Anyone who reads Sully Baseball knows that I have a strange fascination with the pitcher who closes out the World Series.
I always wanted to be the pitcher getting the last out and being on the bottom of the pile… but alas that’s a role that won’t be played by little Paul Sullivan.
Usually the last pitch is thrown by an ace pitcher throwing a complete game… or a star closer… and in a few instances by a Hall of Famer.
But every once in a while the biggest pitch of the year is thrown by someone more obscure.
Either it is a spot starter pitching the game of his life…
Or a middle reliever thrown into the fire…
Or a starter coming out of the pen…
Or in a few instances the World Series was clinched by a pitcher who started the season in the minor leagues.
So let’s salute the pitchers who got to have the highlight of a lifetime… and were almost as unlikely to have that moment as me!
DICK “BALDY” RUDOLPH, Boston Braves – 1914 World Series
The Miracle Braves were in last place on July 4, 1914… and somehow won the NL Pennant and swept the defending World Champion A’s.
Rudolph was a .500 pitcher going into the 1914 season. He won 26 games in 1914 and threw complete game victories in games 1 and the clinching game 4.
The next year he led the NL in losses and by the 1920s he was no longer a factor. But he will always be the first Braves pitcher to clinch a World Series.
SAD SAM JONES, New York Yankees – 1923 World Series
The Yankees just won their 27th title in the first year of their new park.
The first year in the Bronx, they won their first ever title. And which legend clinched title #1?
Jones, a 21 game winner who came out of the bullpen to throw the final two innings of Game 6 against the Giants. In a few years he led the league in losses and never pitched like an elite pitcher again.
There will be many more Yankee titles, but Jones clinched the first one.
RED OLDHAM, Pittsburgh Pirates – 1925 World Series
Without a doubt the single most obscure pitcher to ever clinch a World Series. He was in the minor leagues at the beginning of 1925. He didn’t pitch at all in the World Series until the 9th inning of the 7th game. All he had to do was face Hall of Famers Sam Rice, Bucky Harris and Goose Goslin with just a 2 run lead. He got them in order and he saved Game 7 of the World Series.
The next year he was back in the minors. After 1926 he never pitched in the bigs again.
He struggled through obscure teams for years, sitting next to minor leaguers who would never make it. I wonder if he ever brought up clinching the World Series during those minor league games.
DOLF LUQUE, New York Giants – 1933 World Series
Luque had a couple of terrific years for the Reds in the early 20s. But by 1933, he was a 42 year old reliever in an era where starters tended to go 9.
But he came into a tied Game 5 of the 1933 World Series and threw 4 1/3 shutout innings and struck out Joe Kuhel in the 10th to clinch the series.
TINY BONHAM, New York Yankees, 1941 World Series
Usually relief ace “Fordham” Johnny Murphy would get the honors to close out a series for the Yankees in the late 30s and early 40s. Or perhaps a Hall of Famer like Lefty Gomez or Red Ruffing.
But in 1941, Tiny Bonham had the honor. He threw a complete game victory in Game 5 against the Dodgers to seal the title.
Bonham was a terrific rookie in 1940 and had a solid 1941 and became an All Star by 1942. But he struggled in the post war years. Then in 1949 as a member of the Pirates, he died during an appendectomy.
JOHNNY BEAZLEY, St. Louis Cardinals – 1942 World Series
Beazley had a dream rookie year in 1942. He won 21 games and helped pitch the Cardinals to the World Series title with complete game victories in Game 1 and the clinching Game 5.
Then he went off to war and missed the 1942, 1944 and 1945 seasons. When he returned, he was part of the 1946 Champs, but was not the same pitcher and a few years later was out of baseball.
He became a beer distributor, and one with the coolest story to tell at the bar. “Did YOU ever clinch a World Series?”
TED WILKS, St. Louis Cardinals – 1944 World Series
The war years gave a lot of unlikely players a chance to shine. Wilks was a 28 year old rookie in 1944 when he joined a Cardinals team depleted during the war.
He pitched very well and in the All St. Louis World Series, Wilks pitched 3 1/3 perfect innings out of the bullpen to save the clinching Game 6.
