Once upon a time, starting pitchers worked as hard as West Virginia coal miners. Rather than punching the clock early and letting the bullpen take over in the sixth inning, starters labored on the mound in the heat of summer until their flannel uniforms were heavy with sweat, the game was over and their job was complete.
Those guys shouldn't have worn caps, they should have been outfitted in hardhats with lanterns.
We're not talking ancient history, either. We don't have to go back to the deadball era. Clay Kirby pitched 15 innings in one game in 1971. Luis Tiant pitched 14 1/3 innings in 1974. Gaylord Perry pitched 15 innings one game in 1974 and when he finally left for the showers (no doubt with the knuckles on his right arm scraping the clubhouse linoleum), the reliever served up a walkoff home run to the very first batter he faced.
See what happens when a starter lets the bullpen get involved?
That's why Mark Mulder's performance last Saturday was so impressive. To begin with, his opponent was Roger Clemens, the 42-year-old marvel fresh off his seventh Cy Young award. The Rocket is so famed for his work ethic that I'm surprised he doesn't do one-armed pushups on the mound while his infielders are throwing the ball around the horn. Clemens pitched seven scoreless innings and stretched his scoreless streak to 23 innings Saturday but it wasn't good enough.
That's because Mulder pitched 10 shutout innings to win the game 1-0. That's right. A 10-inning shutout.
How amazing is that? Well, only one other pitcher Roy Halladay in 2003 has thrown a 10-inning shutout since Jack Morris famously did so in Game 7 of the 1991 World Serie. (Five other pitchers Kevin Appier, Bobby Jones, Bret Saberhagen, Darryl Kile and Kevin Millwood pitched 10 scoreless innings without earning a decision when their games went longer).
Not only that, according to the database available at the incredible Retrosheet.org, Mulder and Halladay are the only pitchers since 2000 to throw more than nine innings in a game. Only five pitchers Mulder, Halladay, Millwood, Kile and Brad Radke have done so in the past 10 seasons. For comparison's sake, 107 pitchers went more than nine innings in a game the decade previous to that. And even more than that did it in the decade previous to that one.
Of course, there is an obvious reason Mulder was allowed to go out to the mound for the 10th inning without the express written consent of the commissioner of baseball, his agent, his orthopedic surgeon and the Department of Homeland Security. His pitch count was remarkably low. Mulder needed only 101 pitches to complete the shutout.
If he had been around 110 pitches after nine innings, he would have been removed immediately, packed in ice and then sealed in carbonite.
"There are two reasons you don't see (pitchers go past the ninth) anymore. Bullpen specialization has gotten a little more refined and people are pitch-count crazy," said Astros broadcaster Jim Deshaies, who called Saturday's game. "When those guys are through nine innings and at 115 pitches, the manager will figure they'll be at 130 pitches if he sends him out there for another inning.
"And he knows that if the pitcher ends up on the disabled list a month later, he'll get screamed at. Probably with some justification."
Indeed. Incredibly, Billy Martin had four pitchers in Oakland's infamous 1980 rotation Matt Keough, Mike Norris, Rick Langford and Steve McCatty throw 14 innings in games that season. It's amazing enough that each of them started a game that lasted 14 innings. But for each of them to pitch those 14 innings? Amazing. Martin abused those pitchers so much I'm surprised he just didn't pitch Norris every day out of spite.
Tired already, you big wuss? Go cry to someone who cares. Now get back out there. You haven't even used your left arm yet.
As everyone recalls, the Oakland five (Brian Kingman was the fifth starter) all struggled soon after 1980 and no one is willing to risk a repeat. With starting pitchers earning $15 million a season, no one is going to risk blowing out an arm by sticking with a starter one pitch longer than dictated by conventional wisdom.
I understand the logic. The designated hitter, the bigger players, the smaller ballparks, the higher scoring games, the better bats, the increased use of videotape, the increased strikeouts and the deeper counts each at-bat all take their toll on pitchers, making them throw more pitches earlier in the game. Because of that, pitchers can't last as long as they once did.
On the other hand, it's not like all this worry and precaution is keeping pitchers from breaking down regularly. They still fill the disabled list and they still fill the operating rooms just as often as before, if not more so.
So maybe, just maybe, we're going about this all wrong. Maybe someone should stop babying pitchers so much and start toughening them up a little. Not nearly to the extent Billy Martin did "Way to go, nice shutout. Have a six-pack and get out here early tomorrow to throw batting practice" but just enough to see whether pitchers are capable of more than they're being asked.
Of course, if Mulder gets shelled his next start and leaves with a torn rotator cuff, I take it all back.
