Unexpected relief: Nine starters turned key relievers in postseason
Ever since he went the distance in a Game 5 shutout, the prospect of Madison Bumgarner coming out of the bullpen to provide the Giants with at least a few more big outs in this World Series has been a popular topic. The Royals' early rally in Game 6 eliminated any temptation San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy may have had to call Bumgarner's number on Tuesday night, but the all-hands-on-deck nature of Wednesday's Game 7 likely increases the chances that we'll see one more appearance from the 25-year-old lefty who has been the biggest star of the postseason.
What follows here is a look back at nine starters who made key relief appearances in the World Series. It's hardly comprehensive; the tactic wasn't uncommon in the Deadball Era, and in fact, the first World Series in 1903 featured none other than Cy Young throwing seven innings of relief in a losing cause in Game 3 in addition to his three complete games. Nonetheless, this list should provide some flavor in preparation for Game 7 in Kansas City.
1912 Game 8: Smokey Joe Wood, Red Sox vs. Giants
After going an incredible 34-5 with a 1.91 ERA in the regular season — with 35 complete games and 10 shutouts to boot — Wood went the distance in both Games 1 and 4 of the series, a best-of-seven that required Game 2 to be replayed after an 11-inning tie. Given a chance to pitch the clincher in Game 7 (the Red Sox led, 3-games-to-2), Wood turned in a turkey of a start, allowing seven hits and six runs in the first inning before getting the hook from manager Jake Stahl. Despite that shellacking, Wood returned to the mound the next day, entering a 1-1 game in the eighth inning. He pitched two scoreless frames, but allowed a run in the top of the 10th via a pair of hits, the second by 1908 goat Fred Merkle.
Unfortunately for the Giants, a new goat would immediately emerge in centerfielder Fred Snodgrass, who dropped a routine fly ball off the bat of pinch-hitter Clyde Engle to lead off the bottom of 10th. Engle came around to score the tying run on a single by Tris Speaker, and the Sox soon plated another via a sacrifice fly against a flagging Christy Mathewson, giving Wood three wins for the series and Boston its first of four titles in the decade.
1924 Game 7: Walter Johnson, Senators vs. Giants
In his 18th major league season, Johnson finally led the Senators to their first American League pennant, but he was on the short end in his two World Series starts, losing Games 1 and 5 to the Giants while allowing 10 runs in 20 innings (he pitched all 12 innings in the Series opener). Nonetheless, his teammates were able to force Game 7, and after they tied that game with a two-run rally in the bottom of the eighth inning — thanks to a bad hop over the head of rookie third baseman Fred Lindstrom — the Big Train arrived.
Johnson worked out of jams with runners in scoring position in the ninth and 11th innings, the first of which saw him strand Frankie Frisch at third base after his one-out triple. The Senators finally won in the 12th thanks to a pair of errors and then another bad hop over the head of Lindstrom, which scored the winning run. While they repeated as AL champions the next year, this would be the only world championship for the Senators and Johnson.
This is one of the most legendary starter-in-relief appearances in Series lore. The story goes that after picking up complete-game wins in Games 2 and 6, Alexander tied one on and was reputedly still drunk, or at least hungover, when he entered Game 7 with two outs and the bases loaded in the seventh inning and the Cardinals clinging to a 3-2 lead. While Alexander was a known alcoholic, researchers — including Donald Honig in a 1978 Sports Illustrated feature — have debunked the myth that he had partied the night before and was intoxicated at the time he entered, citing testimony from teammates.
In any event, Alexander struck out Tony Lazzeri on an off-speed pitch outside the strike zone to escape the jam, then retired the next five hitters before walking Babe Ruth with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. With Bob Meusel at bat (and Lou Gehrig on deck), Ruth inexplicably tried to steal second and was thrown out, ending the series and granting Alexander both the save and fodder for his plaque in Cooperstown.
1946 Game 7: Harry Brecheen, Cardinals vs Red Sox
A 31-year-old lefty who had led the NL in shutouts for the Cardinals, Brecheen was a seasoned World Series performer who had worked three games out of the bullpen in the 1943 Fall Classic and thrown a shutout in 1944. He went the distance twice in the 1946 Series, blanking Boston on four hits in Game 2 and then tossing a seven-hit, one-run effort in Game 6. Behind starter Murray Dickson, St. Louis carried a 3-1 lead into the eighth inning of Game 7, but Dickson surrendered a single and a double to start the frame before giving way to Breechen.
Brecheen struck out Wally Moses and then got Johnny Pesky to line out, but then served up a game-tying double to Dom DiMaggio before retiring Ted Williams to hold the line at 3-3. The Cardinals scored a run in the bottom of the eighth — Enos Slaughter's famous mad dash from first base on Harry Walker's double — and Brecheen preserved the lead despite allowing singles to the first two hitters he faced in the ninth. He thus became the first lefty ever to win three games in a single World Series.
Under manager Casey Stengel, Reynolds carved out a spot as the World Series' elite swingman. In six World Series from 1947 through '53 (every year but 1948), he made nine starts and six relief appearances, finishing off five of the latter and earning four saves; his 15 appearances are tied for second in the pre-Divisional Play Era, and even now, they're still tied for sixth.
Reynolds' first relief appearance came in Game 4 of the 1949 World Series, when he pitched 3 1/3 perfect innings in relief of Eddie Lopat, who had just coughed up four runs. That gave the Yankees a 3-games-to-1 lead; they would clinch the title in Game 5. His second appearance closed out New York's 1950 sweep of the "Whiz Kids." Those were lopsided series, however. The real action came in seven-game Fall Classics in 1952 and '53, both against the Dodgers.
