An Interview With Mike Pagliarulo About the ’95 Mariners, ’89 A’s, and Billy Martin

A few years ago, after I’d written some articles for a website, Dugout Central, that he owned at the time, I talked with Mike Pagliarulo, the ’80s and ’90s third baseman for the Yankees, Twins, and other teams, on the phone. The bulk of the interview was about the 1991 Minnesota Twins, and that part was published in a Twins season preview magazine. But we also talked about some other things I was interested in learning from Mike. Here are those exchanges, organized into three subjects:

The 1995 Seattle Mariners

Q: I wondered what you saw in the Mariners that year in September as they made their comeback, whether there was a sense of them having changed from earlier in the season.

Mike: Yes, we had, in the final series there in Texas, we stopped the Mariners from winning the division, won the last two games against them. Johnny Oates, God bless his soul, he was our manager. The Mariners, they were a very well-balanced team, power from the right side, the left side, good pitching, ran the bases very well, they really knew how to play the game. They had dangerous hitters, could score a bunch of runs in a minute.

Q: What was it like facing Randy Johnson, someone who, at 6-10, he’d be throwing the ball a half-foot higher up than most pitchers. Was it hard to change your eye level and pick up his pitches?

Mike: You have to change, make an adjustment according to the different pitchers, so you’ll see the ball better out of his hand. With a left-hander like Johnson, I’d try to hit everything off the left-field wall. You had to have a plan for the opposition.

Randy was very deceptive, with a lower arm slot, you fought to pick up the ball. There was always a battle going on, facing him. I’d come up, struggle to see how the ball’s moving, and all of a sudden I’d be saying hey, what the heck, what happened, I’m down 0-1, 0-2.

Q: That year, you were playing against Lou Piniella, one of your former managers with the Yankees. Could you say something about his qualities as a manager?

Mike: He’s a super guy, just one of the greatest. He’s one of the most brilliant men at teaching hitting mechanics. It was fascinating to play for him with the Yankees. I was fortunate to get the chance to learn from him.

The 1989 Oakland A’s and S.F. Giants

Q: To start off, I figured I’d ask if you remember the near-perfect game the A’s threw against the Yankees on May 26 in New York?

Mike: No, I don’t. What was that?

Q: The one guy to get on was Rickey Henderson, on an infield single, and then the very next hitter, Steve Sax maybe, hit into a double play. That was the only runner of the game.

Mike: Huh. That’s funny, I don’t know that game at all. We had an injury, someone-Winfield-was out with a bad back in 1989. That year my elbow was a mess. I tried to play, but it wasn’t fully recovered.

Q: What was your response when you learned of Rickey Henderson’s trade to the A’s?

Mike: In New York, we had all come up with each other in the Yankees’ tremendous minor league system. Played on the same teams, winning teams. And some guys from the organization, they had played with Rickey for 5 years. He was one of the guys, a great teammate, a phenomenal athlete, so it was hard to see people like him go.

Q: I was reading through some articles from the time, where the Yankees management was saying that Rickey’s legs were going, he wasn’t that great a player anymore. He’d been struggling a bit with the Yankees, but did you guys have any sense of him running down?

Mike: No, I wouldn’t say he was running down. When you play with a good teammate, you never want to see them go, whether they’re going well or not. You rely on each other day and day out, so you never expect someone to be traded. You never think in those terms. Rickey was a real impact player, he helped the whole lineup.

Baseball is the ultimate team game, your teammates affect how you play offense and defense, what kind of pitches you get to hit-look at the Red Sox this year [2008], J.D. Drew batting ahead of Manny Ramirez, and how well he did. There are so many variables, it’s hard to say which one it is that impacts whether you do well.

Q: What was your impression of Greg Cadaret and Eric Plunk? Because when I went through those articles about the trade I saw Cadaret saying that at least in New York he’d still be able to talk about hunting and fishing with Plunk in the bullpen. Were they out of place in the Bronx?

Mike: [laughs] Well, some players don’t feel very comfortable in New York. It can be a rude awakening for some players, they’re out of place. Some, they adapt, but I was always real comfortable there, didn’t have to get used to New York.

Q: What, for you, were the biggest reasons why the A’s were so good in ’88 and ’89?

