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From Larsen to Guthrie…to Tillman – BALTIMORE ORIOLES Opening Day Starting Pitchers

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Chris Tillman becomes the 36th different opening day pitcher for the modern Baltimore Orioles on Monday afternoon at Camden Yards.  At 25 (until April 15), Tillman is not the youngest Baltimore hurler to start the first game. Twenty-one-year-olds Jerry Walker (1960) & Milt Pappas (1961). The least-experienced man to get the assignment was Jeremy Guthrie in 2008, with a 7-5 career record entering the game. Only Don Larsen, who carried a 7-12 lifetime mark in to the Orioles first-ever game in 1954, even came close.  Lou Kretlow, the 1955 starter who won a career-best 6 games in 1951, is the only pitcher with fewer victories in his previous “best” season than Guthrie.

Here is an Orioles opening day starter primer:

MOST STARTS

6 – Jim PALMER (5-1, 1.40)

6 – Mike MUSSINA (3-2, 3.10)

5 – Dave McNALLY (3-0, 2.38)

3 – Steve BARBER (1-1, 3.63)

3 – Jeremy GUTHRIE (2-1, 3.72)

3 – Rodrigo LOPEZ (2-0, 3.31)

2 – Milt PAPPAS (0-1, 10.80)

2 – Mike FLANAGAN (0-2, 17.36)

2 – Mike BODDICKER (0-1, 3.46)

2 – Rick SUTCLIFFE (1-1, 3.60)

One start = Jake Arrieta, Jeff Ballard, Erik Bedard, Hal Brown, Storm Davis, Pat Dobson, Scott Erickson, Jason Hammel, Jack Harshman, Pat Hentgen, Billy Hoeft, Connie Johnson, Jimmy Key, Lou Kretlow, Don Larsen, Scott McGregor, Bob Milacki, Kevin Millwood, Tom Phoebus, Sidney Ponson, Dave Schmidt, Steve Stone, Jerry Walker, Bill Wight

Larsen and Kretlow are just two of six pitchers who made their Baltimore debut with a start on opening day.  Rick Sutcliffe, Kevin Millwood, Jimmy Key and Pat Hentgen are the others.

Sutcliffe, at 36, was the oldest opening day hurler in 1993.

Billy Hoeft, the 1962 starter, holds a record of sorts because he started just three more games the rest of the year.

Connie Johnson (1958) is the only African-American Baltimore opening day pitcher.  Manager Paul Richards yanked him with a 4-1 lead -one out shy of qualifying for a win-  with the potential tying run at the plate.

Steve Barber not only became the Orioles first 20-game winner in 1963.  That was also the year he became the first opening day starter for Baltimore to record a win in the season’s first game. 

Three Orioles starters were denied possible victories when the bullpen blew saves for them:  Storm Davis (1985), Bob Milacki (1990) & Kevin Millwood (2010).

Guthrie was one of three ex-Stanford Cardinals to pitch the opener for the Orioles.  Mussina and Jeff Ballard are the others.

Starting pitchers are 25-18 with 17 no-decisions.

The starter completed:

1st inning – 59 times

2nd inning – 58 times

3rd inning – 55 times

4th inning – 53 times

5th inning – 48 times

6th inning – 34 times

7th inning – 24 times

8th inning – 16 times

9th inning – 8 times

10th inning – once

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Game Score is a value created by Bill James that evaluates the quality of a pitcher’s start by awarding him points for things he does well, and subtracting points for negative outcomes.  Roughly speaking, scores higher than 50 are above average performances, and vice versa.  (Exactly half of the Orioles 54 opening starts scored 51 or better, the other half 51 or worse).

The 10 WORST opening day outings (by Game Score) are:

8, 9 & 10) Three-way tie at 33 between Hal “Skinny” Brown (1957), Billy Hoeft (1962) & Dennis Martinez (1982), all of whom couldn’t win despite getting early leads.   A five-run fourth inning at Washington in a game the O’s won in extra innings finished Brown.    Hoeft was victimized by a three-run homer off the bat of Roger Maris that gave New York a 5-3 lead at Yankee Stadium.  Martinez got support by rookie Cal Ripken, Jr’s long ball, plus a grand slam from Eddie Murray, but lasted only four innings against the Royals in a contest Baltimore won 13-5.

7)  Mike Flanagan‘s 2 2/3 inning effort in 1978 scored a measly 30.  Baltimore lost 11-3 at Milwaukee with reliever Tim Stoddard serving up a grand slam to Sixto Lezcano.

6) Tampa Bay hammered Jeremy Guthrie for six runs on nine hits before he went to the showers with one out in the sixth in 2008. His game score was a feeble 29.

