Tagged: starting pitcher

June 5 – Happy Birthday Jack Chesbro

chesbroThough I located four members of the Red Sox all-time roster who were born on June 5th, none of them spent much time playing for Boston. So I selected the only one of the four who made it to the Hall of Fame as today’s Beantown Baseball Birthday Celebrant.

“Happy Jack” Chebro appeared in 392 games during his 11-season career in the big leagues that began with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1899. He appeared in just one game for the Red Sox in 1909, a starting assignment against another of his former teams, the New York Yankees in the last game of Boston’s regular season. He took the loss.

When I first started following baseball in 1960, New York Yankees dominated the record book. Babe Ruth’s single season and career home run records, Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games played, Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak and Jack Chesbro’s most wins in a season marks were all considered unbreakable. One year later, Maris hit 61 but that was OK by me because he was a Yankee. Then Aaron grabbed the Babe’s other record, Ripken replaced the Iron Horse, and a juiced up McGuire eclipsed Maris. That leaves just DiMaggio’s 56 games and Chesbro’s 41 victories still Pinstripe property.

I do believe that the Clipper’s hitting streak will fall some day in the not too distant future but Happy Jack’s victory mark will withstand the test of time. The ironic thing about Chesbro’s 41-win season in 1904 was that he too used juice to help him set the mark. But his juice came out of his mouth instead of a syringe and was applied to a baseball instead of being injected into his butt. Jack had one of baseball’s best spitballs and in 1904 he used it to near perfection. Just like steroids’ impact on the the human body however, foreign substances applied to a baseball can have disastrous side effects. One of the spitters Chesbro threw during the 1904 season finale against the Red Sox fluttered so much it got past the New York catcher and the winning run scored, costing the Highlanders the pennant.

Chesbro pitched seven seasons for New York with a cumulative record of 128-93. His total big league career lasted 11 years and his lifetime record was 198-132. That 40-victory season got him elected to the Hall of Fame by the old-timers committee in 1946.

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June 1 – Happy Birthday Derek Lowe

loweThe Seattle Mariners traded catcher Jason Varitek and today’s Beantown Baseball Birthday Celebrant to Boston for closer Heathcliff Slocumb at the 1997 trading deadline. It turned out to be one of the greatest deals in Red Sox franchise history. Varitek became the captain and anchor of those great Red Sox teams that won two World Championships during the first decade of the new century. All Derek Lowe did for Boston was first become the team’s ace closer for a couple of years including a 42 save season in 2000 and then convert to the Red Sox starting rotation and become a 20-game winner in 2002. He also pitched brilliantly during the 2004 postseason culminating in Boston’s first World Series victory since 1918. And then surprisingly, Boston let him walk away as a free agent.

Lowe was born in Dearborn, Michigan in 1973 and after graduating from high school there, he became the eighth-round choice of the Mariners in the 1991 MLB amateur draft. It took him right about six seasons of minor league ball to earn his first start in the Majors in 1997. When Boston acquired him that same season, they sent Lowe right to the bullpen and with the exception of 10 starts during the 1998 season, he was used strictly as a reliever and then closer until the very end of the 2001 season, when he made three consecutive starts. That turned out to be a preview of what was to come for the big 6’6″ right-hander.

His career in Beantown ended right after Lowe pitched great during the 2004 postseason, winning all three of his decisions. The Dodgers outbid everyone, including Boston for his services. He left the Red Sox with a career record of 70-55 with 85 career saves. His big league career ended in 2013. His lifetime record was 176-157.

May 31 – Happy Birthday Jake Peavy

peavyJake Peavy is one of fourteen pitchers on the all-time Boston Red Sox roster to have won a Cy Young Award during his big league career. Only three of those hurlers, Jim Lonborg, Roger Clemens (3) and Pedro Martinez (2) achieved that honor while wearing a Red Sox uniform. Peavy won his in 2007, when he went 19-6 for the San Diego Padres. The hard-throwing right-hander had been a 15th round draft choice of the Padres in 1999 and made his big league debut with that team in 2002.

He had a shot to win his twentieth game of that ’07 season when he squared off against the Rockies in a one-game playoff to determine who would win that year’s NL Wild Card postseason slot. Peavy failed to do so but he was rewarded for his great regular season performance with a huge 4-year $52 million contract extension that December.

The Padres then declined into a non-contending team over the next two seasons and by 2009, it became pretty clear that the front-office of a re-building San Diego ball club wanted to dump Peavy’s contract. It took them a bit too long to get a deal done because Peavy didn’t want to leave and then strained a tendon in his ankle, dramatically lowering his market appeal.

At the ’09 trading deadline, this native of Mobile, Alabama was dealt to the White Sox for prospects, while he was still recovering from his ankle injury. When he was ready to pitch for his new team, he looked like the Jake Peavy of old, going 3-0 with a 1.35 ERA and it looked as if Chicago had struck gold.