BOX SCORE LINE OF THE WEEK
Obviously, this week's award goes to Mulder for his rare gem:
10 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 K, 5 K
But while we honor Mulder, let's pity Clemens, who deserves better at the age of 42. He hasn't allowed a run in his past three starts, throwing seven scoreless innings in each, but the Astros have lost all three by 1-0 scores.
"At least," Deshaies said, "Astros Planet can take solace in that we have good pitching."
Not only has Clemens driven in more runs (two) than he's allowed (one), he's driven in more runs than the other Astros have driven in his four starts.
LIES, DAMN LIES AND STATISTICS
Alex Rodriguez drove in more runs in one game Tuesday (10) than he did the first 25 games of last year (seven). ... Commissioner Bud Selig says baseball definitely will hold a World Cup next year and that it will be played just before spring training, in Florida, Arizona or California. That's good news though he said the number of teams still needs to be determined. And there are some other obvious concerns that need addressing, such as how you get a staff ready to pitch by the middle of February. ... The April 16 Mariners-White Sox game lasted just one hour and 39 minutes. As the Mariners' broadcast producer, Kevin Cremin, points out, the game was shorter than the pregame show (two hours). According to Dave Smith with Project Retrosheet, no major-league game (nine innings or more) has been shorter than 1:39 in the past 21 years and it was the shortest game in the American League since Sept. 28, 1982, when Toronto's Jim Clancy nearly pitched a perfect game and beat the Twins 3-0. ... While we're on the subject, it should be noted that major-league game times are down to an average of two hours and 45 minutes, 15 minutes shorter than they were in 2000 and about 15 minutes shorter than every NFL game. ... Since Nomar Garciaparra appeared bare-chested on the cover of the March 5, 2001 issue of Sports Illustrated under the headline, "A Cut Above: How Nomar Garciaparra Made Himself the Toughest Out in Baseball," he has missed almost an entire season due to surgery on his wrist, hurt his Achilles tenon, torn muscle in his groin area and gone on the disabled list four times. If he doesn't come back until the All-Star break, as expected, he'll have missed about 300 games since that cover. ... White Sox backup catcher Chris Widger hit his first home run since August 9, 2000 this Monday. In between Widger homers, Barry Bonds hit 234. ... (A follow-up to a reader question about the Off Base column describing the forfeit that ended the Washington Senators' tenure in 1971: Dick Bosman, Toby Harrah, Jeff Burroughs and Rusty Torres played in that forfeit as well as the 1974 10-Cent Beer Night forfeit in Cleveland. Torres also played the first game of the scheduled 1979 doubleheader when the White Sox had to forfeit the twinbill due to the between-game Disco Demolition promotion. He was 2-1 in forfeits.
FROM LEFT FIELD
Retrosheet.org is a wonderful site but here's a warning you can soon find yourself missing meals and dental appointments while scrolling through the easily accessible information for hours and hours. That was the case when we went searching for the longest pitching performances since 1965 (the earliest year available for that particular category).
And note how four of them were on one staff, Billy Martin's ill-fated 1980 Athletics, who threw 94 complete games, and soon burned out. (Click on the date for a box score of the game.)
|Going the distance|
|15||Gaylord Perry||4-17-74||ND, reliever allows walkoff HR to 1st batter|
|15||Clay Kirby||9-24-71||ND, game goes 21 innings; opposing starter (Ken Forsch) pitched 13 innings|
|14 1/3||Luis Tiant||6-14-74||Loses in 15th; Nolan Ryan pitched 13 innings, walked 10 and struck out 19|
|14||Ross Grimsley||9-11-74||ND, but Orioles won game in 17 innings|
|14||Matt Keough||5-17-80||Won 4-2; Toronto's Dave Stieb pitched 12 innings|
|14||Mike Norris||6-11-80||Won 6-2 on Tony Armas' walkoff grand slam|
|14||Rick Langford||7-20-80||Won 6-5; completed 28 off 33 starts that year|
|14||Steve McCatty||8-10-80||Lost 2-1 on HR to Seattle's Dan Meyer|
|14||Bob Gibson||8-12-70||Won 5-4; pitched into 9th inning in 21 straight starts that year|
|13 1/3||Juan Marichal||8-19-69||Lost 1-0 on Tommie Agee's HR|
WIN BLAKE STEIN'S MONEY
This Week's Category is: Tim McCarver Belabors Points Longer Than That.
Question: What was the fastest game in major-league history?
Answer: On Sept. 28, 1919, the Giants and the Phillies played a game in 51 minutes.
Jim Caple is a senior writer at ESPN.com. His first book, "The Devil Wears Pinstripes," is being published by Plume. It can be ordered through his Web site, Jimcaple.com.