The Big Three, Pt. 2

Continuing with our look at the Top Three starters the Red Sox have had entering the postseason, and where Beckett-Lester-Buchholz fall in that mix. This entry is the series of oh-so-close World Series appearances from 1946-86, with the 1988 and 1990 quick-and-ugly ALCS appearances thrown in for good measure.

1946

  • Tex Hughson, 134
  • Joe Dobson, 114
  • Dave Ferriss, 113

What would the 1940s have looked like if "Boo" Ferriss hadn't blown out his arm? He went 25-6 in 1946, throwing 274 innings at the age of 24. He was never effective or healthy again. Arm woes also derailed Hughson's career early, as this was also his last effective season, returning from a war that ate his prime seasons (but probably elongated his career). With the two 20-game winners plus effective innings from Dobson and 18 wins from Mickey Harris, the Sox looked to be set heading into the 1946 World Series.

But a funny thing happened once they got there. Hughson pitched well in Game 1, an extra-innings win. Harris pitched well in Game 2, but the Sox were shut out by Harry Brecheen. Ferriss returned the favor in Game 3. But Hughson was shelled in Game 4, and the relievers were little better. Dobson came back with a solid outing to put the Sox up three games to two after Game 5. Harris was good in Game 6, but Brecheen was better. Ferriss couldn't make it through five, and the Sox lost by one run in Game 7.

Ferriss had a 2.02 ERA in his two starts, but faltered in the critical game, while Hughson contributed a one good and one terrible start. Dobson finished with zero earned runs allowed in 12.2 innings but only started the one game, while Harris lost both his starts. The pitching staff did well, but failed at key moments. Still, the Sox could have — and likely would have — won the Series had Ted Williams been healthy.

1967

  • Lee Stange, 127
  • Gary Bell, 112
  • Jim Lonborg, 111

Jim Lonborg with the third-best ERA among Red Sox starters in 1967? That's a good trivia question to stump your friends. Lonborg did finish the season with a 2.31 ERA in his last 10 starts, with all five of his complete games. But, really, why does no one talk about Stange? From June 14 to the end of the season, he posted a 2.36 ERA. Oh yeah, because he only went 8-6. His bad fortune, I guess. Gary Bell came over midseason from Cleveland and had a 3.16 ERA. Jose Santiago, who was league average that year, rounded out the staff.

Going against a Cardinal club fronted by Bob Gibson and Steve Carlton, it's pretty clear the Sox were at a significant disadvantage (though even Gibson had only a 110 ERA+ that season). With the season going to its final day, the Sox had no choice but to start Santiago against Gibson, and though Santiago was excellent, Gibson was better. Lonborg replied with a one-hit shutout in Game 2. Bell wasn't great in Game 3, however, and Santiago was rocked in Game 4 while Gibson spun a five-hitter. Lonborg nearly spun a second shutout in winning Game 5, and the Sox' bats tied the series in Game 6, which Gary Waslewski started. Lonborg gave it his all on two days' rest in Game 7, but he obviously didn't have it, and Gibson gave up just three hits.

For inexplicable reasons, Stange never started a game despite clearly being every bit as good as Lonborg over the final two months of the season. He had been slated to start a playoff game were one between Boston and Detroit necessary. Had he received Santiago's starts, one wonders whether the Sox could have sneaked off with a win against Gibson, or whether he could have started Game 7. Instead, he pitched two scoreless innings in relief.

1975

  • Roger Moret, 115
  • Bill Lee, 105
  • Rick Wise, 105
  • Luis Tiant, 103

If ever a team was built around its bats (Fisk, Rice, Lynn, Evans, Yaz, Cooper, Carbo, Doyle), this was it. Tiant was the big name, but he wasn't having a terrific season. Lee was the outrageous personality and received an MVP vote, but he wasn't the pitcher he was in 1973. It was Rick Wise, of all pitchers, who was arguably the Sox' best starter heading into the playoffs, thanks to his 3.11 ERA in his final 22 starts. Or maybe it was Roger Moret, who split time between starting and relief, finished 14-3 and had a 2.74 ERA in his final 12 starts (including some relief appearances, as well).

Tiant and Wise acquitted themselves well in the ALCS — Tiant with the complete game three-hitter — while Moret picked up a win in relief of Reggie Cleveland as the Sox swept the A's in three games. That allowed the Sox to pitch Tiant in World Series Game 1, and he was awesome, throwing a five-hit shutout. Lee was just as good in Game 2, but Dick Drago, on for the save, blew it in the ninth. Wise couldn't cut it in Game 3, an extra-innings loss, but Tiant came back to right the ship in Game 4. Cleveland delivered a rocky start to lose Game 5, and then the rains came.

Five days later, Tiant seemed to be rolling until he was getting knocked around, the Sox rallied to tie, and well, we know how the Sox won that game. Lee started Game 7, and didn't deliver a bad performance. It just wasn't as good as Don Gullett's, and the Sox lost in the late innings.

Lee put up the best numbers of the Sox' starters, and pitched well enough to win both of his starts. Tiant was incredible in one game, good in another, shaky in the third. Wise and Cleveland, however, were not good, and in a seven-game series, those two losses were key. Roger Moret and his 115 ERA+, who pitched better as a starter in the regular season than as a reliever and had a lower ERA as a starter than Tiant, Lee, Wise or Cleveland, threw just 1.2 innings in the World Series.