5)  Jack Harshman‘s 28 in 1959.  He surrendered two-run homers to Reno Bertoia and Harmon Killebrew in the fourth inning, and the Orioles got shut out 9-0 until Gus Triandos homered with a man aboard with two outs in the ninth. 

4)  Given another chance in 1986, Flanagan was even worse, scoring a 25.  Cleveland dented the scoreboard in each of the first three innings to chase Flanny en route to a 6-4 triumph.

3) Bill Wight‘s effort in 1956 might not have scored the worst at 24, but it was the shortest.  He walked Ted Williams and allowed five of the other six Red Sox he faced at Fenway Park to hit safely in an appearance that lasted one-third of an inning.  Baltimore lost 8-1.

2) Young Milt Pappas allowed back-to-back homers to the Angels Bob Cerv and Ted Kluszewski in the opening inning at Memorial Stadium in 1961.  When he got knocked out an inning later, Kluszewski greeted reliever John Papa with a three-run shot that brought home two of Pappas’ base runners, wrapping up his afternoon with a miserable game score of 22.

1)  In 2007, Erik Bedard allowed fewer hits per nine innings than any American League pitcher and broke Baltimore’s single-season strikeout mark.  On opening day though, he got clubbed for a record (for an opener) 10 hits in just 4 2/3 innings by the Twins, along with six runs for a 21 game score.  “I threw some good pitches and some bad pitches,” said Bedard.  “They hit both.”

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In contrast, here are the ten BEST game scores recorded by Orioles opening day starters

10 (tied))  Jim Palmer (1979) & Mike Mussina (1998) tied at 69.  Palmer spotted the White Sox a 2-0 second-inning lead, then didn’t allow any more hits until the ninth as Baltimore seized control.  Mussina struck out eleven without a walk in his fourth opening day assignment against Kansas City, but the first in which the Royals didn’t pitch Kevin Appier.  Maybe it would have been better if they did, Tim Belcher shut the Orioles out through seven, and “The Moose” was charged with a 4- 1 defeat.

9)  Jim Palmer‘s score of 71 in 1976.  Great game!  Palmer beats fellow Hall-of-Famer Ferguson Jenkins of the Red Sox 1-0 on a fourth-inning unearned run.  

8)  Pat Hentgen in 2001 scored 74.  Not only did Hentgen match reigning Cy Young winner Pedro Martinez pitch-for-pitch in his Orioles debut, he outlasted him, allowing Baltimore to prevail 2-1 in the bottom of the 11th on Brady Anderson’s game-winning single.

7) Jake Arrieta shut out the Twins for seven innings in 2012 before handing over a 4-0 lead to the bullpen. Nick Markakis took Carl Pavano deep with a man aboard in the bottom of the first to give him some breathing room at Camden Yards. Game score: 75

6)  Mike Mussina threw eight innings of two-hit ball to notch a 77 game score and win his first career opening day assignment in 1994.  Mike Devereaux and Rafael Palmeiro homered for Baltimore, and when the game got close in the ninth, Lee Smith came on to earn a save in his Orioles debut.

4 & 5)  Dave McNally scored 81 in 1970.  Cleveland’s “Sudden” Sam McDowell struck out 11 Orioles in 6 1/3 innings and carried a 2-1 lead into the seventh before tiring.  Baltimore tied and went ahead on bases loaded walks, then used two-run doubles by Paul Blair and Davey Johnson to get some breathing room an inning later.  McNally struck out an opening day record 13 in going the distance on a four-hitter…Jeremy Guthrie‘s third and final opening day start for Baltimore in 2011 was a gem, matching McNally’s game score of 81. “Guts” hurled 8 innings of 3-hit ball to out-duel David Price of the Rays, striking out 6 and walking only one. Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis drove in two runs apiece for the good guys.

2 & 3)  McNally‘s 1973 performance and 1992‘s Rick Sutcliffe tied at 82.  McNally became the first Oriole to hurl a shutout in the season opener with a 10-0 romp over the Tiger.  He allowed just three hits.  Brooks Robinson hit two homers and Don Baylor went 4-4, just missing a cycle because he hit two doubles without a single.  Sutcliffe made the first-ever game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards one to remember, out-dueling Cleveland’s Charles Nagy in a 2-0 affair that took just two hours and two minutes to complete.  Chris Hoiles’ ground-rule double and Billy Ripken’s RBI bunt groundout drove in the only runs.

#1)  Jim Palmer‘s three-hit shutout in 1975 scored 85 to rank as Baltimore’s best opening day performance ever.  Lee May blasted a three-run homer in the top of the first at Tiger Stadium off Joe Coleman (whose dad Joe, Sr. was a 1954 Oriole), and Baylor went 4-5.  Palmer retired the first twelve Detroit hitters and didn’t walk a man, looking every bit like a guy out to reclaim the Cy Young award after a dismal 1974.

By Malcolm Allen

malallen@live.com

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