Archive for the ‘San Francisco Giants’ Category

With the Giants again in the playoffs, and feeling like they might be ready to create the magic of a pennant-winning run once again, here’s the story of how they won the 1989 pennant. The Chronicle’s Carl Nolte described the key scene in game 5 of the NLCS vs. the Cubs like this:

In the eighth, with two out, Mike Bielecki gave up three walks in a row, and Cubs manager Don Zimmer sent for his ace of aces, Mitch Williams, to face Clark.

“Strength against strength,” Zimmer said.

Williams is a bearded, intense man they started calling “Wild Thing” in honor of the relief pitcher Charlie Sheen played in the movie “”Major League,” except he doesn’t particularly like the nickname any more.

The Candlestick sound system played Williams’ theme at full blast: “Wild Thing/You make my heart sing/You make everything /Groovy.” The 62,084 fans were on their feet, roaring.

But Clark, glowering with lamp black under his eyes to keep the glare down, thought of only one thing. “There were 62,000 fans yelling and screaming, and the only thing I’m worried about was the baseball. I couldn’t even tell you what Williams’ eyes looked like, or if he had a beard.”

Williams threw him five pitches; Clark hit the sixth, two runs scored, the Giants went ahead 3-1.


There was pandemonium at Candlestick, wild cheering and shouting nearly everywhere in the city. In the ninth, though, the Cubs nearly did it.

It was the reverse of the Giants’ big moment – two out, bases loaded. But this time, Bedrosian, the Giants reliever, got the side out.

In the clubhouse later, soaked with champagne, Clark credited others. “My teammates were great and so were Bay Area fans,” he said.

“We’ve all seen athletes rise to the occasion,” said Craig. “You saw that again today.”

It was a day so special that the two Bay Area scientists who won the Nobel Prize yesterday cut a news conference short to go to the ballgame. It was also the hottest October 9 in 55 years, Columbus Day and Yom Kippur rolled into one. “It was a beautiful ending,” said David Gonsoroski at Gino and Carlo’s bar in North Beach. “The weather cooperated for a Columbus Day win. Hurray for North Beach! Hurray for Columbus!”

When the game ended, all over the city, from the Embarcadero to Ocean Beach, cars honked their horns, firecrackers saved from the Fourth of July for this occasion went off. People gave total strangers high-fives.

The city’s joy was loud enough to hear: It was as if San Francisco itself had roared.

Before that moment, the city had been giving off a metallic hum as thousands of radios and television sets tuned into the game.


In the television department of the Emporium on Market Street, 108 television sets were on display, and most of them were tuned to the game, drawing a crowd of 150 people.

“Normally we have the TVs tuned to KQED, the educational station, because we don’t want the subject matter to absorb people,” said salesman Norman Zukowsky. “But today we had to turn on the game to avoid bloodshed.”

In the Financial District, Bill Norris, who makes his living as a panhandler, turned off his transistor radio between innings because the batteries were failing fast and the voice of Giants announcer Ron Fairly, crackling with excitement, was fading away.

“Oh, I’m a big fan,” said Norris, who came to the Bay Area from Illinois, home of the Cubs. “I’m rooting for the Giants now because I live here.” Actually, he lives in an alley off New Montgomery Street.

In other parts of the city, there was a lot of tough talk about what the Giants would do to the A’s, once the World Series starts on Saturday. It will be the first series between teams from the same region since 1956, when the New York Yankees beat the Brooklyn Dodgers.

About 4,000 Giants tickets will go on sale in a phone lottery today.

“I expect to see a lot of brawls in the bars and clubs,” said Aaron De Beers, who works at the Cafe Trieste in North Beach. “It will be fun.”