Mike: The A’s, they had those two big guys (McGwire and Canseco) coming up. I was talking to La Russa one day not long after he got hired by the A’s. When was that, 1986 or so? (It was.) And he had a pretty good plan for what to do with the team. They had Ron Hassey, a good friend and teammate with the Yankees.

On the A’s, everyone knew their role, what their job was, and that’s a compliment to La Russa. He ran a pretty tight ship, everyone had a place they fit into, and there was a really good mix of young and old players. Every good team I’ve been on has had that characteristic. It’s a prerequisite for winning. And they had really good coaches.

Lansford, he was a steady, steady, steady player, a real tough out. Stewart, I don’t remember how I did against. But he was like Clemens: the ultimate challenge for a hitter. You want that so much-that challenge, and the great ones, they’re great challenges. The A’s were very prepared, they always gave their best game.

In ’89, we had a coach, Dallas Green, we went outside the organization to get him, and people said, “this guy’s not a Yankee”-he wasn’t Billy (Martin) or Piniella or Yogi Berra. So it was different: he had some trouble adjusting, it wasn’t easy there.

Q: And then you got traded to the Padres not long after Rickey went to Oakland. What did you remember from playing against the Giants late that year? You guys in San Diego were running right alongside the Giants for the division title.

Mike: I remember Matt Williams having a great year, and that guy in left field, Mitchell, just everything they had (offensively). You’d look up and boom! there’s the ball flying out of the yard. The Padres had a tremendous team, one of the most talented sets of players I’ve seen. We had Jack Clark, Bip Roberts, Alomar, Santiago, Gwynn, but we were missing one pitcher.

Billy Martin’s death on Christmas day, 1989

Q: How did you respond to Billy Martin, first as your coach on the Yankees, and then upon learning of his death?

Mike: I loved Billy Martin. That was a very sad day for me. I burst out crying when I heard the news.

He was the kind of guy who wasn’t afraid to tell you what he thought of you. If I got one hit in a game and hit a couple other balls well, but they were caught, what he’d say to me was, “You dumb-ass dago, you can’t get more than one hit.” Billy was very honest.

I remember one day, a game against the Angels. It was 1985, my first full season. In the eighth inning I fielded a bunt, threw the ball to second, and the throw pulled the man off base. When I got back to the dugout, Billy was waiting on the top step, screaming at me, “What the hell were you thinking out there? That wasn’t the right play.” I didn’t back down; I told him, “It was the right play, I just didn’t make the throw.”

A little while later Clete Boyer, our third base coach, says Billy wants to see me in his office. I’m thinking I’m going to get sent down, but Billy said, “Hey look, maybe you were right about that play.” He didn’t say “You’re right,” but he said maybe I was right. He was willing to admit he was wrong. Of course he added, “You dago son of a bitch, I’m only saying this because you’re Italian.”

Billy could see the field so completely; he knew what everybody was doing. My manager with the Twins, Tom Kelly, was like that. One day I made a step on third and throw to first double play, and back in the dugout T.K. said, “Maybe you should have stepped on the base with your other foot, it would have put you into better position to make the throw.” T.K. did the same kind of ribbing as Billy, just a little quieter. I’m half-Irish, and it’s funny, one day T.K. said the exact same thing Billy had: “I’m only saying this because you’re Irish. Now get the hell out of here.” Billy and T.K., they noticed everything. Sometimes you didn’t necessarily like it, but they noticed everything.

Published in: on January 2, 2013 at 8:42 am  Comments (2)  
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Exceptional Walk+Strikeout Per Inning (KWIP) Rates by Pitchers

Here are some charts of eight of the wildest and most dominant starting pitchers in MLB history, showing each year in which their rate of strikeouts and walks per inning (KWIP) rate was at least 1.35, and in most cases above 1.4. For every pitcher but Johnny Vander Meer, I’ve also provided their career average “KWIP” rate in the chart (Vander Meer’s was just 1.15).

Randy Johnson:

Nolan Ryan:

Herb Score and Sandy Koufax:

Johnny Vander Meer and J.R. Richard:

Tommy Byrne and Bob Turley:

What do we see here? Among other things, confirmation that Randy Johnson and Nolan Ryan are the two most dominant wild starters of the last 50 years or so, and that Herb Score retained exceptional talent and miserable control after being hit in the eye by a batted ball in 1957. Also, a sign of why Johnny Vander Meer was able to pitch two no-hitters in a row.

