Saturday, January 25, 2014

Tanaka Joins Bullet Bob and Rags With Number 19

Masahiro Tanaka / MASAHIRO TANAKA

@ T_masahiro18

Masahiro Tanaka has made his second most important choice. He'll wear #19 as a member of the New York Yankees. It's a fine number with some excellent pitching tradition.

"Bullet Bob" Turley wore #19 when he starred in the 1958 World Series (Click here to see some great home movie footage on youtube.. Down three games to one to the Milwaukee Braves, Turley took the mound in Game 5 hoping to stave off elimination. At the very least he wanted to greatly improve on his Game 2 performance when he lasted one-third of an inning and gave up four earned runs. The Braves breezed to a 13-5 victory to take a 2-0 lead in games.

Turley not only stopped the Braves in Game 5, he dominated them. A complete game five-hit shutout spurred the Yankees on to a 7-0 win over Lew Burdette and forced a Game 6.

Whitey Ford had lost Games 1 and 4, so manager Casey Stengel gave a quick hook to the Yankees ace when the Bronx Bombers fell behind 2-1 in the 2nd inning. Yogi Berra's sac fly against fellow future Hall of Famer Warren Spahn tied the game in the 6th inning and it remained tied after nine innings.

The Yankees scored twice in the top of the 10th, with one of the runs crossing home plate courtesy of a Gil McDougald home run. The Braves rallied for a run against Ryne Duren in the bottom of the 10th and had runners on the corners with two outs. Stengel called on Turley just two days after his Game 5 win. Pinch-hitter Frank Torre hit the ball on the nose, but McDougald snared it at second base to preserve the win.

Game 7 was played the next day and the Yankees and Braves were again knotted 2-2. Starter Don Larsen, who two years earlier threw the only perfect game in World Series history, lasted just 2.1 innings. Stengel sent for #19 once again. Turley would pitch 6.2 innings - 16 innings total over three days - and emerge the winner when Moose Skowron blasted a 3-run home run to highlight a four run 8th inning.

Turley, the obvious choice for series MVP, allowed a single run on two hits to finish with two wins and a save in the final three games of the series.

Dave Righetti was part of one of the best deals the Yankees ever made in the George Steinbrenner ERA. He was acquired as part of a nine player swap with the Texas Rangers after the 1978 season with Sparky Lyle (Graig Nettles: "He went from Cy Young to Sayonara") the best known player of the five that left the Bronx.

"Rags" burst on to the scene in the strike shortened 1981 season when he captured the AL Rookie of the Year award. He finished 8-4 in 15 starts with a 2.05 ERA, 7.6 K/9 IP and one home run allowed in 105.1 innings pitched.

His success continued in the post season when he earned two wins (13 K's in 9 IP) in the special strike necessitated division series with the Milwaukee Brewers and earned another victory in the ALCS against Oakland. His good luck streak ran out in the World Series when the Dodgers rallied from a 2-0 deficit in games to win four straight to take the title. Righetti lasted just two innings in Game 3, but didn't figure in the decision.

Two years later, snubbed in the All-Star pitcher selection process, Righetti took the mound against the Boston Red Sox in the final game before the break. It was Sunday, July 4, a blistering hot day of not only the nation's birthday, but George Steinbrenner's as well.

Righetti made baseball history that day when he became the first Yankee since Larsen to throw a no-hitter. He struck out Wade Boggs three times, including the final out of the game. Boggs struck out only 44 times all year. He got a big defensive play from right fielder Steve Kemp who leapt with outstretched glove over the right field wall in foul territory to snag Dwight Evans' fly ball.

So much would change from that day when Righetti collapsed in his catcher Butch Wyengar's arms after the final out. Despite a 14-8 record with a 3.44 ERA, the Yankees decided that Righetti's future was as the team's closer, not a starter. Righetti wasn't happy, the fans weren't happy and to this day you have to wonder what kind of career Righetti could have had, had he remained a starter.

That being said, Righetti adapted well to the closer role. After he saved 60 games combined in 1984-1985, Righetti broke the Major League record with 46 saves. He finished his Yankees career with 224 saves, second only to Mariano Rivera in franchise history.

After 10-plus seasons in the bigs with the Yankees, the lefty signed a free agent contract with San Francisco Giants (where he's been pitching coach since 2000) prior to the 1991 season. He saved 24 games his first year on the west coast, but things started to spiral downward from there. He did get to start four games in 1992 and another nine in his final season (1995) with the Chicago White Sox.  His first victory back in the American League came at the expense of the Yankees in his first AL start since 1983.

Let's hope this all means that every 25-30 years the #19 is very good for a Yankees' pitcher. The Yankees and Tanaka are counting on it.

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