OCTOBER 24, 2003
Fleeing The Fifth
By Steve Lombardi, NetShrine.com
When two teams are tied at two wins apiece in a World Series after four games, it goes without saying that Game 5 is a pivotal contest – and an important one for the pitcher who starts the game.
In Game 5 of the 2003 World Series, Yankees pitcher David Wells was forced from his start after pitching only one scoreless inning (retiring all three batters he faced) due to back spasms. The Yankees went on to lose Game 5 to the Florida Marlins by the score of six to four (and the Marlins took a three to two game lead in the series).
In the history of the World Series, Wells’ early exit in Game 5 of the 2003 World Series was only the fifth time that a starting pitcher in Game 5 of a series tied at two wins each failed to pitch at least 2 innings in his start.
This last occurred 43 years ago, on October 10, 1960, when Art Ditmar of the New York Yankees only lasted an inning and a third (allowing three base runners and one earned run) in Game 5 of the 1960 World Series versus the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Yankees lost that game, five to two; and, New York eventually lost the series in seven games.
The other three times that a starting pitcher in Game 5 of a series tied at two wins each failed to pitch at least 2 innings in his start:
On October 11, 1946, in Game 5 of the 1946 World Series, the St. Louis Cardinals Howie Pollet lasted only one-third of an inning in his start that day (allowing three base runners and one earned run). The Cardinals lost that game to the Boston Red Sox, six to three; but, St. Louis eventually won the series in seven games.
On October 14, 1923, in Game 5 of the 1923 World Series, the New York Giants Jack Bentley went one and one-third innings (allowing seven base runners and six earned runs). The Giants lost that game to the New York Yankees, eight to one; and, the Giants eventually lost the series in six games.
On October 13, 1917, in Game 5 of the 1917 World Series, the Chicago White Sox Reb Russell did not retire a batter in his start (allowing three base runners and two earned runs before leaving the game). Nonetheless, the White Sox actually won that game versus the New York Giants; and went on to win the series in six games.
There are two discernible observations that can be made from these facts:
Some may note that in the four cases previous to Wells, the team that suffered the short start eventually went on to win the World Series fifty percent of the time. Should the 2003 Yankees look at this as well for encouragement as they prepare for Games 6 & 7 of the 2003 World Series?
Actually, they should not.
There are three other cases of a starting pitcher in Game 5 of a series tied at two wins each failing very early in his start:
On October 15, 1978, in Game 5 of the 1978 World Series, the Los Angeles Dodgers Burt Hooton went only two and one-third innings (allowing seven base runners and three earned runs). The Dodgers lost that game to the New York Yankees, twelve to two; and, the Dodgers eventually lost the series in six games.
On October 11, 1965, in Game 5 of the 1965 World Series, the Minnesota Twins Jim Kaat only lasted two and one-third innings (allowing six base runners and three earned runs). The Twins lost that game to the Los Angeles Dodgers, six-nothing; and, the Twins eventually lost the series in six games.
On October 13, 1906, in Game 5 of the 1906 World Series, the Chicago Cubs Ed Reulbach left the game after two innings (allowing seven base runners and three earned runs). The Cubs lost that game to the Chicago White Sox, eight to six; and, the Cubs eventually lost the series in six games.
Allowing for these starts – by moving the innings pitched threshold from at least two to at least three – significantly changes to odds (based on history) of eventually winning the World Series (from 50% to about 29%). This is the difference between flipping a coin and blindly picking for the ball in the old shell game. While neither is a great position, clearly the 50-50 shot is the better gamble.
For the 2003 New York Yankees, therefore, the road to a ring is now an uphill journey at a greater incline than it was before Game 5 as they approach the final two games of the World Series.
While it is true that “All’s well that ends well,” it may also be true that “Wells ended all that might have been well” for the Bronx Bombers this year.
Steve Lombardi is the Creator & Curator of NetShrine.com. Scrawling On The Scorecard appears regularly during the baseball season and sporadically during the off-season. Steve can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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