And here’s some excerpts from Ray Ratto’s story for the Chronicle on the Giants closing out the Cubs in five games with that afternoon game at Candlestick on October 9, 1989:

The Cubs collected 10 hits and 14 baserunners yesterday, but until the ninth inning, all they had was a single, unearned run to show for it. That came in the third, when Jerome Walton hit a line drive into the path between Mitchell’s eyes and the sun in left field for a two-base error. Mitchell was without his sunglasses at the time, but said, “They wouldn’t have done any good anyway; the sun goes right through those things. I just put my glove where I thought the ball was going to be.” Walton then scored on Ryne Sandberg’s double to right.

True to form for the series, though, even that ended badly for the Cubs. Sandberg tried to make it to third, but chopped his steps rounding second and was thrown out by a combination of throws from Pat Sheridan and Robby Thompson.

“That was a big play, no question,” Giants manager Roger Craig said later. “If he’s safe, it’s a man on third with one out, and (Mark) Grace would be coming up soon.”

Reuschel faced other tight scrapes in the [first, with Mark Grace and Jerome Walton on first and third with two out], fourth, sixth and eighth, but escaped each time because of his skill and those of the gentlemen behind him.

In the fourth, he hit Andre Dawson on the wrist with a 1-2 pitch, and Luis Salazar followed with a base hit to right that sent Dawson to third. Shawon Dunston, though, grounded sharply to Thompson, who began the Giants’ seventh double play of the series.

In the sixth, successive singles by Marvell Wynne and a ubiquitous Grace put runners at the corners with one out, but Dawson, who finished the series with two hits in 19 at-bats, flied to right and Salazar grounded gently to Thompson.

In the eighth, Reuschel walked Walton, watched as Sandberg sacrificed him to second – Sandberg’s second sacrifice of the entire season – and walked Grace intentionally with two out to get to Dawson, who bounced back to the box, his eighth failure with men in scoring position in 10 opportunities.

With all those opportunities and all those zeros, the Cubs were probably asking for what they got. And what they got, of course, was Clark.

He started the seventh with a first-pitch triple that headed down the right-field line, ticked off Dawson’s glove and nestled in the corner, enabling a moderately gimpy Clark to lumber to third. “The ball just kept tailing away from him,” Clark said of Dawson. “I was around first, and he hadn’t even gotten to the ball yet to throw it to the cutoff man, so I just kept running.”

Mitchell followed with a one-strike fly ball to deep center, scoring Clark easily and tying the game.

“It really wasn’t even a strike,” Mitchell said, “but in that situation I’m going to be aggressive. They’d been working me away all day, so I had to go out and get one.”

[In the eighth] Candy Maldonado . . . fought the temptation to try to save his entire season with a swing and coaxed 10 pitches and a two-out walk from Bielecki. Then came Butler, who also worked Bielecki to a full count before walking himself.

“I guess I was a little tired,” Bielecki acknowledged. “I wanted to get that last out and take it from there. I tried to reach back, and there was nothing there.”

At that point, Cubs manager Don Zimmer went out to talk to Bielecki and decided to let him pitch to Thompson. “He asked me how I felt, and I told him I could get him out. I missed with the first two pitches, then I just lost it.”

The four-pitch walk loaded the bases for Clark.

Zimmer called for his stopper, Mitch Williams, and everything his fastball would allow.

“I threw him all fastballs except for one,” Williams said. “At 1-2, I threw him a slider, up and in and exactly where I wanted it. It should have struck him out, but he fouled it back. That’s the best pitch I’ve got, and he fouled it off.”

The next pitch was the fastball, and Clark lined it over second base, the perfect end to a near-perfect series.

“I was talking to Mitch (Kevin Mitchell) in the on-deck circle, and he said, “You remember this guy,’ ” Clark said. “I said, “I do,’ and Mitch said, “Go get it done,’ and I said, “It’s done.’ ”

It was Clark’s third hit of the game – the team had just four – and his 13th of the postseason, in 20 at-bats. They were his seventh and eighth RBIs of the series, one short of the N.L. Championship Series record held by teammate Matt Williams. It was the hit of the season, one that Clark greatly merited as the series’ most valuable player.

