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Twenty years ago Morris turned in Hall-worthy performance

October 28th, 2011 · No Comments · Baseball

Whew. Is this World Series thingy exciting enough for anyone yet? We’ve had pitchers’ duels and we’ve had blowouts. We’ve had heroic hitting exploits, capped by David Freese’s 11th-inning blast to end Game 6. We’ve had managerial gaffes, bonehead plays, and baserunning blunders. We’ve had no shortage of drama.

And pitching changes. Wow. They need to install a turnstile on that mound. Ron Washington and Tony La Russa have called in a reliever 49 times in six games. That’s 23 pitching changes for the Rangers and 26 for the Cardinals. Just three starting pitchers have completed seven innings of work, with Texas lefthander Derek Holland the only one to survive into the ninth.

Who’s left for Game 7?

The Rangers allegedly plan to start Matt Harrison, who got rocked on Saturday, absorbing the loss in what turned into a 16-7 rumble. Chris Carpenter, who started Games 1 and 5, will take the ball on short rest for the Cardinals, having worked seven innings on Monday. I don’t expect either of them to be around when the game is decided.

Twenty years ago last night, Jack Morris spun perhaps the most clutch game ever pitched, turning in certainly one of the greatest October performances of all time. Making his third start of the Series for the Twins, he matched zeroes with Atlanta’s John Smoltz, eventually outlasting him and earning the victory when Gene Larkin drove home Dan Gladden for game’s winning—and only—run in the bottom of the 10th. His final line: 10 IP, 7 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 8 SO, 126 pitches. All on three days of rest (for the second consecutive start). It was his fourth win of the postseason (back when there were only two rounds, the Championship Series and World Series), after he’d won 18 games in the regular season.

Morris was one of the biggest game pitchers in the second half of the 20th century. He won titles with the Tigers (1984), Twins (1991), and Blue Jays (1992, when he had a poor postseason after going 21-6 in the regular season, and 1993, when he didn’t appear in the postseason). He was 3-0 in the ’84 postseason, including 2-0 in the Series.

Add his October heroics to his 254 career victories, and I think he belongs in the Hall of Fame.

The knock on Morris has always been a relatively high 3.90 career ERA. Of course, Tiger Stadium, where he spent 14 of his 18 seasons, wasn’t the greatest pitchers’ park in the game. Though he never won a Cy Young Award, he finished in the top 5 five times. From 1979 to 1992 he won 14 or more games every year but one, leading the AL in wins twice. As a measure of his value during his career, he was the highest paid pitcher in the AL four times.

Some of his numbers don’t stack up great against all comers, particularly the ERA. But if measured against players of his era, Morris stands out. His rank among pitchers of the 1980s:

Stat Rank Total
W 1 162
IP 1 12443.2
GS 1 332
CG 1 133
ERA 16* 3.66

 

*min. 1620 IP, roughly the equivalent of 10 seasons as an ERA qualifier

Wins are belittled by many these days as being more of a team stat than an individual stat, and there’s a degree of merit to that argument (especially in these days of heavy bullpen usage). But consider these factors. The #2 man in wins for the 1980s had 140, 22 fewer than Morris. Morris also averaged 244.1 innings per season, including a strike-abbreviated 1981. He won games because he was around when they were decided. I’ll guess his ERA could have been lower had he intended to pitch his best for 6 innings and hit the showers instead of finishing what he started.

His ERA also needs to be placed in context. That 3.66 mark for the 1980s compares favorably to the major league average of 3.87 for the decade, and even moreso when stacked up against the American League mark of 4.06. It was an offensive era, with scoring having taken off after Toronto and Seattle were added in expansion in 1977. The ERA for all of Major League Baseball was 3.56 for the 1960s. That increased to 3.70 in the 1970s, and it kept on climbing.

They don’t hand the trophy to the team with the best ERA at the end of the season. Winning is what matters. Morris was a winner. He was one of the elite pitchers of his era. His peers are who he should be stacked up against when discussing Cooperstown worthiness. To me, he belongs. I’m sure Ron Washington and Tony La Russa both wish they could turn to such a horse tonight.

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