Tuesday, January 17, 2017

It wouldn't happen today

Twins fans of a certain age will probably remember Stan Williams, who pitched out of the bullpen for the Twins in 1970-71. Williams had a big 1970 season -- 10-1, 1.99, 15 saves in 113 innings -- but was less effective in 1971 and was traded to St. Louis in September.

But what I want to talk about came a decade earlier. In 1961, Williams pitched for the Los Angeles Dodgers, and on May 17 he was matched up against the legendary Warren Spahn in the awkward confines of the Los Angeles Colleseum.

Spahn won more games in his career (363) than Williams started (208), but he didn't win this one. Williams and the Dodgers prevailed 2-1 in 11 innings, with Williams going all 11.

An 11-inning start is unlikely enough. But Williams walked 12 men in those 11 innings, and struck out 11. According to Baseball Reference, he threw 208 pitches, 109 strikes (and 99 balls). It must have been excruciating to watch.

He did this two days after throwing two innings of relief against the same Braves, which came two days after a one-inning start against the Cubs. And five days after that 208-pitch outing, he had another extra-inning, 2-1 complete game win, this time at Cincinnati. He only needed 128 pitches in 10 innings that time.

I can already hear Bert Blyeven or Jack Morris jeering: And his arm didn't fall off. True. Also true: No manager today would use a pitcher like that.

Williams had his career high in starts (35) and innings (235) that year. He went five innings or less in 10 of those starts, and was a swingman most of the rest of his career.

The Twins got Williams (and Luis Tiant) in a six-player trade with the Cleveland Indians that is perhaps most noteworthy for the inclusion of Craig Nettles, who had found playing time in Minnesota limited. Once freed from the bench, Nettles became one of the game's better third basemen for more than a decade.

Williams didn't last long after the Twins traded him, but he continued in a sense to matter for a few years in Minnesota. One of the players the Twins got for him from the Cardinals was a minor-leaguer named Dan Ford, who in the mid 70s would be the third piece of one of the franchise's best outfields (Larry Hisle, Lyman Bostock and Ford). But that's another story.

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