But not quite the end, because the Cubs didn’t exactly go away. Steve Bedrosian, who replaced Reuschel, nearly pitched the Giants back into trouble because of successive singles by pinch-hitter Curtis Wilkerson, Mitch Webster and Walton, the last of which made it 3-2.

“My arm’s hangin’, man,” said Bedrosian, who gained his third consecutive save in his fourth consecutive appearance. “My fastball didn’t have a lot of giddy-up on it, so when Sandberg came up, I had to change up there. I’d just thrown 10 fastballs in a row, and you can’t do that.”

With the tables neatly turned and Sandberg, who had a moderately spectacular series himself, at the plate, Craig went to the mound to ask Bedrosian what he wanted to do.

“It wasn’t what he said, but the way he said it,” Craig said. “He said, “I want this guy.’ A lot of guys tell you that, but sometimes you can tell what they really want is to be the hell out of there.”

It took one pitch. Sandberg, who hit an even .400 in the series, sent a modest grounder to Thompson, who backed up a bit to make sure he got a proper hop and threw to Clark for the final out, at 2:54 p.m.


Read Full Post »

To commemorate the day of the Loma Prieta earthquake, or really the morning of, here’s the story (and picture below) by Marc Sandalow that appeared on the S.F. Chronicle’s front page on Oct. 17, ’89:

Candlestick Park will host its first World Series game in 27 years tonight as the San Francisco Giants try to reverse the one-sided Battle of the Bay.

Trailing the Oakland A’s two games to none in the best-of-seven series, the Giants and their fans tried to put the best face on their prospects. But in Oakland, they were already planning a victory parade.

“The mood has really chilled,” said David Yachimowicz, who stood on Geary Street across from Union Square, selling Giants T-shirts. Sales were abysmal.

“It was supposed to be a battle of the Bay, not a steamroller by the A’s,” he said.

The A’s are just two victories away from winning their first World Series crown since 1974. The Giants have not won a World Series during their first 21 seasons in San Francisco, and they must win four of the next five games to triumph this year.


In the East Bay, the mood was one of quiet confidence. In San Francisco, long faces revealed a begrudging acceptance that this year’s baseball bragging rights may belong to Oakland.

“The A’s are playing just as great as everyone expected,” said Mac Dunn, a Giants fan from Sebastopol. “I don’t want to be negative, but the Giants are in their late season slump. A lot of us were expecting it even earlier.”

Tonight’s contest begins at 5:35, and temperatures are expected to fall into the upper 50s. To the disappointment of some Giants fans, who had hoped a traditional Candlestick fog would dampen the A’s bats, weather forecasts call for clear skies with 10- to 20-mile-per-hour winds from the west.

Giants manager Roger Craig said yesterday that he will make some lineup changes for tonight’s game. He will play Ken Oberkfell at third base and move Matt Williams to shortstop in place of Jose Uribe and will play Pat Sheridan in right field in place of Candy Maldonado.


Regardless of the outcome on the field, some San Franciscans let it be known that they consider it a major accomplishment even to be hosting baseball’s Fall Classic.

“The West Coast wins again, and the East Coast loses,” said a smiling Nick Spina, a contractor putting the final touches on a new downtown store. “If the Giants lose, they lose, but we’ve got the World Series.”

The last time the Giants hosted a World Series was in 1962, when Willie Mays played center field and BART was just a concept. The Giants lost that series to the New York Yankees in seven games.

Gala Party

Last night, a gala party sponsored by the Giants filled the grand ballroom at the St. Francis Hotel, with an invitation list including Commissioner of Baseball Fay Vincent and the owners of all 26 Major League teams. Giants first baseman Will Clark and Williams attended a party in their honor, given by their agents, at a South of Market club.

For the record, yesterday was a travel day, and hundreds of representatives from Major League Baseball and the media staying in Oakland packed their bags and drove across the Bay Bridge, checking into San Francisco hotels.

Some Giants fans found reason for hope in the change of ballparks. They said the familiar fans, contours and winds of the park will provide their team with the winning margin.