That perception quickly changed when Peavy lost four of his first seven decisions in 2010 and saw his ERA climb over six. He righted himself however, winning four of his next five starts but then detached a muscle in his back during an early July start against the Angels and his season was over. During the five whole or partial seasons he pitched in the Windy City, Peavy made just 84 starts, went 36-29 and had an ERA of 4.00. He did make the 2012 All Star team and win a Gold Glove that same year but 3 dozen wins for $50 million does not compute.

That’s why Peavy landed in Boston at the trading deadline of the 2013 season. The Red Sox needed a starter and old Jake won them 4 of his 5 decisions down the team’s division-winning stretch. He was a bust in Boston’s victorious postseason and thus far in 2014, he has not pitched well either, but few of the team’s pitchers have. Still, its pretty clear that this legally blind devout Christian is at a crossroads in Beantown. How well he pitches during his next two or three starts will determine his fate.

Here are all of the fourteen current and former Red Sox pitchers who have won Cy Young Awards during their big league careers along with the years in which they won it:

Jake Peavy (2007)
Bartolo Colon (2005)
Roger Clemens (2004, ’01, 1998, ’97, ’91, ’87, ’86)
Greg Gagne (2003)
Pedro Martinez (2000, 1999, ’97)
John Smoltz (1996)
David Cone (1994)
Dennis Eckersley (1992)
Bret Saberhagen (1985, ’89)
Frank Viola (1988)
Sparky Lyle (1977)
Tom Seaver (1975, ’73, ’69)
Ferguson Jenkins (1971)
Jim Lonborg (1967)

May 24 – Happy Birthday Brad Penny

pennyWhat’s a penny worth? Well back in December 2008, Theo Epstein thought the amount was $5,000,000. That’s what the former Red Sox GM agreed to pay veteran right-hander Brad Penny for a one-year deal to be part of Boston’s 2009 starting rotation.

The Blackwell, Oklahoma native had split the first ten seasons of his big league career pitching for the Marlins and Dodgers. He first grabbed national attention with Florida in 2003, when he went 14-10 during the regular season and beat the Yankees twice in that year’s Fall Classic. Later in Los Angeles, he had been a two-time all star and led the league in wins in 2006.

Penny had an off-year during his last season in L.A, compounded by a stay on the DL. The Dodgers had paid him more than $9 million in 2008, but concerns about the health of his pitching arm drove down hs price on the free agent market. In addition to the $5 million Epstein guaranteed him, his deal with Boston included over $3 million more in incentive bonuses.

Talk about a lucky penny, though his ERA hovered near six by the end of his second month as a Red Sox, Penny’s record at that time was 5-1. That good fortune however abandoned him pretty quickly. By the end of August his ERA hadn’t moved and he had lost seven of his last nine decisions. His coup-de-grace in Beantown was an eight-run, four-inning hammering the Yankees pasted on him in late August of that season. After that disastrous start, the Boston front-office announced that Tim Wakefield would be taken out of the bullpen to replace Penny in the team’s rotation. Penny responded by asking for his release and when Epstein complied, the pitcher signed with the Giants where he won 4 of his 5 decisions with an ERA of just 2.59, which I guess proves that you get more value for a penny in San Francisco than you do in Boston.

May 23 – Happy Birthday Reggie Cleveland

clevelandToday’s Beantown Baseball Birthday Celebrant was the first native Canadian to ever start a World Series game. Reggie Cleveland was born on this date in 1948, in a little town in the central Canadian province of Saskatchewan. He was involved in all sorts of sports as a kid but baseball was his passion and he was signed by the St. Louis Cardinals out of High School in 1965. He made his big league debut with the Cards four years later in the team’s next-to-last regular season game. Facing the Phillies that day, Cleveland got shelled and took the loss. He next got called up to St. Louis in mid-August the following year and again lost his one and only start of the season. He also lost three other decisions among the fifteen games he pitched out of the Cardinal bullpen in 1970 but he was getting great coaching and learning how to get big league hitters out.

By 1971, the right-hander was ready to become a part of St. Louis’s starting rotation and in 34 starts he went 11-11 with a 4.01 ERA, not great but also not bad for a first full year effort in the big leagues. He then put together back-to-back 14-win seasons while lowering his ERA to 3.01 by 1973 and it looked as if he was on the threshold of becoming a big winner for the Cards.

That’s why more than a few people were surprised when that December, St. Louis sent Cleveland, reliever Diego Segui and third baseman Dick Hughes to the Red Sox for pitchers Lynn McGlothen, John Cumberland and Mike Garman. Boston GM, Dick O’Connell told the press that Cleveland was the key to the transaction for the Red Sox. He too felt his new pitcher was ready to move up to the next level and he wanted Cleveland to make that move in a Boston uniform.

He would never become an elite big league starter but for the next four seasons, Cleveland was a valuable swing-man for the Red Sox pitching corps. During that time he appeared in 149 games for Boston, starting in 88 of them. He was a double digit winner in each of those years but with the exception of 1976, he pitched with an ERA in the low-to-mid four’s. His best season as a Red Sox record wise was 1975, the year the team lost to the Reds in the World Series. Cleveland was 13-9 and he made three appearances in that Fall Classic, including his historic start in Game 5, in which he took the loss.

