Sox staff drawing lofty comparisons
Legendary rotations recalled as late October arrives
Four consecutive complete games by the Chicago White Sox have helped bring the Windy City its first World Series since 1959. The feat has also inspired reflection upon some of the most dominating starting rotations in Octobers past, and any discussion of recent memory probably has to start with the Baltimore Orioles.
It is hard to draw comparisons to the Orioles staff that ushered in the 1970s, but the utter domination by Mark Buehrle, Jon Garland, Freddy Garcia and then Jose Contreras -- especially in an era that embraces the closer mentality -- deserves a look back.
In 1970, the Orioles had three 20-game winners: Mike Cuellar (24-8), Dave McNally (24-9) and Jim Palmer (20-10). In that season's World Series, each pitcher figured into winning decisions as Baltimore, which had lost to the New York Mets in the previous Fall Classic, defeated the Cincinnati Reds in five games.
That was just a taste of pitching greatness to come. In 1971, the Orioles had four 20-game winners. McNally was 21-5, Pat Dobson was 20-8, and Cuellar and Palmer were each 20-9. Those are simply unheard-of numbers today, accomplished in a time when starters were given longer ropes to finish their own work.
McNally-Cuellar-Palmer equaled a quick three-game sweep of Oakland in the American League Championship Series, and when McNally opened with a complete game and Palmer followed by winning after eight dominant innings, it looked as if the 1971 World Series against Pittsburgh would be just more of the same.
But all that pitching still was not enough to overcome a Pittsburgh lineup that included the likes of Roberto Clemente. In the signature moments of his Hall of Fame career, Clemente went 12-for-29 with two home runs, including one in the decisive Game 7 at Baltimore's Memorial Stadium. Pittsburgh had won the middle three games back home, and Baltimore had won Game 6 in the bottom of the 10th after Palmer went nine and Dobson and McNally each pitched the top of the 10th.
Game 7 was a terrific pitchers' duel between Cuellar and Steve Blass. Cuellar had surrendered the fourth-inning homer to Clemente, and in the top of the eighth, Jose Pagan doubled in Willie Stargell to make it 2-0. Ellie Hendricks singled for one of only four Baltimore hits off Blass, moved to second on Mark Belanger's single, was sacrificed over, and then scored on Don Buford's groundout. But that was the only offense Baltimore could generate in the Orioles' 2-1 loss.
The 1950 New York Yankees, however, needed only to roll out their four frontline starters in succession to put away the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series. Vic Raschi, 21-8 during the regular season, threw a two-hit shutout to start that year's Fall Classic at Veterans Stadium. Allie Reynolds (16-5) went the distance in a Game 2 duel against Robin Roberts, as Joe DiMaggio jolted a homer in the top of the ninth for a 2-1 victory. In Game 3, Ed Lopat (18-8) left for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the eighth, trailing 2-1, and the Yanks tied it that inning and won it in the ninth on a Jerry Coleman single.
Then came a rookie by the name of Whitey Ford, who would go on to become the winningest pitcher in World Series history. He had been 9-1 in just 12 starts that first season, and he was one out away from a 5-0 shutout when the Phils scored a pair before Reynolds came on to clinch the championship.
Who knows? Maybe one of these White Sox pitchers will go on to record the kind of October success that Ford discovered. Right now, just being mentioned in the same breath as those halcyon days is heady stuff for the White Sox.
Just to show how times have changed, consider the innings pitched by the last White Sox team to win a World Series. In 1917, the Sox had four pitchers who won at least 15 games, but in the Fall Classic against the New York Giants, Red Faber threw 29 innings and Eddie Chicotte pitched 23. No one else went more than one.
Many terrific trios have led their teams to postseason success. Think back to the 1948 Cleveland Indians and Gene Beardon (20-7), Bob Lemon (20-14) and the great Bob Feller (19-15). Feller was beaten twice in the 1948 World Series, but the Indians still had enough to beat the Boston Braves in six for their most recent World Championship.
Think about the 1973 A's, who had three 20-game winners in Catfish Hunter (21-5), Ken Holtzman (21-13) and Vida Blue (20-9). The World Series that Oakland won that year was the middle of three in a row -- and the club had a pretty good closer named Rollie Fingers around to help.
In the 1990s, the Braves had a dominating trio in John Smoltz, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux -- and they led the club to a World Championship in 1995. But four pitchers who have done the kinds of things in October that Buerhle/Garcia/Garland/Contreras just displayed? It takes a lot of page-turning.
There were no best-of-seven opportunities other than the World Series until the LCS format was expanded thusly in 1985. And the farther back you go into the history books, the more apt pitchers were to be "workhorses" who would throw on as little rest as possible. Let's see if that concept will continue into the World Series or if the bullpen will once again come into play for Ozzie Guillen's new AL champs.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.