KWIP is obviously similar to WHIP (walks and hits per inning), but attempts to isolate a pitcher’s power and control, much like the “three true outcomes” stat that isolates walks, strikeouts, and homers by a hitter. In a cursory search, I have not found anyone else who’s called this stat KWIP, although it’s a pretty simple and obvious ratio, so surely other people keep track of it and probably have named it KWIP.

Published in: Uncategorized on June 11, 2012 at 4:24 pm  Leave a Comment  
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A Few Items on Randy Johnson at USC in the Early ’80s

In April 1983, the L.A. Times did a short profile of USC freshman Randy Johnson. Here it is, in two parts:

Yes, that’s a mulletless Randy pictured in the sidebar. The rest of the profile:

By the way, a week later the Times reported that “USC first baseman Mark McGwire hit his 17th home run of the year last Sunday to equal the school record, set by Dave Hostetler in 1978. It took Hostetler 58 games to hit 17 homers. McGwire, a sophomore, did it in his 38th game.” A note added that McGwire had a .970 slugging percentage in Pac-10 games. Barry Bonds was playing left field for Arizona State and slumping.

Then, in February of 1984, USC coach Rod Dedeaux said, “We’ve got a team that’s going to be tough to beat.” Johnson, now a sophomore, and still 6-10 and 210 pounds, threw a three-hitter over six innings, striking out seven UC-Irvine hitters to get his second win of 1984. Dedeaux said: “When I go out and talk to him, I make him get off the mound so I don’t look like a Pygmy.”

A year later, in February 1985, the Times did a preview of USC’s baseball team. Dedeaux said of Johnson, who’d gone 5-3 with 73 strikeouts in 78 innings in 1984, “I look for him to come into his own this year.” McGwire had left USC after his junior year to sign with the A’s. By the way, USC fans will recognize the name of Rodney Peete, who Dedeaux touted as a freshman shortstop who was “going to be a good player. It’s just a question of when.”

Published in: on January 16, 2012 at 4:42 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Randy Johnson’s No-Hitter on June 2, 1990

This 2-0 mastery of the Detroit Tigers, featuring Cecil Fielder, was the Big Unit’s real arrival on the baseball scene, the first obvious evidence that he was more than just an erratic hard thrower. It was also one of the early signs that the Seattle Mariners of the 1990s would be much more exciting than the 1980s team, and a decade later, when the Kingdome imploded, it still stood as one of the great highlights for baseball in the Kingdome. The Seattle Times reported:

Johnson, whose 95 mph fastball and sharp breaking ball give him no-hit ability in every start, was just strong enough, just sharp enough and just wild enough to bring it together last night.

He struck out eight, walked six and had a Tiger reach on an error by shortstop Mike Brumley in the fourth. He threw 50 pitches over 94 mph, several reaching 97, including the final strike to Detroit’s Mike Heath.

“I’ve never seen him before,” said Detroit slugger Cecil Fielder, who fanned twice and walked twice. “But I heard he has trouble controlling his breaking ball sometimes. Well, not tonight.

“The man pitched a great game and deserved what he got. He was throwing that slider over for strikes when he was behind in the count. Then he comes in with that big fastball. How are you going to hit that?

“The answer is – you’re not, and we didn’t,” Fielder said.

Only a few of the batted balls that Johnson allowed had a chance of falling safely. In the first inning, center fielder Ken Griffey Jr. ran down a long shot by Gary Ward. In the fourth, third baseman Edgar Martinez cut off a ball in the hole by Chet Lemon. In the eighth, second baseman Harold Reynolds made a charge-and-shovel play on a roller by Alan Trammell.

There was also a close play in the seventh on Tracy Jones. Martinez’ throw pulled Alvin Davis off first, but Davis slapped a tag on the back of Jones head as he went past.

“I was out,” Jones said of the play, which drew a brief beef from Detroit Manager Sparky Anderson.

Johnson was in trouble only once, and it was of his own making. In the sixth he walked three to load the bases, but came back from a 2-1 count to strike out Lemon, who owns a .314 lifetime mark against Seattle.

After his no-hitter, Johnson said: “I think, being a power pitcher, sometimes I can use my wildness to my advantage. Once, when I was in the minor leagues, Casey Candaele, one of my teammates, told me I should get a pair of big, old, thick, bottle glasses and he would walk me to the mound and I would face toward second base and he would have to turn me around.