In the former, Reynolds had started and went seven innings in a Game 1 loss and then pitched a complete-game shutout in Game 4. In Game 6 he came on in relief of Vic Raschi with two outs in the eighth inning to preserve a 3-2 lead and retired four of the five hitters he faced to net the save and force Game 7. Lopat lasted just three-plus innings that day, loading the bases with three straight singles to start the fourth, and Reynolds let in the tying run on a lineout by Duke Snider. But he wound up working three solid innings, allowing just one run of his own and departing with a 4-2 lead, which Raschi and Bob Kuzava held for New York's fourth straight title.
In 1953, after scuffling through a Game 1 start, Reynolds threw 2/3 of an inning to close out Game 5 and then two more innings to finish Game 6; in the latter, he entered in the eighth with the Yankees leading 3-1 and served up a game-tying homer to Carl Furillo in the ninth. He got the win, though, when the Yankees rallied against Clem Labine in the bottom of the inning, with Billy Martin driving in Hank Bauer with the series-winning run.
1958 Game 7: Bob Turley, Yankees vs. Braves
Turley inherited Reynolds' role, making at least one start and one relief appearance in the World Series in 1955, '56, '57, '58 and '60. He wasn't as successful as Reynolds — nor was New York, which lost three of those five series — and in fact, Stengel kept him on a short leash; four of his eight starts lasted less than two innings.
One of those starts came in Game 1 of the 1958 World Series. Turley, that year's Cy Young winner at a time when there was only one winner of the award in all of baseball, was chased after retiring just one of the five batters he faced and being charged with four runs. He returned to throw a five-hit shutout in Game 5, striking out 10, then got the final out in the 10th inning of Game 6 by retiring Frank Torre on a line drive with the tying run on third base and the winning run on first.
As if that wasn't enough, Turley came on again in the third inning of Game 7, relieving Don Larsen, who had fallen behind 2-1 and put two of the first three men on base to start the third. Turley escaped that jam (which included an intentional walk to slugger Eddie Mathews), then threw the final 6 2/3 innings in relief. He allowed a game-tying home run to Del Crandall in the sixth, but the Yankees rallied for four runs in the eighth against 1957 World Series MVP Lew Burdette. Turley got the win and the series MVP trophy for himself.
With the loss of slugger Reggie Jackson to a hamstring injury and lefty fireman Darold Knowles (who had put up a 1.37 ERA during the regular season) to a broken thumb, the A's entered the World Series against the Big Red Machine at less than full strength. Gene Tenace picked up the slack for Jackson by belting four home runs and driving in nine runs, while Vida Blue, who had spent the year in the rotation, helped cover for Knowles with a trio of relief appearances before starting Game 6. Hunter, who had gone 21-7 with a career-best 2.04 ERA in the regular season, lasted 8 2/3 innings in Oakland's Game 2 victory, but given the opportunity to close out the series in Game 5 (the A's led 3-games-to-1), he was chased in the fifth inning. The Reds won that game in Oakland and Game 6 back in Cincinnati to force Game 7.
Blue Moon Odom started for the A's and pitched four scoreless innings before faltering in the fifth, serving up a leadoff double to Tony Perez and then a one-out walk to Cesar Geronimo. Hunter, pitching on one day of rest, gave up the game-tying run via Hal McRae's sacrifice fly, but Oakland scored twice in the sixth. Hunter then got into trouble in the bottom of the frame thanks in part to a two-out error by Bert Campaneris. With runners at second and third, Hunter escaped by inducing a fly ball from Dennis Menke. He then pitched a clean seventh before departing in the eighth, having allowed his first hit of the outing, a leadoff single by Pete Rose. Fellow starter Ken Holtzman entered and yielded a double to Joe Morgan, but Rollie Fingers put out the fire, allowing only Rose to score. Hunter was credited with the win for his 2 2/3 innings of one-run work, and the A's took their first of three straight championships
The Pirates came into Game 5 at Three Rivers Stadium trailing the series, 3-games-to-1, and after starter Jim Rooker surrendered Game 5's first run in the top of the fifth inning, manager Chuck Tanner had little choice but to pull him for a pinch-hitter in the bottom half. On came Blyleven, who had thrown six innings of two-run ball in Pittsburgh's Game 2 win. He threw four shutout innings, while the Pirates scored two against Orioles starter Mike Flanagan in the sixth and then added five more against the bullpen in the late innings. That sent the series back to Baltimore, where the Pirates won Games 6 and 7; the latter marks the last time the visiting team has done so.
2001 Game 7: Randy Johnson, Diamondbacks vs. Yankees
The most direct analogue to Bumgarner's situation — albeit one that's admittedly imperfect — is that of the Big Unit, who had thrown a three-hit shutout in Game 2 of the Series and then seven solid innings in a 13-2 blowout in Game 6. Even lacking a single day of rest, the possibility of him making a relief appearance had to be in the heads of the Yankees, as some of them had been around long enough to remember his three innings out of the bullpen for the Mariners in Game 5 of the 1995 Division Series.
Johnson entered Game 7 with two outs in the eighth inning and the Diamondbacks trailing 2-1; starter Curt Schilling had given up a go-ahead homer to Alfonso Soriano to lead off the frame, then retired one more hitter before yielding to Miguel Batista, who got one out as well. Johnson set down all four Yankees he faced, while his teammates rallied for the game-tying and winning runs against Mariano Rivera in the bottom of the ninth. That gave Johnson his third win of the series; he shared MVP honors with Schilling, who had tallied more innings and strikeouts and made three starts, the last two on three days' rest.