Luis Tiant (Indians-Red Sox Game 7 Chat)October 21, 2007
If you were able to resurrect anyone in his prime from the history of your favorite team to pitch the seventh game of a playoff series, whom would you choose? The Red Sox have a lot of worthy candidates, including the two current roster members who have enabled the Red Sox to climb out of a 3 games to 1 hole against the Cleveland Indians and force the all or nothing deciding game tonight (FOX; 8:23 ET). Both of these men, already October legends, turned in impressive performances, the smirkingly confident Beckett simply wrecking the Indians with blazing fastballs and darting curves, and the aging, top-heavy Schilling, who looked throughout the game like a long-sedentary office worker who’d just been forced by an elevator malfunction to take five flights of stairs, somehow keeping the Indians at bay with his assortment of batting practice heaves.
I’d be happy if either one of these able fellows could somehow take the mound tonight on full rest (Beckett does indeed appear ready to pitch in relief), but they wouldn’t be my first choice if I could reach back into history for anyone. They’d have a lot of good company among the pitchers passed over for the job, including:
Cy Young. The winner of all imagined conversations in pitching heaven, e.g.: “Wow, that is a lot of Cy Young awards you’ve got there. No doubt about it. Hm? What’s that? What’s my name? Why don’t you ask one of your little trophies. You know, on your way to getting your shinebox.”
Smokey Joe Wood. His 1912 season was one of the greatest ever. Also the possessor of the coolest name for a pitcher ever, with the possible exception of Blue Moon Odom. Incidentally, he is a member of the all-time team of Red Sox-Indians; after arm trouble killed his pitching career he made a comeback as a part-time outfielder with the Cleveland Indians, helping them win the 1920 World Series.
Babe Ruth. Really tough not to pick the Babe, who for many years held the record for most consecutive shutout innings in World Series play; plus, of course, he could bat and let the DH David Ortiz hit for Julio Lugo (by the way, has the DH ever been used for anybody but the pitcher?)
Roger Clemens. The numbers in context point to him as quite possibly the author of the greatest regular season pitching career of all time, and if he were on the mound tonight for the Red Sox, in his prime, I wouldn’t complain, but I’d also be a little worried about an overpumped bat-throwing ump-berating meltdown.
Pedro Martinez. The dominant, fearless maestro. When Clemens was at his peak for the Red Sox I was gratefully aware that we had one of the best pitchers in the game; when Pedro was at his peak for the Red Sox I often found myself wondering if we had the best pitcher who ever lived.
But if I could pick one player from Red Sox history to pitch tonight’s game, I’d follow the thinking of former Red Sox manager Darrell Johnson, who once said, “If a man put a gun to my head and said I’m going to pull the trigger if you lose this game, I’d want Luis Tiant to pitch that game.”
Luis Tiant came through in many a big game for the Red Sox, and I believe he should be in the Hall of Fame. But those are not the sole reasons for my choice. Part of the reason has to do with the element of resurrection in his career. After breaking in with the Cleveland Indians, where he authored a season for the ages in 1968, Tiant appeared done as a pitcher in the early 1970s. These terse lines from the transaction section of his page on Baseball Reference.com tell the story:
March 31, 1971: Released by the Minnesota Twins.
April 16, 1971: Signed as a Free Agent with the Atlanta Braves.
May 15, 1971: Released by the Atlanta Braves.
Picked up, dumped, picked up again, dumped again. The Red Sox took a chance on him and to their credit stuck with him throughout 1971 as he compiled a putrid 1 and 7 record. The following season he turned things around, and for most of the rest of the decade he was once again among the best pitchers on the globe. He had been finished, a Hefty bag left on the curb, but he came all the way back, resurrected.
But the theme of resurrection isn’t, in the end, the deciding factor for me, though it feeds into it. Here’s the main reason I’d give the ball to Luis Tiant:
Luis Tiant not only dominated in big games, he entertained, he enchanted, he enthralled. He toyed with batters with his wide assortment of bedeviling pitches and his looping corkscrew windup (the most imitated big league gyration of my childhood), and in doing so and by the sheer magnetism of his ebullient personality he played the entire packed house at Fenway like it was the world’s biggest and loudest musical instrument, a thumping, chanting, cheering organ of hope and celebration.
If you’re going to play a game seven, you might as well win, and if you’re going to win, you might as well enjoy it. So here’s hoping that the spirit of El Tiante can somehow flow into the corkscrew windup and the wide assortment of pitches of the actual starting pitcher for tonight’s game, Daisuke Matsuzaka, whose season to date has been a little like the first two acts of Luis Tiant’s career, great promise followed by a seemingly unstoppable demise.
Here’s hoping that now is the perfect time for Act Three.
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The lineups (courtesy of Amelie Benjamin’s Boson Globe blog):
1. Grady Sizemore, CF
2. Asdrubal Cabrera, 2B
3. Travis Hafner, DH
4. Victor Martinez, C
5. Ryan Garko, 1B
6. Jhonny Peralta, SS
7. Kenny Lofton, LF
8. Franklin Gutierrez, RF
9. Casey Blake, 3B
SP – Jake Westbrook
1. Dustin Pedroia, 2B
2. Kevin Youkilis, 1B
3. David Ortiz, DH
4. Manny Ramirez, LF
5. Mike Lowell, 3B
6. J.D. Drew, RF
7. Jason Varitek, C
8. Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
9. Julio Lugo, SS
SP – Daisuke Matsuzaka