“Usually I come in here on game days really high-strung, but I was really relaxed. And then, in about the seventh inning, to get my mind off the no-hitter , I started tapping the drum beats I’d been practicing. I just got a beat and kind of got into my own world.

“It kind of took my mind off the game, and it made it easier for me to go out there every inning. I think if I had been thinking about the game between innings, something bad might have happened. Getting my mind off the game really helped.

“I’ve been listening to some tapes on how to relax, and the combination of those tapes and the drumming worked. I’m going to talk to Jim (Lefebvre) about taking those drums on the road.”

Johnson said of the game’s ending: “The feeling I had is something that’s hard to describe. Toward the end of the game, I felt like I could throw my pitches exactly where I wanted to and, for me, that’s saying a lot.

“After it was over, I didn’t know how to react. It’s the greatest thrill in the world. It’s a great joy to do it. It’s an accomplishment I’ll probably never do again.

“There’s a sigh of relief that it is done and completed now. I can really feel for guys like Brian Holman who come within one out of one.”

As a postscript, here’s an unofficial list of all nine no-hitters in the 1990 mlb season, with pitcher or pitchers, opponent, score and date (Perez’s and Hawkins’ have been dropped from the official ranks):

— Mark Langston (7 innings) and Mike Witt (2), California vs. Seattle, 1-0, April 11.

— Randy Johnson , Seattle vs. Detroit, 2-0, June 2.

— Nolan Ryan, Texas at Oakland, 5-0, June 11.

— Dave Stewart, Oakland at Toronto, 5-0, June 29.

— Fernando Valenzuela, Los Angeles vs. St. Louis, 6-0, June 29.

Andy Hawkins, New York at Chicago, 0-4, July 1.

— Melido Perez, Chicago at New York, 8-0, July 12.

— Terry Mulholland, Philadelphia vs. San Francisco, 6-0, Aug. 15.

— Dave Stieb, Toronto at Cleveland, 3-0, Sept. 2

Published in: on June 1, 2011 at 3:14 am  Leave a Comment  
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Nolan Ryan Fixing Randy Johnson’s Mechanics in 1992

Here, from the Mariners Magazine for April 1996, is Randy Johnson and Nolan Ryan talking about how Ryan, and Tom House, helped fix Johnson’s mechanics in 1992. The article first appeared in Nolan Ryan’s Pro Baseball Yearbook 1996 and was reprinted by the magazine with a new introduction:

In early September of 1992, Ryan helped correct a flaw in Johnson’s delivery that catapulted Johnson to his current status as baseball’s new strikeout king. After his meeting with Ryan, Johnson went on to record 45 strikeouts in his next three games, the second-highest total in baseball history-next to Ryan’s 47 in 1974. 18 of them came in a no-decision against Texas [with Nolan Ryan pitching].

The two strikeout kings recently discussed the art of pitching. The following is a transcript of their conversation:

Nolan Ryan: Randy, I wanted to start out by having you talk about your 1995 season and also get your thoughts on the success you’ve been able to put together over the past three or four years.

Randy Johnson: First of all, I don’t think it’s any secret that I struggled early on in the Major Leagues and throughout parts of my minor league career. And I don’t think I had any breakthrough to where I am now until I met with you and (then-Texas Rangers pitching coach) Tom House. I think a great deal of my success started after that meeting. I had some success in the minor leagues and some early on in my Major League career, but not even close to the extent that I have now.

Lots of people have tried working with me and they were all helpful, but it was the one thing that the two of you taught me about landing on the ball of my foot as opposed to landing on the heel of my foot that has helped me the most. I was always throwing the ball hard, but I was never consistent with my mechanics early on.

The ability has always been there and I’ve always worked hard, but that seemed to be the one little element that wasn’t there – being consistent with my arm angle and mechanics.

Nolan: I think you hit on something. Once you became consistent with your delivery, I think you became more consistent with all your pitches.

Randy: In any sport, no matter what you’re doing, there are mechanics, and you have to be consistent with them in order to be successful. I’m 6-10, so you’re dealing with more arms and more legs. To keep them under control is a job in and of itself. And then to be able to get my whole body going toward home plate, instead of toward third base like I was doing, was also a lot of work. But, now that I realize the right way of throwing, I have been able to cut down my walks the last three years. And we all know that when you walk people and give up your normal share of base hits, you’re essentially giving up free runs.

