Complete Game, Interrupted

Similar to my post earlier in the summer on what a beautifully morbid season Cliff Lee was having, I tend to have a fascination with the way baseball sometimes refuses to be fair. I blame Tom Paciorek.

When I was 5 years old, I wrote Paciorek and asked him if he had any advice about how to get to the big leagues. After checking my mail obsessively over the next four months, I got an envelope with a Seattle Mariner trident on it. I tore it open. “Tom Paciorek! Tom Paciorek! Tom Paciorek!” I hollered, sprinting through through the house, waving the letter in the air.

And what sage advice did I receive? “Kid,” Paciorek wrote, “in baseball, you’re either the hero or the goat. – Tom.”

From those few words, my passion was born.

Earlier this summer, I was watching a game between the Texas Rangers and the Mariners. It was Sept. 16. At the time, the Mariners were 16.5 games back and in full who is going to be invited back next year? mode. They trotted out their typical lineup and opposing pitcher Matt Harrison made mincemeat out of them for eight consecutive innings. He gave up just five hits, one earned run, walked none and struck out six. He threw just 101 pitches. His outing was a thing of beauty, even if it did come against a pretty ghastly lineup.

As a baseball fan — and you might share this sentiment — I appreciate the starting pitcher’s effort  in games like this. But I also like to see them finished. The pitcher no doubt wants to complete the game as well, or at least I’d assume so. And at 101 pitches, it was no surprise to see Harrison return to the field.

Harrison entered the top of the ninth in Arlington with a 2-1 lead and got Dustin Ackley to fly out to center on four pitches. He subsequently issued a six-pitch walk to Franklin Gutierrez, he of the 5.5% walk rate. On two pitches, Kyle Seager popped out to the shortstop and this game looked pretty well sealed. But then Jesus Montero sliced a double into the right field corner and it suddenly got interesting. With Michael Saunders coming to the plate and Harrison holding lefties to a .209/.244/.327 line, I figured they’d just let him clean up his own mess. Just let him finish.

And then out came Ron Washington.

After throwing 119 pitches and totally dominating the Mariners, Matt Harrison watched Koji Uehara strike out Saunders on five pitches. Harrison won the game, and he’ll tell everyone with a tape recorder that’s all that matters, but you know it ticked him off. It ticked me off too. So I went digging.

In the last 10 years, a starting pitcher has lasted 8.2 innings 120 times. It has happened twice to 11 pitchers and three times to three pitchers (Bartolo Colon, Tim Hudson and CC Sabathia). But the granddaddy of not quite making the clean-plate-club is Roy Halladay who has done it six times. Six times! This is probably a product of what a fine and efficient pitcher he is, of course, but come on baseball gods — stop torturing the man.

In those six games, Halladay has a 3-1 record, a 1.21 ERA and a 0.87 WHIP. And yet, you know he’s left those games dissatisfied every time. In one instance, Halladay actually did finish his business, but he lost the game with two outs in the ninth inning — on April 29, 2008, against the Boston Red Sox. He lost 1-0.

But with the theme of unfairness in mind, Halladay’s outing on Sept. 21, 2007, has to be the crown jewel. Entering the bottom of the ninth against the New York Yankees, Halladay had thrown just 90 pitches and held a comfy 4-0 lead. He’d given up five hits, no earned runs, walked none and struck out four.

A Johnny Damon double, a Derek Jeter groundout, a Bobby Abreu single, an Alex Rodriguez single, an Hideki Matsui groundout and then Aaron Hill throws the ball away on a weak grounder by Jorge Posada. Roy Halladay exited the game with a 4-2 lead. Scott Downs came in and surrendered a pair of singles to Robinson Cano and Jason GiambiPoof. Halladay’s work went up in smoke. Brutal.

But a particular dishonorable mention goes to Carlos Silva, who actually has been one out from a complete game twice in his career. Still, he has done it in a style that might only be possible if you’re Carlos Silva. In those 120 games, there have been 17 instances where a pitcher has gone 8.2 innings and lost. Silva accounts for two of those.

On June 29, 2004, Silva gave up six earned runs and 11 hits in 8.2 innings. He never really gave his team a chance to win, but wasn’t allowed to finish the game. And then rather inexplicably, on April 18, 2006, Silva was allowed to give up eight earned runs in 8.2 innings. After taking one for the team, Ron Gardenhire pulled him for one out even though he’d thrown just 109 pitches. Oh, The Buffalo.

And lastly: What team might be the king of raining on a starting pitchers parade? In the past 10 years, the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays, Baltimore Orioles and Los Angeles Dodgers each have done it seven times. But nobody comes close to the Seattle Mariners. Yes, the team that has averaged 74 wins in the last 10 years has been the biggest wet blanket for would-be complete games. They have victimized Colby Lewis, Dan Haren, Derek Holland, Jeremy Bonderman, Kevin Millwood, Livan Hernandez, Mark Redman, Matt Harrison and Nick Blackburn.

Sorry fellas. Sometimes you’re the hero, and sometimes you’re the goat.

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Michael was born in Massachusetts and grew up in the Seattle area but had nothing to do with the Heathcliff Slocumb trade although Boston fans are welcome to thank him. You can find him on twitter at @michaelcbarr.

7 Responses to “Complete Game, Interrupted”

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  1. SirCub says:

    This used to happen to me all the time on MLB The Show. I would get so pissed

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  2. The Theory says:

    I love the anecdote which leads off this article.

    Good stuff.

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  3. Hurtlockertwo says:

    Tuesday, July 2, 1963. Giants vrs Milwaukee
    Juan Marichal vrs Warren Spahn
    The game goes into the 16th inning, 0-0 the score
    Both starters still in the game
    With one out in the bottom of the 16th, Willie Mays hits a game
    winning HR.
    Juan Marichal wins a 16 inning shutout.
    Warren Spahn loses 1-0 after pitching 15 1/3 inings.

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    • Michael Barr says:

      Because you need to know, Paciorek was 0-5 in his career vs. Juan Marichal.

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    • Baltar says:

      Almost as excruciating as Harvey Haddix’s 13th inning loss after pitching a perfect game for 12+ innings. That game had other fun wierdness. Look it up for your own enjoyment.

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  4. TFINY says:

    I’m confused. Nick Blackburn never played for the Mariners?

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    • TFINY says:

      Oh, never mind. I read that as which team pulled their starters the most, not which team caused them to be pulled.

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