Thursday, August 9, 2007

? No. 27: Ankiel goes yard!

Tonight Rick Ankiel gets his first cup of coffee as a major league outfielder. I'm following the game on the internet as it's blacked out on TV. Ankiel is currently 0-for-3 with 2 strikeouts, but then again he is facing Chris Young, the man with an ERA under 2.00. I saw Ankiel make his second big-league start, his first at home. It was two days after my birthday in 1999, and a friend and I drove down for the day game and purchased scalped tickets. We ended up spending a little extra for great seats on the lower level, about 30 rows back of home plate. I still vividly recall Ankiel's high striped socks and spectacular curve ball. He didn't pitch particularly well that day -- five hits and five walks in six innings -- but allowed just two runs. The Cards dropped the game, though. Some guy named Smoltz was throwing for the Braves that day.

I was back at Busch just over a year later when the eventual Rookie of the Year took the mound as the surprise starter for Game 1 of the NLDS against the Braves. Much different ballgame for Ankiel that day, as that's when his implosion began. I don't recall nearly as much about that particular day, in part because it all happened so fast (those pitches sure did fly to the backstop in the blink of an eye) and because ultimately the Cards knocked around Greg Maddux and won that game ... so I left Busch with a happy feeling. At that point, we didn't know that we had just witnessed a pitcher permanently unravel. In that fateful game, the wild pitches started in the third inning. The amazing thing is that even after he had obviously lost his control, he still managed to strike Chipper Jones out.

Fast forward nearly seven years, and Ankiel gets the call-up from the Pacific Coast League, where he was leading the league in round trippers with 32. If he would have stayed down there a bit longer, he may have earned his second Player of the Year award from Baseball America. (The first came as a pitcher in 1999, so how cool would that have been?) My question is: How many home runs did Ankiel hit in his big-league career prior to today? In other words, how many dingers did he hit as a pitcher in 96 plate appearances?

(Holy fuck! I kid you not ... while typing this question Ankiel went yard tonight! How can you not root for this kid?)

Yesterday's Answer: Lefty Grove is the correct answer. Old Lefty has 55 career saves. The Big Train is in second with 34. Niekro and Spahn both have 29. Lefty, who won precisely 300 games, split his career between the Philadelphia Athletics and Boston Red Sox. He earned all but four of his saves in his nine seasons with the A's.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

? No. 26: Saving the 300 game winners

Hooray for Tom Glavine! Actually, I've never really liked the guy all that much, probably because he was a member of the boring Braves, who my Cardinals often had to defeat in the playoffs. (And lately, he's pitched for the Mets -- same story.) But I gotta give one thing to Tom: He's easier to like than Greg Maddux. Maddux just frustrates me to no end. He just doesn't look like an athlete. He looks like the dopey accountant down the hall. If he can win 300 games, so can I, right?

Anyway, in Glavine's honor today we'll focus on 300 game winners. Of the 23 men on that list, seven pitched a majority of their careers before the year 1900, including Cy Young. Of the remaining pitchers on the list, who has the most career saves?

A) Warren Spahn
B) Phil Niekro
C) Lefty Grove
D) Walter Johnson

Yesterday's Answer: In 1988, Gwynn reached base twice or more in 11 straight games. Not shabby. Out of curiosity, I did a quick search to see how some of Gwynn's non-slugging contemporaries compare in that category. Wade Boggs had streaks of 16 and 14 games. Rickey Henderson, an on-base machine, had streaks of 15, 12, 11, and 11. Tim Raines had an 11-game streak. Paul Molitor had three 10-game streaks. Kenny Lofton had a 13-game stretch. Chuck Knoblauch had a 12 and three 11s. Mark Grace had a 16 and 11. And Kevin Seitzer -- remember him? -- had a 10 game streak.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

? No. 25: Who knew Gwynn could hit?