And because I’ve been able to keep my number of walks down, I’ve been able to lower my ERA and stay in games longer. . . .

Nolan: Now, when you’re struggling out there with your delivery, do you feel you can make adjustments and stay in the game and be competitive where say, five years ago, you couldn’t?

Randy: Five years ago, if I had problems with my delivery, I was done. It was just a matter of when the manager was going to come and get me. But now, for the most part, I know when I’m doing something wrong because I’ve become so consistent in my mechanics. For instance, when I’m falling off toward third base, I know how to correct that now.

There are still going to be games where you’re mechanically sound and the other team is still hitting you. But more times than not, if I’m mechanically sound, things will work out well for me.

I really think the improvement in my mechanics and in my ability to make adjustments out there has helped me turn into a pitcher rather than a guy that just goes out and throws. Now, because I have confidence in all three of my pitches, I can throw a changeup or slider in a fastball situation. And that’s been real beneficial. Because when you get a hitter looking for one pitch, say a fastball, and you throw another pitch, then you have a good chance of freezing him. . . .

Randy: I have been very fortunate to run across some very giving players, the most generous being you, Nolan. It’s unheard of, unfortunately, to have other people on another team take the time to help another professional athlete. Sure, hitters will talk about their swings here and there. But you and Tom House didn’t have to help me. You two guys are good people and you’ve taught me more than proper mechanics. You’ve taught me to go up to a young player when he’s struggling and maybe try and help them. So you’ve really helped me, not only physically and mentally, but as a person to go and try and help other people. Not only do some of the younger players come to me for help, but the manager encourages me to help them. Now, I’m enjoying baseball more than I ever have because I’m in the position to help some of the younger players, like you helped me.

Published in: on July 17, 2010 at 8:12 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Randy Johnson’s 20-Strikeout Game in 2001

It came against the Cincinnati Reds on May 8, in Arizona. The AP summarized:

Randy Johnson got 20 strikeouts, but not the glory. Johnson became only the third pitcher to strike out 20 in nine innings, but missed out on tying the record because Arizona and Cincinnati went to extra innings Tuesday night.

The Diamondbacks went on beat Cincinnati 4-3 in 11 innings.

“This was a game to put in a time capsule and let people of the future watch it,” Johnson said.

Johnson became the first left-hander to strike out 20, but didn’t join Roger Clemens and Kerry Wood, who share the record for strikeouts in a nine-inning game.

The Elias Sports Bureau, baseball’s statistician, said Johnson’s performance will be considered as occurring in an extra-inning game even though he came out after nine.

The major-league record for an extra-inning game is 21, by Tom Cheney for Washington against Baltimore in a 16-inning game on Sept. 12, 1962.

“I was asked if I wanted to go out there and saw no point in going out there for the 10th inning,” Johnson said. “I surely could have went out there and done it, but what was the point in going out there and throwing 10 innings?

“I really didn’t see it.”

Johnson wasn’t disappointed, though.

He wanted to turn the game over to the bullpen.

“The outcome is what’s important,” he said.

Center-fielder Steve Finley has never seen a slider on a par with Johnson’s.

“It was ridiculous,” Finley said. “You know, he throws that batting-practice fastball 92 or 93, and there were a lot of times tonight I thought he was throwing his fastball that speed, and it was 98.

“It was so easy, with no effort, on any of his pitches, sliders, everything.”

Johnson threw 124 pitches, 92 for strikes, and walked none before Byung-Hyun Kim relieved to start the 10th.

Johnson struck out the side in the fourth, seventh and eighth innings, and fanned two batters in the first, second, third, fifth and ninth.

He struck out only one in the sixth.

He had 18 strikeouts in the first eight innings, then struck out pinch-hitter Deion Sanders on three pitches leading off the ninth.

Johnson gave up a groundout to Donnie Sadler, then struck out Juan Castro swinging.

The pitcher raised his right arm in celebration and tipped his cap as he walked off the field.

Bank One Ballpark put a “K” on the scoreboard for each strikeout, but the board ran out of room before Johnson reached 20.

Additional “Ks” were then tacked on the side of the board, with lights forming “20” in the middle.

Johnson struck out Barry Larkin and Alex Ochoa three times apiece; and Castro, Pokey Reese, Chris Reitsma, Ruben Rivera, Sadler, Kelly Stinnett twice each.

He fanned Aaron Boone and Sanders once.