Others said National League rules, which will be enforced in Candlestick, will favor the Giants. The National League requires the pitcher to bat, while the American League allows a team to designate another player to hit for the pitcher.

“Now the A’s will have to play real baseball,” said Keith Angerman, a civil engineer from Marin and an avid Giants fan. “No more sissy rules.”


In Oakland, cautious fans began preparing for a celebration. If Oakland continues its domination, the A’s could be World Series champions as soon as tomorrow.

Plans were already being made for a victory parade – much like the one that was scrapped last year after the Los Angeles Dodgers defeated the A’s – and a fireworks celebration.

Civic boosters announced that a parade will be held on the first business day after the conclusion of the series, if the A’s win. The parade would proceed six blocks down Broadway, from 20th Street to 14th Street, and end up at City Hall, where the team would be honored by city leaders.

“We’re not banking on it – we’re just planning for it,” said an extremely guarded Tim Gallen of the Celebrate Oakland committee. “We’re cautiously optimistic, but after last year, no one is going to break the spell, man. We’re still superstitious and hoping.”


Even if most Oakland fans seemed sure that the series will soon be over and the A’s quest for a world championship will be fulfilled, in the sober sunshine of the city’s financial district, there was little in the way of rubbing it in.

“No one forgot what it felt like last year,” said Cassie Arnold, a third-generation Oakland resident. “We know what it’s like to get killed, so I’m sympathetic.”

For those who are not among the 62,000 fans with tickets to this week’s games at Candlestick, a big-screen television will broadcast the games at Oakland’s Jack London Waterfront.

The picturesque scene may not be comfortable for Giants fans, however. Of the 39 teams who have trailed 2-0 in the World Series, only 10 have come back to win.

“We’re down, our backs are against the wall,” Giants manager Craig conceded after the latest loss Sunday night.

“This thing could turn around at home. This game can humble you in a minute. You win a couple games and you’re riding high. I’m not saying Oakland is like this, but all of a sudden, it can turn around.”

(The game was scheduled for 5:35, with Bob Welch and Don Robinson pitching, and KSFO, KNBR, KCBS, KNTA, and KLOK all carrying the game on radio.)


Read Full Post »

It happened on September 27, 1989. The Chronicle reported:

The Bay Area’s baseball dream – a World Series between San Francisco and Oakland – moved a huge step closer to reality last night when both the Giants and the A’s clinched the championship of their divisions. The A’s won the American League’s Western Division title at the Oakland Coliseum by beating the Texas Rangers, 5-0. Hours later, the Giants won the National League West when the second place San Diego Padres were mathematically eliminated by losing to the Cincinnati Reds, 2-1, in the 13th inning. The Giants actually backed into the title, because they lost their own game to the Los Angeles Dodgers, 1-0 – but they made baseball history anyway. It was the first time that two teams from the same region clinched division titles on the same night.

The A’s struck early with an enormous two-run homer by Jose Canseco in the first inning of their game at the Coliseum. The ball went up into the second deck, and for all intents and purposes, the game was over right then. “When Jose hit that homer,” said starting pitcher Mike Moore, “I just went out and told myself that might be all I get tonight.”

Moore then went on and threw a one-hitter until he was relieved in the seventh inning. The outcome was never really in doubt, but the fans stood for the entire ninth inning anyway. When the last man was out, the players mobbed first baseman Mark McGwire, who made the putout, and pitcher Gene Nelson, who had relieved Moore. The crowd roared, and the players took baseballs and tossed them in the stands for souvenirs.

“This is great,” said Susan Nelson of Pittsburg. “It’s even sweeter than last year.” “Yeah, this is fun,” McGwire said in the clubhouse later, as the players sprayed champagne over each other, sports reporters and TV people. “It was a tough road, so it’s better than last year. I think a lot of people wrote us off early. . . . But through it all, we never gave up on ourselves.”