Wilks pitched 10 seasons and twice led the league in saves before retiring as a member of the Indians in 1953.
HARRY BRECHEEN, St. Louis Cardinals – 1946 World Series
Both Beazley and Wilks were on the 1946 Cardinals team. They were also quite rested during Game 7 of the World Series when the Cardinals were protecting a 2 run 8th inning lead.
Brecheen had thrown a complete game victory just 2 days prior. But it was Brecheen who got the ball in the 8th. The Red Sox would rally to tie the game, but the Cardinals took the lead on Slaughter’s mad dash.
When he shut down the Red Sox in the 9th, Brecheen became the first pitcher to win Game 6 and 7 of the same World Series.
GENE BEARDEN, Cleveland Indians – 1948 World Series
The photo on the left is of Gene Bearden clinching the AL Pennant against the Red Sox. He would have another highlight. The rookie left hander won 21 games that year and led the league in ERA.
He would never win more than 8 games again and 6 years later, was out of baseball.
But he threw a complete game shutout in Game 3 of the World Series and came out of the bullpen to shut down the Braves in Game 6 to get the World Series clinching save.
As of this writing, it is the last World Series the Indians ever won. (I am looking at YOU Jose Mesa!)
BOB KUZAVA, New York Yankees – 1951 World Series and 1952 World Series
I already covered Kuzava’s heroics in the 1951 and 1952 World Series in my “Clinched backed to back years” entry.
What I find amazing is that Casey Stengel would not use Kuzava until the World Series was on the verge of being clinched.
It’s as if he sat in the dug out and said “Are we about to win this baby? Well then let’s bring in the left hander we just got from Washington… the one with the nondescript career.”
He played 3+ seasons in New York, picked up 3 World Series rings and closed out two of those series on his own… then went back to being a nondescript pitcher.
JOHNNY ANTONELLI, New York Giants – 1954 World Series
Antonelli was a solid pitcher on the last Giants team to win the World Series. And he won Game 2 against the Indians, giving the Giants a 2-0 lead.
In the clinching game 4, Leo Durocher had future Hall of Famer reliever Hoyt Wilhelm on the mound and relief ace Marv Grissom in the pen.
Instead he elected to bring in Antonelli to pitch the last innings of game 4.
He got the save and the Giants got the win… so I guess it is tough to argue with Durocher’s decision.
On a side note, Antonelli was acquired by the Giants in exchange for another October hero: Bobby Thomson.
JOHNNY KUCKS, New York Yankees – 1956 World Series
Don Larsen was the hero of the 1956 World Series, but it was the responsibilty of 22 year old Kucks to close the series out.
He had made some World Series relief appearances, but Game 7 in Brooklyn was his first ever World Series start. He responded with a complete game shutout, ending the last World Series game ever played in Brooklyn.
The New Jersey native (and friend of my uncle’s) won 18 games that year, but never again won more than 8 and five years later was out of baseball.
LARRY SHERRY, Los Angeles Dodgers – 1959 World Series
The Los Angeles native helped deliver the first ever World Series title to the west coast (much to the chagrin of Brooklyn fans.)
He saved 2 games against the White Sox and won two others in the World Series to become the first reliever to win World Series MVP honors.
He relieved Johnny Podres in game 6 and threw 5 2/3 shutout inning to slam the door on Chicago and win the World Series.
He would have some more solid seasons as a relief ace with the Dodgers and the Tigers, but none living up to the promise of a rookie World Series MVP.
BUD DALEY, New York Yankees – 1961 World Series
The Yankees of the 1950s and 1960s had their superstars and Hall of Famers. But they also had a steady stream of roll players who came up big in October.
Joining the Johnny Kucks and Bob Kuzava’s of the world is Bud Daley, whom the Yankees acquired from the A’s midway through the 1961 season.
He was unimpressive in the regular season but came up big in October.
When Ralph Terry couldn’t make it out of the third inning, Daley came in to relieve. He threw 6 1/3 innings with no earned runs. He got Vada Pinson to fly out to Hector Lopez to clinch the World Series.
Three years later he was out of baseball.