By 1978, Boston was ready to let some of their younger pitchers develop at the big league level, making Cleveland expendable. He was traded to the Rangers during the first month of the ’78 regular season. He pitched in the big’s for three more years, retiring with a 105-106 career record (46-41 as a Red Sox.)

May 20 – Happy Birthday David Wells

wellsAfter their historic 2004 postseason, the Red Sox were facing the daunting task of defending their newly acquired World Championship without the pitching talents of either Pedro Martinez or Derek Lowe, who had both departed via free agency that winter. Compounding Boston’s challenge was the fact that after the Red Sox had embarrassed them by coming back from a 3-0 deficit to win the ’04 ALCS, the arch-rival Yankees had went out and got Randy Johnson from the Diamondbacks, to strengthen their own rotation.

The Red Sox front office set their sights on former Yankee David Wells, who had spent the ’04 season going 12-8 for the Padres in his hometown of San Diego. Theo Epstein signed the big southpaw to a two year deal and the eccentric Wells, who had been fined when he wore Ruth’s hat during a Yankee game earlier in his career asked for and received the Bambino’s uniform number “3” when he got to Boston. It proved not to be Boomer’s lucky number.

Not only did he lose to Johnson and the Yankees on Opening Day, he went on to lose four of his first six Red Sox decisions and with his ERA approaching seven, Wells was hearing boos from the Fenway faithful. Sports pundits publicly wondered if his best days were behind him. Not yet. He switched his uniform number to “16” and went 13-3 for the remainder of the season, helping Boston capture the wildcard race and return to the postseason.

He underwent knee surgery during the offseason and as he recovered, got homesick and asked the Boston front office to trade him back to a west coast team. He opened  ’06 on the DL and by late August with the Red Sox all but eliminated from fall-ball contention, he got his wish and was traded  back to the Padres. He hung on for one more season and then retired with an impressive 239-157 record for his 21-season career.

May 15 – Happy Birthday Josh Beckett

beckettJosh Beckett was such a good pitcher in high school that plenty of scouts and agents thought he might skip his senior year (in high school mind you, not college) and declare himself eligible for the MLB draft as a junior! He did end up staying and playing his senior year and then in 1999, this right-handed native of Spring, Texas was selected as the second overall pick in the draft by the Florida Marlins.

Beckett then breezed through the minors in two seasons with a 17-4 record and made his debut with the Marlins in September of 2001, splitting his first four decisions, while striking out 24 batters in 24 innings and fashioning a very impressive ERA of 1.50. There was then nothing special about his first two complete regular seasons, during which he battled chronic finger blisters. It was his performance during the 2003 postseason that first caught the attention of the national sports media. He pitched very effectively in his six starts that fall and when he threw a masterful shutout against the mighty Yankees in the sixth and final game of the ’03 Fall Classic on just three day’s rest, he won both a ring and the World Series MVP award.

Two seasons later, Red Sox GM Theo Epstein let the Marlins know he was interested in obtaining Beckett. Florida proved to be tough negotiators, or at least it seemed so at the time. In addition to getting some of the jewels on Boston’s prospect list, namely Hanley Ramirez and Annibel Sanchez, Florida also forced Epstein to take third baseman Mike Lowell, who was coming off a bad year at the plate and still had two years left on his sizable contract.

Though Beckett went 16-11 during his first year in Boston, his ERA was a sky high 5.01 and the Red Sox failed to make the postseason while Ramirez was winning the 2006 NL Rookie of the Year honors for Florida. It looked as if the Marlins had gotten the best of the big trade. That perception didn’t last long however.

In 2007, Beckett had a breakout 20-7 season as did Lowell, who averaged .324 and drove in 120 runs as the two former National League teammates led their new team to the postseason. They then continued their great play in the playoffs and World Series. Beckett went 4-0 in fall ball and Lowell hit .400 against the Rockies to win the World Series MVP.

Boston and Beckett then spent the next four seasons trying to get back to baseball’s Big Dance without success. The pitcher had spurts of excellence during that time but he also had some physical problems and was never again as dominant as he had been during Boston’s ’07 World Championship year.

Boston’s late season collapse in 2011 proved to be Beckett’s undoing in Beantown. When the Red Sox ownership fired manager Terry Francona, the press reported that departing skipper had lost control of the team. Specifically they reported that Beckett and the rest of Boston’s starting rotation would leave the dugout together during games they weren’t pitching and retreat to the clubhouse to play cards and eat chicken.

It was that lack of discipline and focus that caused John Henry and company to hire Bobby Valentine. The new skipper appeared to bring out the worst in Beckett, who was 5-11 when the Red Sox front office made the famous $400 million house-cleaning deal with the Dodgers in late August of 2012, that sent Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford,and Nick Punto to the Dodgers for James Loney, Ivan DeJesus and three other prospects.