Walter J. Haas Sr., the team’s owner, was soaked with champagne. He didn’t mind. “I’m just so proud,” he said. “They say no team ever repeats, and we did.”

For the Giants, the drama was dragged out until it was almost agony. They needed only one win or a San Diego loss to clinch, but they lost their third straight at Dodger Stadium. It was the only time they had been swept in a series all season. Now their fate was in the hands of the Reds, playing at San Diego. The Reds led most of the game, but the Padres came back to tie it up in the ninth inning.

The Padres, who had been red-hot all month, had the bases loaded in the 11th inning with one out, but they failed to score. In the 13th, they had the tying run on third base when Garry Templeton struck out. All this time, the Giants sat in the visiting clubhouse at Dodger stadium, drenched in gloom, but still hopeful, listening to a broadcast of the drama in San Diego. When the Padre game was over, the Giants broke out the champagne. “You’ve got to love it,” Clark yelled. “We wanted to win it on the field, but . . . we’ll take it any way we can get it,” Clark said before the end of the Padres game. “It’s suspended animation.”

Both the Giants and the A’s will probably be favored to win their league championship series. The Giants face the Chicago Cubs, a team that has failed to win the big games so often that being a Cubs fan has become an American cult. The Cubs have only appeared in the league playoffs once – in 1984. They have not played in the World Series since 1945 and last won the series in 1908, when Teddy Roosevelt was president. But this year’s incarnation of the Cubs is a scrappy young team led by Don Zimmer, a canny veteran manager who once was a coach with the Giants. Their most colorful player is relief pitcher Mitch Williams, who once said, “I pitch like my hair’s on fire.” Fans call him “The Wild Thing.”

“We should have folded,” said McGwire, “”but we didn’t. That’s what makes this year a lot more special.” A Bay Area World Series? “”It would be the ultimate baseball experience of a lifetime,” said Bobby London, who has season tickets to both the A’s and the Giants. “You cannot ask for anything more.”

[By the way, the 5-0 win was the A’s last shutout of the year:  Three double plays helped the A’s register their 20th shutout of 1989, a fairly astonishing number that shows how important pitching was in getting the A’s through this championship year. Jamie Moyer would have many days ahead of him, most better than this one: he got through just the first inning and two batters in the second, giving up six hits and three runs, and closed the season at 4-9.]

Read Full Post »

Ray Ratto of the San Francisco Chronicle talked about one of the Giants’ biggest comebacks of 1989, vs. the Dodgers, of course, on September 20:

For the second time in 16 days, the Giants interrupted the reading of the last rites, this time by rallying from seven runs down and scoring five times with nobody out in the bottom of the ninth inning to beat Los Angeles, 8-7.

It wasn’t their biggest comeback of the year, because they had come from eight runs back September 4 to beat Cincinnati, 9-8. But last night’s comeback almost certainly has to finish off the San Diego Padres and Houston Astros; no sane person would still harbor hope when the team they’re trying to catch is winning games from beyond the crypt.

“We’ve got to win it now,” Giants manager Roger Craig said in an almost incredulous tone. “That’s got to take the starch out of everybody. They won big games tonight, but ours was bigger than theirs.”

Indeed. The Padres beat Cincinnati, 3-1, in 10 innings, and the Astros beat Atlanta, 7-6, in 14 innings. But it was all rendered small potatoes by Brett Butler’s hard grounder down the first-base line, San Francisco’s seventh consecutive hit, which scored Chris Speier with the game-winning run.

“When they (Padres and Astros) watched the 11:30 SportsCenter, we were behind 7-0,” Will Clark said. “I imagine they’ll be in for a little surprise when they wake up this morning.”

The surprise, though, was slow in building. After 2 innings, the Dodgers already had put seven runs on the board.

They picked up one run in the first off Giants starter Bob Knepper with back-to-back soft singles by Alfredo Griffin and Willie Randolph and a warning-track fly by Eddie Murray. Then they put the boot in hard, scoring three times in the second and three more times in the third, on pitcher John Wetteland’s bases-loaded double.