Johnson, who struck out nine of his first 12 batters and eight of his last nine, allowed three hits.

He had a perfect game going until Boone singled with one out in the fifth.

Boone stole second and scored when Rivera singled up the middle. Cincinnati’s third hit off Johnson was a sixth-inning single by Sadler.

Hal McCoy of the Dayton Daily News, covering the Reds, wrote:

A sheet of paper was placed on the chair of each member of the Cincinnati Reds Tuesday afternoon, a scouting report on how to hit Arizona’s Randy “The Big Unit” Johnson.

For all the good it did, it would have better to have distributed a menu for the post-game meal or a map showing how to get around the bases at Bank One Ballpark.

It is easy enough for manager Bob Boone and coach Tim Foli to sit down in a room and formulate a plan of attack. It is quite another thing to drag a baseball bat to home plate and put that plan into effect when Johnson is throwing 96 miles an hour fastballs and bending 88 miles an hour sliders.

That paper should have had on it, “Our Father, who art . . .”

“The fastball is the pitch to hit,” the report said. “Be on time (with the swing) and be ready to attack his fastball. Look fastball and hit it. His fastball is very hittable.”

Sure, and electric eels are easy to catch barehanded.

The scouting report was useless for a lineup stacked by Boone with all right-handed hitters.

The first time through the batting order, Johnson struck out six of nine, and the other three didn’t get the ball out of the infield. Johnson struck out the side in the fourth – Donnie Sadler, Juan Castro and Barry Larkin. When Larkin became victim No. 9, he lost his bat on the strike three swing and it helicoptered beyond third base, the farthest anything projected by the Reds had traveled up to that point.

That sound in the Reds’ dugout was sheets of paper being torn to shreds.

The Big Unit struck out the side again in the seventh, getting Larkin and Ochoa each for the third time, giving him 15 after seven. Johnson struck out the side in the eighth, getting Rivera and Reese, then breaking the club record by fanning Kelly Stinnett for No. 18.

Pinch-hitter Deion Sanders struck out in the ninth, victim No. 19, the most Reds ever to strike out in one game. And he had seven strikeouts in a row, an Arizona record, then whiffed Castro for No. 20, tying Kerry Wood and Roger Clemens for the nine-inning record, but most ever by a left-hander. Philadelphia’s Steve “Lefty” Carlton struck out 19. Of Johnson’s 20 strikeouts, 18 were swinging.

After the ninth, as 29,817 stood and roared, Johnson pumped his arm skyward as he left the mound and waved his hat at the stands before disappearing into the dugout for the night, taking history with him.

The day after his game, Johnson said: “It’s much like a no-hitter. If it happens, it was meant to be. If it doesn’t happen, well, you just say you still gave it all you had. There are only two other players in the history of baseball who have done it. There’s a great deal of satisfaction in doing it.”

Published in: on May 26, 2010 at 12:54 pm  Comments (1)  
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Some Facts About Randy Johnson

From the Arizona Diamondbacks’ 2001 media guide, here’s a long list of highlights and facts about the first two decades of Randy Johnson’s professional career, spanning from 1986 through 2000. We begin with his Career Highlights:

Johnson has kept lefthanded hitters to a .189 overall average in his career (173-for-913), and while allowing 222 regular season home runs during his career, only 10 have been hit by lefties (Von Hayes and Jim Eisenreich-1989; Wally Joyner and Mike Greenwell-1991; Mo Vaughn-1992; Darren Bragg-1996; Darin Erstad, Mo Vaughn & Jim Edmonds (2)-1997) [Johnson wound up his career having allowed 25 homers by lefties].. .he had a personal 16-game winning streak that ran from August, 1995 through May 2,1997, falling a win shy of the American League record for consecutive games won in a career.

Published in: on March 12, 2010 at 6:47 am  Leave a Comment  

Nolan Ryan’s Final Start

Nolan Ryan’s career ended in the Kingdome on September 22, 1993. Bob Sherwin of the Seattle Times reported that in the first inning of a game vs. the Seattle Mariners “a right-elbow ligament, 46 years, seven months and 24 days old, punished by more than 80,000 big-league pitches, had enough.

“Ryan, who was just 11 days short of finishing his record 27th and final big-league season, had his playing days ended abruptly in the first inning at the Kingdome.

