RAMON ROMERO – 1st southpaw starting pitcher from the Dominican Republic to win a major league game
Of all the 455 ballplayers the Dominican Republic has sent to the majors, not one has been a truly outstanding left-handed starting pitcher. Well, let’s amend that, the legendary Diomedes Olivo certainly was. However, the “Dominican Satchel Paige” didn’t get his first shot at the big leagues until the age of 41, and appeared almost exclusively in relief for parts of three seasons. Sure, Carlos & Odalis Perez made All-Star teams, but neither of those guys has a career winning record. The lack of left-handed starters from the D.R. is so chronic that it took a quarter-century of Domincans pitching in the major leagues for the first southpaw starter to earn a win, which brings us to the story of Ramon Romero.
Romero was a 6’4″, 170 lbs. beanpole of a pitcher who signed his first pro contract with the Cleveland Indians prior to the 1977 season, shortly before his eighteenth birthday. By mid-1982, he was still stuck in single-A. Romero had a good arm, but it wasn’t producing results on the job until he started to regularly get the ball over the plate. Once that happened, he moved up the ladder rather quickly, earning a one-game cup of coffee with the Indians on September 18, 1984. He hit the first batter he faced with a pitch, but whiffed three Mariners in an impressive, three-inning stint without surrendering a hit. “If he gets the ball over,” remarked Indians manager Pat Corrales. “They won’t hit it.”
Romero had a hard time getting to spring training the following year because a mail strike in his home country delayed his visa, but the San Pedro de Macoris native pitched well enough to earn a bullpen spot on Cleveland’s opening day roster once he arrived.
Romero’s fastball was consistently clocked over 90 mph, but it was his breaking ball -freezing left-handed hitters when he launched it directly at them- that really opened Corrales’ eyes. “He’ll be with us a long time if he doesn’t walk anybody,” promised the Cleveland skipper. Unfortunately for Romero, he issued a free pass to the first batter he faced and got sent back to triple-A after pitching just a third of an inning.
By early July though, the pitching poor Indians called up Romero again, this time to fill a spot in their starting rotation. His first four starts were nothing special, but Romero’s date with history arrived in the second game of a doubleheader at Cleveland Stadium on July 30.
The Yankees were in town, and their leadoff hitter, Rickey Henderson, took Romero deep to start the game. Henderson added a double his next time up, but Romero didn’t yield any other hits through the seventh-inning stretch. He still trailed 1-0 however, because the Indians hadn’t done a thing with New York lefty Bob Shirley.
Cleveland chased Shirley by loading the bases with two outs in the bottom of the frame though, and the Yankees brought in ace reliever Dave Righetti with the Indians .095-hitting catcher, Chris Bando, coming up. Bando defied the odds with a soft liner over second base to drive in two runs though, and Julio Franco followed with another single to put Cleveland on top 3-1.
Romero got a pair of groundouts to begin the eighth, but Henderson crushed another homer off the facing of the upper deck to bring the Bronx Bombers within a run. Corrales went to the bullpen for right-hander Rich Thompson after Don Mattingly touched Romero for a single.
Thompson had blown six out of seven save chances when he came to the mound but, on this day, he retired all four hitters he faced to preserve a 3-2 victory. Romero earned his first major league win, becoming the first Dominican lefty to triumph as a starting pitcher in the process.
It would be nice if there was some sort of fairy tale ending but, alas, Romero walked five in an inning-and-a-third next time out, and was bounced back to the bullpen after winning only once in five August starts. He finished 1985 with a 2-3 record and 6.58 ERA in ten starts and nine relief appearances, and got traded to the Minnesota Twins in January.
Romero never pitched in the major leagues after 1985, but at least he’ll always be the answer to a trivia question.
By MALCOLM ALLEN
Most Wins by a Pitcher from the Dominican Republic (thru 9/4/07)
243-142 – Juan Marichal
207- 92 – Pedro Martinez
146- 93 – Bartolo Colon
135- 88 – Ramon Martinez
129-124 – Pedro Astacio
Most Wins by a left-handed pitcher from the DR (through 9/4/07)
66-70 – Odalis Perez
40-53 – Carlos Perez
28-19 – Felix Heredia
27-32 – Wandy Rodriguez
23-34 – Jesus Sanchez