STEVE BLASS, Pittsburgh Pirates – 1971 World Series
I suppose Blass isn’t such an unlikely clinching pitcher. He was putting together a terrific career in Pittsburgh. As one of the Pirates most reliable pitchers, he threw a complete game victory in Game 3 of the 1971 World Series against the defending champion Orioles.
Then in a tense Game 7, he withstood an Orioles 8th inning rally and hung on to get Merv Rettenmund to ground out for the World Seris title.
The next year he was the runner up for the Cy Young. A year later his control was gone and his ERA was over 9.00. By 1975 his career was over.
He became a popular announcer, but his startling loss of his ability to pitch led to the term “Steve Blass Disease” for players who careers suddenly sputter.
DAROLD KNOWLES, Oakland A’s – 1973 World Series
A’s manager Dick Williams didn’t use Knowles in the 1973 ALCS. Let’s just say he made up for it in the World Series.
For whatever reason Knowles, a good pitcher who made the 1969 All Star team with the Senators, became Williams’ go to guy. He appeared in the first 6 games of the Series against the Mets, saving Game 1.
It looked like Rollie Fingers would have the honor of closing out the World Series in Game 7, but Gene Tenace made a 2 out error in the 9th that put the tying run at the plate. Knowles came in and got Wayne Garrett to pop up to clinch the series.
To date, Knowles is the only pitcher to appear in all 7 games of a 7 game series.
MIKE TORREZ, New York Yankees – 1977 World Series
Yes… THAT Mike Torrez. Most people associate Torrez with the Yankees 1978 title… mainly because as a member of the Red Sox he served up Bucky Dent’s homer. (Some people in Boston felt he was a double agent.)
He had a more direct impact on the 1977 title by throwing two complete game wins in the World Series for the Yankees.
The Dodgers touched him for some runs at the beginning of the clinching 6th game, but he received all the run support he needed from Reggie Jackson’s three homers.
Jackson and Torrez are linked in another way: When Reggie was traded from the A’s to Baltimore, Oakland got a package of players in return including Torrez.
MIKE TIMLIN, Toronto Blue Jays – 1992 World Series
I wrote about my personal fascination with Mike Timlin’s World Series clinching save in the Blue Jays Home Grown vs. Acquired post.
But it really is amazing when you take a few steps back and see the total tonnage of All Star caliber pitchers who threw in that Game 6 of the 1992 World Series.
David Cone, Todd Stottlemyre, David Wells, Duane Ward, Tom Henke and Jimmy Key all pitched.
NATURALLY the World Series would fall on Mike Timlin’s shoulders!
One thing that kind of upset me about the World Series celebration in 1992 was that the pile seemed to center around Joe Carter (who caught the last out) and not Mike Timlin.
Ah well… I’m sure Timlin didn’t mind.
BOBBY JENKS, Chicago White Sox – 2005 World SeriesIn 2004, Jenks looked like a dopey fat minor league pitcher in the Angels system who was blowing his big chance. Repeatedly drunk, hung over or bringing beer on the team bus, and was cut from their AA team at the end of the season.
That’s a terrible way to end a season.
Do you know what a better way to end a season is? Recording the last out of the World Series in a thrilling 1-0 game, ending an 88 year drought for a proud franchise.
Picked up by the White Sox and sent to AA, he made his big league debut in July. When closer Dustin Hermanson hurt his back, Jenks became the closer.
He closed out the Astros in Game 4 and gave Chicago a World Championship for the first time since 1917.
Folks, that is what I call a turn around.
ADAM WAINWRIGHT, St. Louis Cardinals – 2006 World Series
When the Cardinals limped into the 2006 post season with 83 wins, they started the playoffs without a closer. Jason Isringhausen had hip surgery and Adam Wainwright, who was in the minor leagues in 2005, was pressed into closing duty.
He closed out the Division Series against the Padres and then threw a franchise crushing called third strike against the Mets Carlos Beltran in the NLCS.
He then closed out the World Series against the Tigers.
I am sure when the season began his goals basically were “stay on the team.”
I wonder if “Clinch the World Series and be forever etched into Cardinals lore” crossed his mind.
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