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Completely Different

Pitch counts? Setup men? Six-inning quality starts? Since Nolan Ryan's heyday, the mind-set of baseball has become ...

June 13, 2004|Chris Dufresne | Times Staff Writer

Thirty years ago Monday night, in the cavernous confines of near-empty Anaheim Stadium, Denny Doyle doubled home Mickey Rivers in the bottom of the 15th inning to lift the California Angels to a 4-3 victory over the Boston Red Sox.

Barry Raziano pitched two innings of relief to earn what was his only major league victory.

Raziano, who runs a construction company in Louisiana, said recently he has no recollection of the game, which puts him in the overwhelming majority.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday June 18, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 47 words Type of Material: Correction
Angel box score -- The box score and play by play from the June 14, 1974, Angel-Red Sox game that appeared with a Sports section article Sunday about Nolan Ryan didn't include the source of the information. The box score and play by play were from Retrosheet.

You could argue, however, that someone will eclipse Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak before another game is played like the one on June 14, 1974.

Standing at his clubhouse cubicle before a recent game, Angel pitcher Jarrod Washburn eyeballed a copy of the disco-era game log and shook his head.

"No," Washburn said, "it won't happen again."

What happened was this:

Boston starter Luis Tiant pitched 14 1/3 innings and took the loss.

Nolan Ryan of the Angels lasted 13 innings, struck out 19 batters, walked 10 and -- hold onto your helmets -- threw 235 pitches.

When contacted for this story, Ryan asked that the box score from that game be faxed to his office in Texas.

After reviewing it, Ryan said two memories stood out: striking out Cecil Cooper six times and "not wanting to come out" after heaving his final pitch, which yielded a ground out to second by Carl Yastrzemski.

By today's standards, Tiant and Ryan each pitched more than two "quality starts" -- six innings, three earned runs or fewer allowed -- on the same night.

"Quality start?" Ryan chuckled over the phone. "In those days, if I had pitched only six innings and gave up three runs I had a bad outing and I was hacked off.

"And I can tell you what: My manager and general manager weren't happy either."

What makes the 1974 game seem remarkable now is how unremarkable it seemed then.

The Times' game account acknowledged "Tiant and Ryan dueled tenaciously," yet there was no mention of Ryan's pitch count in the game story or the following-day notes. Ryan knows he threw 235 only because Tom Morgan, the Angel pitching coach, kept track on a hand-held clicker.

"I think he did it out of, I don't know if it was curiosity or what," Ryan said.

No pitch totals were readily available on Tiant, but how could he have not thrown at least 180?

Get this: There were no grievances filed to the players' union, no complaints by either pitcher about inhumane treatment, no newspaper scribe's rebuke of the managers who allowed it and, in the case of Ryan, no rest for the weary.

"It obviously ruined his arm because he had to retire 19 years later," said Bill James, a renowned chronicler of baseball facts and figures.

Ryan took his regularly scheduled start four days later and won, pitched again five days later and won again, started five days after that and tossed a one-hit shutout against Texas.

"Guys like Nolan Ryan, they only come around once every 100 years or so," Washburn said.

Ryan may have been blessed with a bionic arm, but he did not corner the market on durability.

He finished with 26 complete games in 1973 and again in 1974 and did not lead the league either year.

Ryan, who won 324 games and pitched until age 46, led the league in innings pitched only once, in 1974, with 332 2/3.

Since then, baseball has gone from seat-of-the-pants, gut-check performances to Bobby Fischer vs. Boris Spassky.

Whether baseball is better now is open to debate.

Modern-day pitchers rarely are allowed to throw more than 110 pitches, after which chess-master managers consult their flow charts and start a parade of percentage maneuvers involving multitudes of relief pitchers.

"You know, in those days," Ryan mused, "I was my own closer."

There was outrage recently when San Francisco Manager Felipe Alou allowed Jason Schmidt to complete a game in which he threw 144 pitches.

Ryan says, in 1974, he averaged between 160 and 180 pitches per outing.

For 100 years or so, baseball was played a certain way, and that way was good enough to earn it status as our "National Pastime."

Once, starting pitchers were warriors and relief pitchers were, Ryan said, guys who never got to pitch "unless your starter was just horrible and got knocked out early."

At some point in the 1970s, baseball was transformed, irrevocably, right in the middle of Ryan's career.

"I can remember the first couple of starters that I knew that didn't go out with the intent of finishing the ballgame," the Hall of Fame pitcher said. "I couldn't fathom that.

"I came from the mind-set that it was your game, you were the starter and you had every intention of finishing it.... You weren't remotely interested in turning it over to somebody. That's just the way it was. You thought nothing of it."

Fred Claire, the former Dodger general manager, tried to imagine Sandy Koufax or Don Drysdale getting yanked from the mound after topping the 100-pitch count.

"Those guys would have looked at [manager] Walter Alston like he was somebody that had come down from Mars," Claire said.

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