“He suffered a torn ulnar lateral ligament while pitching to the Seattle Mariners’ Dave Magadan. Age caught up to Ryan before most big-league hitters had caught up to his fastball.

“The elbow was tight when he warmed up before the game and ached in the first, Ryan said.

‘There’s no way I’ll ever throw again,’ he said. ‘It’s just a hell of a way to end a career.’

“After throwing a 2-0 strike to Magadan, the Rangers’ right-hander said, ‘I knew I was done.’ He said he heard a pop and had a ‘burning sensation’ in the elbow after the pitch. He threw one more pitch, a final meager fastball, to confirm his diagnosis.”

Ryan left the game holding 53 major-league records, but also having given up a grand slam to Dann Howitt, the last batter Ryan faced, sort of: Ryan then went to a 3-1 count on Dave Magadan before leaving the mound. Magadan’s walk was charged to Ryan.

Sherwin added: “The night had a special atmosphere as most of the 40,184 fans anticipated Ryan’s final road start. He was given a standing ovation as he walked to the dugout before the game.

“Ryan was the last player out of the Ranger dugout in the bottom of the first, jogging to his position as the fans again stood and applauded during his warmup pitches.

“It was a late-arriving crowd. Ticket windows were reporting lines still five or six deep even when Ryan already was on the trainer’s table. The late-comers found Ranger reliever Steve Dreyer pitching.

“Flashbulbs popped with each Ryan pitch, especially when he faced Ken Griffey Jr. But it was clear this was not no-no-Nolan. His pitches were all around the plate, rarely over it. He threw 28 pitches, only 12 strikes.

“Ryan went 2-0 to Magadan, then threw his fateful pitch. He threw one more ball, walked down the mound and called for the trainer. It was just the third time in his career he exited a game without retiring a batter.”

Ryan said: “It’s been frustrating year. It’s been a combination of a number of different injuries that you couldn’t predict. [Ryan had arthroscopic surgery to remove torn cartilage from his right knee on April 15, and he missed 22 days. On May 7, he strained a left hip in a rundown play and missed 72 days. Then on August 23 he pulled a left rib-cage muscle fielding a ground ball and missed 20 days.]

“I was just trying to squeeze a few more innings out. It is sad from the standpoint I knew my career would end this year and . . I did not want to end it this way.

“I would have loved to finish with a strong performance in a pennant race and striking out the last hitter I ever faced. I haven’t done anything else in my adult life. I don’t know how I’ll adjust to that.”

And on the standing ovation the Kingdome fans gave him: “You get into a situation like that where you recognize it for what it is. They were saying how they appreciated my career, and coming out was the least I could do. There’s no way I’ll ever throw again. It’s just a hell of a way to end a career.”

Jay Buhner on Ryan’s stuff that night: “He had a good fastball. All the guys agreed he was throwing hard. He just couldn’t control it. He had to be hurt, but he’s too much of a competitor to come out.”

Dr. Larry Pedegana said that Ryan “told me on one final pitch he felt a pop. His arm spasmed and he couldn’t throw any more.”

Dann Howitt said of hitting his grand slam: “It has to be a thrill, but the way I’ve been struggling it would have been a thrill to get a homer off a rookie. You face him and you’re honored to strike out as much as get a hit. I may have had a couple of hits off him but from stories I’ve heard of Ryan’s aggressiveness, I’m glad they came when he was 46, not 26.

“He’s one of the incredible athletes we’ll ever see, maybe the best athlete of the second half of the century. I don’t think many people would be surprised if he said he’d come back next year.”

On the 24th, the Times’ Bob Finnigan added a postscript:

When Randy Johnson takes the mound Sunday against Oakland in the 1993 Kingdome finale, he might be a changed man.

The Seattle Mariner ace may ask the club for permission to wear No. 34 for one game, in honor of his friend and pitching mentor Nolan Ryan.

“I’d like to pay tribute to him,” said Johnson, who visited Ryan in the Texas trainer’s room after the Hall of Fame-bound pitcher suffered a career-ending tear of a ligament in his pitching elbow Wednesday night. “He’s done a lot for me and for the game. I think it would be a nice thing to do.”

Johnson had considered putting Ryan’s number on his hat. “But then I thought no one would see it,” the pitcher said. “And I’d like everyone to recognize what I’m trying to say.”