1986

  • Roger Clemens, 169
  • Bruce Hurst, 140
  • Oil Can Boyd, 111
  • Tom Seaver, 110

For the first time since 1915, the Sox entered the postseason with two pitchers with an ERA+ over 140. Clemens was the best pitcher in baseball, just coming into his own, while Hurst was the rare lefty who had solved Fenway Park (and not coincidentally was seen hanging around Jon Lester in recent years). Hurst was in the midst of his best season, despite having missed all of June with an injury, and was on a roll, a 1.54 ERA in his last five starts of the season. Boyd and Seaver, a midseason pickup, were above-average starters, making this a deep rotation.

In the ALCS, Boyd pitched well twice, Hurst delivered one terrific and one mediocre start. Clemens, meanwhile, blew it in Game 1, was great until he tired in the ninth of Game 4, and dominated the Angels in the do-or-die Game 7. All in all, the starters did as well as they were expected to, minus Clemens' implosion in Game 1.

In the World Series, Hurst was phenomenal in Game 1, eight shutout innings in a 1-0 thriller, while Clemens was the beneficiary of a good bullpen and good run support in Game 2. Boyd was shelled in Game 3, and Al Nipper did well, considering he was Al Nipper, but couldn't outpitch Ron Darling, and the series evened at two apiece. Hurst was awesome again in Game 5, and that set up the infamous Game 6 and Clemens' controversial exit/removal after seven innings (we might remember here his meltdown after being left in too long in ALCS Game 4). The Sox turned to Hurst on three-days' rest. His three runs in six innings would have been enough to win the game and be crowned series MVP, but five relievers couldn't hold the Mets in the seventh and eighth, and the Sox were out for another year.

Clemens pitched well, but he did not factor into the decision in either of his games, while Hurst was incredible. History has relegated Hurst to the back seat, but in the 1986 postseason, he established himself as the ace while Clemens could not rise fully to the occasion (though he was impressive in several starts). Boyd, though excellent in the ALCS, was shelled in his lone Series start.

An injury to Seaver really hurt the Sox. If he were starting instead of Al Nipper, one again wonders how this Series could have gone.

1988

  • Mike Boddicker, 157
  • Roger Clemens, 141
  • Bruce Hurst, 113

1990

  • Roger Clemens, 213
  • Mike Boddicker, 123
  • Tom Bolton, 122

Tom Bolton? Never would have guessed. Anyway, lest we forget that the Mike Boddicker trade actually worked out pretty well for the Sox, he was dominant after coming over from Baltimore in 1988. He was 6-12 with a 101 ERA+ when the Red Sox sent Brady Anderson for him. From there, he went 7-3 with a 2.63 ERA. In his last 10 games (nine starts) of the season, Boddicker posted a 2.16 ERA. Not a bad complement to Clemens, who was having another tremendous year (though a bit off by his high standards); he and Hurst won 18 games that year. Beyond them, however, there was no one who even had a 90 ERA+ — Boyd, Mike Smithson and Jeff Sellers were wretched, and they combined for 53 starts.

Boddicker had another very good season in 1990, while Clemens had arguably his best. Bolton broke through with an incredibly underrated campaign in 16 starts. Behind them, Greg Harris (the ambidextrous one) and Dana Kiecker put up league-average performances.

In both seasons, the Sox were swept away by Oakland in four straight, and in both cases, they reinforced an image that had sprung up in 1986 that Roger Clemens just couldn't cut it in the postseason. 

In '88, Hurst opened with a stellar complete-game performance but lost the game 2-1; Clemens responded with six shutout innings in Game 2, but after given a 2-0 lead, gave up three in the seventh. Boddicker was torched in Game 3 despite the Sox' offense giving him five runs in the first two innings, while Hurst labored through four innings in an ultimate Game 4 loss.

In '90, Clemens opened the series and was dominant, and was nursing a 1-0 lead in the sixth. But he was pulled after 97 pitches, and the bullpen — with ZERO 100 ERA+ pitchers — gave up nine runs in three innings. Larry Andersen (ahem) blew the save. Kiecke started Game 2 and pitched five strong innings, but the bullpen couldn't hold a 1-1 tie. Boddicker went all nine in Game 3, but four runs were enough for Oakland. And finally, with the Sox down to their last game, Clemens was ejected for arguing balls and strikes in the second inning, leaving down 1-0 and with two men on base for Bolton, who let them both score. Those three runs, charged to Clemens, were enough for a 3-1 Oakland win.

Despite decent outings from Hurst and Clemens, Oakland was simply too dominant in 1988. posting a 1.96 ERA. Dave Stewart neutralized Hurst, and the Sox' own bullpen neutralized Clemens. And Boddicker failed when he was needed most. Game, set and match.

Likewise, no amount of good pitching in 1990 — which the Sox didn't have in that series anyway — was going to help Boston. Oakland posted a 1.00 ERA in the four games, easy to calculate because the Sox scored exactly one run in each game. The Boston starters needed to be perfect, and they weren't, and they needed to pitch complete games because the bullpen was terrible, and they couldn't. And the one pitcher who maybe could have, Clemens, did not come through either time. Bolton, despite his regular-season success as a starter, pitched all of three scoreless innings in the ALCS.

5 comments… add one

  • whenever I hear Nippert from the Rangers, I always think – Al Nipper is still pitching? every stinking time!
    good stuff….!

    dw (sf) September 16, 2009, 4:05 pm
  • Oh man, does this mean we’re going to see a Part 3? This stuff rocks as I’m-bored-at-work material. Awesome as always, Paul.

    Atheose September 16, 2009, 5:47 pm
  • zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

    dc September 16, 2009, 8:06 pm
  • if “if’s” and “but’s” were candy and nuts….

    dc September 16, 2009, 8:08 pm
  • What brought that on, dc? This is a good reference of Red Sox history, with a little bit of wish-casting thrown in. I know as a YF I look at the last 8 years as “ifs and buts”.

    AndrewYF September 16, 2009, 8:46 pm

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