That was all the Dodgers needed. That had to be all they needed. What fool would think otherwise?

Well, the ship of fools in the home dugout, to mention a few. But even their dream took time to construct.

It started with rookie pitcher Stuart Tate, who had been part of the September 1 call-up but hadn’t seen action in nearly three weeks. He came on in the third after Wetteland’s double chased Randy McCament, and proceeded to retire the eight men he faced, four on strikeouts, four on fly balls. He even got himself a standing ovation from the very disgruntled crowd of 21,420.

“I didn’t think it was going to make that much of a difference,” Tate said. “I was glad I finally got an opportunity to pitch after so long. I think that might have been why I wasn’t nervous when I went out there, because I’d been here for so long. There was no sense in being nervous.”

Besides, if he had known he was going to provide the initial impetus for Absurd Comeback II, he might have been scared green. As it was, his eight outs were followed by 12 others, provided by Ernie Camacho and eventual winner Trevor Wilson. The only Dodger to reach base after Wetteland was Randolph, and that was on Matt Williams’ sixth-inning error.

So the Giants had half the battle won. The other half began with Kevin Mitchell’s RBI groundout and Ernest Riles’ two-run homer in the sixth that made it 7-3.

“That’s when we first thought we could win it,” catcher Terry Kennedy said, “because now it’s four runs, and we can do that.”

They did. Moreover, they did it the way they did it in Cincinnati, in a hurry, beginning with Mitchell’s 46th homer, a shot over the center-field fence off the Dodgers’ best reliever, Jay Howell, which made it 7-4. Riles followed with a ground single to right, and Williams, who had struck out in his three previous appearances, dented a 6-for-51 slump with a line double off the fence in right-center to make it 7-5.

Kennedy then grounded a single to right to score Williams, making it 7-6. The killing blow, though, came on the next play, when Howell was replaced by rookie Mike Hartley and Candy Maldonado was replaced by Chris Speier. Speier hit a line drive to right that Mike Marshall dived for and missed; the ball kicked off his leg and a good 30 feet away, moving Kennedy’s replacement, pinch-runner Mike Benjamin, to third.

“Speier’s ball, that’s when we knew we won it,” Mitchell said. “If Marshall catches that ball, it’s a double play.”

He didn’t, and it wasn’t. The Dodgers were checkmated, but they played out the final moves. Greg Litton grounded a single to left to score Benjamin with the tying run, and veteran John Tudor, who replaced Hartley, gave up Butler’s single on a belt-high, 1-0 breaking ball .

“That’s what makes this game amazing,” Butler said. “It can break your heart and it can exhilarate you.”

The Giants, therefore, must have exhilarated their way right into the postseason.

Read Full Post »

If you’re like me, you grew up familiar with the Humm Baby Roger Craig who seemed to be a cheery elderly uncle for the motley Giants crew, knew how to guide them toward excellence, and was always optimistic. But here’s a shot of him when he was on the other side, pitching for the Dodgers in 1959. This is Craig juggling some baseballs while waiting to find out whether the Dodgers would play the Milwaukee Braves in a three-game playoff for the pennant. He’d pitched a complete-game, 1-run game against the Cubs to put the Dodgers in position for the playoff.


Read Full Post »

Mitch wasn’t quite a one-year wonder, but at this point it seems like he was, and yes, it was a wonderful 1989 season. Read some of the Chronicle’s game story for a 7-6 win over the Braves in Fulton County Stadium on June 2:

Kevin Mitchell hit the longest ball of the evening, but the biggest run of the Giants’ 7-6 win over Atlanta last night came off a walk.

On a night when balls and fielders were pounding the outfield walls of Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, it was Ernest Riles’ bases-loaded walk in the top of the ninth that ended up scoring the deciding run in a game that Mitchell seemed to have guaranteed and the Giant bullpen seemed hellbent to return.