Needing two wins for a team-record 20, and 14 strikeouts to become the eighth American League pitcher to reach 300, Johnson hopes for a different outcome than the last time he switched numbers. In an effort to reverse his luck last July, the 6-foot-10 left-hander wore 15 instead of his usual 51 and lost 7-6 at Yankee Stadium after a flock of unearned runs.

Randy had said this after Ryan’s last game: “It felt strange to realize I’ll never get to see him pitch again. He taught me, taught all of us really, what it means to battle, to give the gallant effort.”

Before his final game, the Post-Intelligencer did a one-page tribute to him. It quoted Randy Johnson: “Nolan Ryan is the Babe Ruth of pitching. I don’t think anyone will break his records. The strikeout and no-hitter records are etched in stone. He’s not necessarily a spokesman for the game but a lot of people look up to him as a legend. And that he is.”

Ryan’s seven no-hitters were joined by 12 one-hitters, and his 773 starts were, and are, the second most in MLB history, behind only Cy Young. You can look here for some coverage of the most famous moment in his last season: getting in a fight of sorts with Robin Ventura about six weeks before his final start. And here for him and Rickey Henderson talking about Ryan’s 5000th strikeout. By the way, Ryan was 46 years, seven months and 24 days old for his last game, and Randy Johnson was 46 years and 24 days old, I believe, for his last game. If you’re interested, you can read my impressions of Randy’s last game in Seattle.

The Expos’ Trade of Randy Johnson to the Mariners

When the Mariners traded Mark Langston (and Mike Campbell) to the Expos in late May, 1989, for Randy Johnson, Gene Harris, and Brian Holman, virtually all the Seattle players were unhappy.  Third baseman Jim Presley said: “This is a sad day for Mariner baseball. In four months now, we’ve lost two of the best pitchers in Mariner history. (Langston and Mike Moore, who signed with Oakland as a free agent). Yeah, this is a sad day. I don’t know what went on, whether they made an offer to him or whether he wanted out of here. But maybe they should have been thinking of how we’re supposed to replace him.”

Harold Reynolds said: “This crushes me. And the reality of it all won’t hit me until we take the field tomorrow in Milwaukee and Mark Langston won’t be there.”

Dave Valle said: “Oh, no! Oh, no!”

Manager Jim Lefebvre said:  “I hate to see him go. I’m sorry we could not work out a deal with him so it [the trade] had to be done. Mark is one of the most professional guys I’ve ever worked with. Under tremendous pressure, he went out and did all he could for our club every time he pitched. I’ll always remember him as a class individual.”

First baseman Alvin Davis said: “We’ve just traded our franchise player and it’s for you guys to analyze. I can’t come out and blast the ballclub because I’m not privy to everything that’s gone on. I don’t know what they’re thinking but I do know Mark wanted to stay here. He really did. I’m qualified to say that he did. It’s a business and that’s the bottom line.”

Jerry Reed, who had been a member of The Johnsons, the rock group that included him, Langston, Pete Ladd and Matt Young, said: I would never have guessed I’d be the last one here. This is the worst, though. Baseball aside, Mark is a good friend. The Johnsons will not be a solo act. They are now officially disbanded.”

On the other hand, in early June, Randy Johnson said: “As you can probably tell, I’m pretty laid back. I enjoy life. I don’t have a care in the world, except every fifth day (when he pitches). Then it’s all business.” At the time, one of his nicknames was The Intimidator. Johnson said: “I’ve been called that and I think it’s the most realistic. If you’re on the mound throwing a good fastball, in the 95-mile-per-hour range, coming in from the left side and being 6-10, that can be a bit intimidating.”

You can look at Johnson’s minor league stats here. The Big Unit (he got that nickname from Tim Raines) summarized: “I don’t feel the pressure on me here. I’m not Mark Langston. He’s been around for seven or eight years. This is my first full season. I’ve worked hard to be a major-leaguer and someday maybe I can be a Mark Langston or anyone I want to be.

“It’s a relief to be over here. I’m not under a microscope like I was in Montreal. I just think they (Expos) gave up on me sooner than I thought they would.

“They thought they could give up their three best prospects of the future for one player who may not be there the rest of the year, not to mention next season. This team (Seattle) is building for the future. In any other league (division) they’d be only four or five games out.

“I’m happy to be here. No more French dictionary and no more French money . . . er . . . make that Canadian money.”

Published in: on January 11, 2009 at 10:46 pm  Leave a Comment  
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