter for the Mariners in the bottom of the first was Harold Reynolds. He hit a ground ball between second and third. I could be wrong, but it seemed it was the first pitch.


At the time I thought second baseman Julio Franco should have gotten to the ball. It looked like Franco wasn’t yet ready, seemed surprised, perhaps had been eyeing the Mariner Moose.


That was the only hit the Mariners got all day.


Ryan would walk two, both in the third and after the second walk he retired the final 22 batters, striking out 7 of those 22. He finished with 11 strikeouts.     


I did not see a Ryan no-hitter. Thank you Mr. Franco. But I did see one of Ryan’s one-hitters. And that is memorable.


Pitch Counts Equal Arm Injuries

Pitching coach Mike Maddox, so the story is told, once went to the mound and asked his pitcher if he was tired. The pitcher responded by asking what his pitch count was. Imagine determining whether you are tired based on pitch count. Forget how you feel. He must have been a lefthander.


Here are some Hall of Fame pitchers, there numbers, and what all have in common. Nolan Ryan, 27 years-5,386 innings-232 innings per year; Tom Seaver, 20 years-4,783-250 innings per year; Bob Feller, 18 years (lost nearly four seasons during World War 2)-3,827 innings-247 innings per year.


What they have in common is their belief that starting pitchers should throw more innings, not less. It is their contention that the high number of arm injuries suffered by pitchers today is that they do not throw enough.  And they have a point.


Injuries are part of the game and yes back when there were four man rotations, pitchers would get arm injuries. But the number of arm problems has risen as innings pitched has fallen. It is not coincidence.


Consider that the arm has muscles, like biceps, triceps; it has that rotator cuff thing, tendons, and other anatomy stuff. Exercise is required to build stamina, to keep the arm, or any part of the body, at peak performance levels. Yet, pitchers throw less than they used to as teams baby pitchers arms because they are afraid of losing the millions of dollars invested in those arms if pitchers have career ending injuries.


When he was a relief pitcher for the Dodgers Mike Marshall pitched 106 games in 1974, throwing 208 innings. Today many starters don’t throw that many innings.


Today he is Dr. Mike Marshall. He has a Master of Science degree in physical education and a Doctor of Philosophy in exercise physiology. So not only is he a pitcher, but he knows about muscle development. It is his belief that the conventional pitching motion is incorrect and that the pitching motion he developed would eliminate injuries.  You can find out more on his website www.drmikemarshall.com


Nolan Ryan, now president of the Texas Rangers, has thrown out pitch counts and the organization is building stamina by having their pitchers throw more and have instituted a year round conditioning program.


I hope it succeeds. You would think baseball people would listen to the likes of Tom Seaver, Bob Feller, Mike Marshall, and Nolan Ryan. They know pitching. They know conditioning. Three got into the Hall of Fame, not only because of talent, mental toughness, and smarts, but because of good conditioning. Throwing 250 innings per year without major arm problems is good evidence.


I look forward to the day when Maddux asks a pitcher if he knows his pitch count and gets the answer, “who cares, I can get this guy out.” I hope I live that long.