Mitchell hit two homers – one coming within 10 feet of being only the 10th ball ever to clear the first deck of the stadium – to steal the show from Rick Reuschel, who won his 10th game of the year; Robby Thompson, who homered and doubled to improve his average to .282, and Riles.

Mitchell doesn’t mess with ground balls. He aims for the stratosphere, sometimes pushing the envelope a bit. His second homer, which followed [Robby] Thompson’s sixth homer of the season and fourth in 11 games, was an enormous thing, one which bounced off the bottom of the auxiliary scoreboard in left and soberly was estimated at 440 feet.

“”That wasn’t my longest,” Mitchell said. “”Nothing was as long as the one I hit against Fernando (Valenzuela on April 12). His (pitch) was a fastball. This was a changeup.”

He did allow, though, that it might have been the longest home run he ever hit off a changeup. The victim was Tom Glavine, who was pounded for six runs in four-plus innings.

“”I love hitting here,” Mitchell raved. “”The ball really carries here. You don’t have to be a strong man to hit a ball out of this yard. If you don’t get out of here with 20 homers a year, you’re not going to hit 20 in any park.”

Mitchell’s season total currently stands at 17, with 51 RBIs.

When Mitchell caught a foul ball bare-handed in late April in St. Louis, it provided what wound up being the enduring highlight of his season, but the Chronicle noted that Willie Mays had done the same in a game against the Pirates: he couldn’t reach across with his glove to snag a hooking line drive, so he reached out and caught the ball with his bare hand.
In the dugout, Mays asked manager Leo Durocher, “Leo, didn’t you see what I did out there?”

“No,” Durocher retorted. “And you’re going to have to do it again before I believe it.”

By the All-Star break, Mitchell had 31 home runs and 81 RBIs through 87 games. That pace didn’t last, but he and Clark were the two star hitters on a Giants team that wasn’t stacked with the level of talent the A’s had.

Read Full Post »

Even back in July 1985, as portrayed in a Sports Illustrated article, Reuschel was an old-timer, then pitching for the Pirates:

Three years after rotator-cuff surgery, two years after a stint in Class A and one year after being told he was not wanted by anyone in baseball, the 36-year-old war-horse is 7-2 with a 2.40 ERA in 10 starts and two relief appearances.

When the Yankees released him on June 9, 1983, Reuschel wasn’t ready to give up. He took to the woods, not to engage in transcendental meditation or unscramble Zen paradoxes but to play catch. “My hand was always sore,” said [agent Jim] Bronner, who split catching chores with his partner, Bob Gilhooley. Whichever agent wasn’t catching the client would call around the league, and on June 27 Reuschel signed a contract with Quad Cities of the Class A Midwest League.

A winner of 133 major league games, Reuschel was back where he started with pimply-faced kids on crowded buses traveling to towns like Beloit, Wausau and Peoria.

“Degrading?” says Reuschel. “No, not at all. Down there, all they had to do was play baseball. They’re not worrying about how much teammates are making or how to keep Uncle Sam from getting his share. It was simple, and very innocent.”

In 1984, the Cubs left him off the postseason roster and that winter “Reuschel was resigned to a future in dairy farming, but eventually Reuschel joined the Pirates in Bradenton for spring training. He wore uniform No. 70, a number usually bestowed upon bat boys and bullpen catchers.”

Four years later, on the verge of his 200th victory, Ray Ratto described him like this: “He is a fairly idiosyncratic pitcher, using speed changes rather than brute force to bend batters to his will, yet he can throw a 90-plus fastball when he must. He is capable of a good seven-strikeout game, yet much prefers a one-pitch grounder to short. He works well with catchers, without ever feeling the need to talk to them. When he pitches, the mound, like his pitching style, is his, and he prefers to be left alone to perform his craft.”