As I write this question, I'm watching the Cardinals-Padres tilt on ESPN, enjoying the fine HD on my relatively new 37-inch TV. Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn is at the game, so he'll be the source of my trivia question today. (David Wells, who is starting tonight, will have to wait for the "fattest pitcher ever" question, surely forthcoming.) Gwynn's longest hitting streak in his career was 25 games, and happened in just his second season in 1983. Other than that streak, his longest was 20. I guess I was surprised that Gwynn didn't have a bunch of 20-some game streaks, not to mention a streak in the 30s. But he did have a 19, two 18s, a 16, four 15s, a 14, five 13s, and eight 12s -- so I guess he could hit a little. My question today is: What was Gwynn's longest career streak for times reaching base twice in a game? Price Is Right rules.

Yesterday's Answer: Way to go Listmaker, using your powers of deduction! Mickey Lolich, believe it or not, is the only true answer. Best as I can tell, other than Gibby in '67, Lolich is the only starting pitcher since '65 not named Tiant to start three games in a World Series that his team eventually won. In Lolich's case, he actually was credited with the W in each of his games, too. Lolich took the hard road to get there. Typically, a pitcher needs to start Game 1 to have a chance at this feat, because that enables him to come back in Games 4 and 7. But in this case, Lolich started Game 2 and pitched a complete game as the Tigers defeated the Cardinals 8-1. He returned in Game 5 and spotted the Redbirds three runs in the top of the first, then blanked them for eight innings as the Tigers won 5-3. Three days later he took the mound in Game 7 to face Gibby. Both pitchers tossed nine innings -- Lolich's third complete game of the series -- but the Tigers edged the Cardinals 4-1. To no surprise, Lolich was the World Series MVP after posting a 1.67 ERA in 27 innings pitched.

As for the others... Randy Johnson started and won Games 2 and 6 of the 2001 Series, and picked up the win in relief of Game 7. So close, but no cigar for him. Ron Darling lost a Game 1 heartbreaker in 1986, 1-0. He won in Game 4 and started, but did not get the win, in Game 7. Koufax, who is possibly the best World Series pitcher ever (note the 0.95 ERA), was the loser in Game 2 of the '65 Series, then pitched a complete-game gem in Game 5 and came back on two days rest to throw a duplicate gem in Game 7. In 1991, Morris won Games 1 and 7 (the 10-inning complete game), but the Twins lost his Game 4 start, 3-2.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

? No. 24: World Series aces

I just finished Tom Adelman's The Long Ball, and I highly recommend it. The author's research is remarkable and his inferences refreshing. Go read it. But first, answer this question, inspired by the book.

1975 World Series between Fisk, Yaz, and the Spaceman's Red Sox and the Big Red Machine is always in the discussion when the question is, What is the greatest World Series ever? The Series featured Fisk's extra-inning, hand-waving home run that smacked into the Monster's foul pole, a whole lot of postponements due to rain, and easily one of the best postseason games ever (Game 6, with said homer by Fisk ending what had been a game with numerous highlights). In that Series, the Sox's Luis Tiant pitched in front of his Cuban parents for the first time in his big-league career, which at that point was 12 years and counting. El Tiante pitched brilliantly in the Sox's Game 1 win, tossing a complete game five-hit shutout. In Game 4 he battled for nine innings and 150-some pitches, getting just enough offensive support to win 5-4. After several rainy days pushed back Game 6 in Boston, he took the mound for his third start with the Sox on the verge of elimination and the hometown crowd chanting "Loo-ee" throughout the game. He was far from brilliant in the game, giving up 6 runs in 7 innings. But Dwight Evans bailed him out with a dramatic catch and Bernie Carbo and Fisk took care of the offensive fireworks. His team won all three of the games he started in the Series.

Of the following pitchers, who can make the same claim?

A) Jack Morris 1991
B) Sandy Koufax 1965
C) Randy Johnson 2001
D) Mickey Lolich 1968
E) Ron Darling 1986

Yesterday's Answer: All good guesses, particularly Gwynn, whose name is on the list often. But the player I'm looking for is Nellie Fox. The longtime White Sox second baseman was just about impossible to strike out in his career. Over a span of 13 straight seasons with at least 582 plate appearances, Fox struck out a low of 11 times (twice) and a high of 18 times. That's just silly. If we go all the way back to 1900, there are a lot of players (from the deadball era) who went an entire season without striking out. Post-deadball era, the record is held by Joe Sewell, who twice struck out just three times (and in three other seasons tallied just four Ks).