Terry Kennedy said: “Rick tells this story about the first time Junior Ortiz caught him in Pittsburgh. (Ortiz) went out to the mound to talk to Rick, and Junior’s got this hesitation in his voice, so Rick says, ‘Everything OK, Junior?’ Junior says yeah, so Rick says, ‘Then get the —- off the mound,’ and Junior says, ‘Oh Big Daddy, I love when you talk nasty to me.’ ”

Reuschel got his 200th victory on May 12, 1989:

Reuschel’s milestone 2-1 victory over Montreal last night had no distinguishing characteristics, because it looked like so many of the other 199, and a lot of the 177 losses. He allowed six hits, induced two double plays, helped the Giants score a run with a sacrifice bunt and described it afterward as though it were a visit to the podiatrist’s office.

“It was good to get it out of the way,” he said. “I didn’t want it to be hanging over my head for a few starts.”

The Expos went down in order in five of the nine innings. Only twice did they get their leadoff man on base. Double plays foiled two budding rallies. It was very Reuschel, spoiled for you melodramatists only by the fact that he didn’t finish the game. He left after Brooks’ single, and Goose Gossage picked up an easy save by watching Terry Kennedy throw out pinch-runner Otis Nixon on a stolen base attempt to end the game.

Reuschel’s next start, on May 17, provided some more drama. Ray Ratto again:

One day after his 40th birthday, Reuschel sailed through the Philadelphia Phillies for a 6-0 victory, allowing only one hit in his eight innings – a seventh-inning, two-out single by Tommy Herr that lasted only long enough for Herr to be thrown out at second on the play trying to stretch his luck.

Until that point, Reuschel had not even allowed his fielders to make a tough play, retiring the first 20 men he faced and permitting only only three balls to leave the infield. Though he missed his first no-hitter in the majors – Jeff Brantley pitched a 1-2-3 ninth – Reuschel did receive the fullest possible credit for his shutout.

“He was dazzling,” catcher Terry Kennedy said, “better than Montreal (when he allowed six hits and a run over 8 innings last Friday). He knew when to take something off, and when to add. He was amazing.”

“We just had a feeling in the dugout he was going to do it,” Manager Roger Craig said. “I don’t know how you can pitch much better than he did tonight, unless you do throw a perfect game. I saw Don Larsen’s (perfect game in the 1956 World Series), but that wasn’t much better than this.”

If not for a walk Reuschel allowed to Von Hayes in the eighth inning of that game, he and Jeff Brantley would have combined for in effect a perfect game: 27 batters up, 27 batters down. Take a look at his 1989 game log to see what else he did in ’89, including six starts without giving up a run. Reuschel didn’t deliver the excitement of Dave Dravecky’s August comeback, but he and Scott Garrelts were easily the Giants’ two best pitchers in 1989. Reuschel’s success was enough to land him on a Sports Illustrated cover during the summer and an All-Star game start, but I think people remember him more for the homer Bo Jackson hit off him in the All-Star game than for anything else Reuschel did in ’89.

He got cartilage damage in his left knee in 1990, and that was practically the end of his underrated career. In ’90, Reuschel said: “The inference I get is that if it doesn’t get better (with this rehabilitation), I might as well go home. Rehabbing is all I can do – that’s my only option at this point if I want to pitch again this year. Surgery is the last thing I do before I get to the ‘What do I do next in my life’ stage, like downhill skiing or football.'”

The career ended in June 1991, after a 3-1 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals at Candlestick. Al Rosen said: “We just came to a conclusion that it was in everyone’s best interest. He certainly can’t pitch anymore. It was serving no purpose having Rick here. It’s a matter of dignity, too. He’s given baseball 20-plus years. Let him ride off into the sunset.”

Reuschel stayed true to his taciturn self, not giving the press a farewell address to close out his career, and he’s remained out of the limelight for the past couple decades. He’s apparently a regular at Cubs’ spring training fantasy camps in Mesa, Arizona, but it’s uncertain if he’s living in Illinois, or Pennsylvania, or where exactly. He did turn 60 on May 16, 2009, still has a spot among the 100 winningest pitchers ever, and won 36 games for the Giants in ’88 and ’89 combined.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »