Dances With Betances As Opposed To Disco With Cisco

On September 28, 1930, with the New York Yankees firmly locked into third place and the Boston Red Sox even more firmly pinioned in last, the Yankees unveiled a surprise starter for their season finale in Boston.

George Herman “Babe” Ruth.

Batting in his customary third position,  and having already hit his customary 48 homers, Ruth scattered 11 hits, struck out three of the scrub-riddled Boston line-up, and pitched a complete game victory (his first pitching win since 1921).  A crowd so otherwise disinterested that the attendance figure is lost to history presumably roared as Ruth harkened back to his days as the best left-hand pitcher in the American League. The Yankees and Ruth would repeat the stunt at Yankee Stadium three years later:  this time Ruth added a homer and surrendered 12 hits, hanging on for the 6-5 win that ended the season, long after the vagaries of the pennant race had assured that the only question was whether the Yanks would finish six, seven, or eight games out of first.

There is no comparison here to the latter-day Yanks starting rookie Dellin Betances tonight in Tampa with the Rays and Red Sox tied for the Wild Card. But it is one of the infelicities of the modern pennant race and the treating of pitchers as if they were Thoroughbred Race Horses that Joe Girardi – or any manager in his situation – must throw out a sacrificial lamb in this situation. Bartolo Colon started yesterday, Freddy Garcia has looked like crap, Ivan Nova and CC Sabathia are needed for the playoffs, and Phil Hughes had to miss a start earlier due to whatever Phil Hughes Syndrome he’s suffering from at the moment.

Who do you want Girardi to start? Babe Ruth?

In 1964 – in a far more complex four-team scramble to win the National League – as the Phillies collapsed they had to face, in the season’s last three games,  career 193-game winner Curt Simmons, then seasonal 17-game winner Jim O’Toole, and then Cincinnati fifth starter John Tsitouris, who could at least claim he’d won nine games that year. The Reds, challenging for the pennant, had to face Joe Gibbon of Pittsburgh, but then Chris Short and Jim Bunning of the Phillies. The eventual fourth-place Giants were stuck facing Dick Ellsworth, Bob Buhl, and Larry Jackson, who among them had won an astonishing 53 games for the deadbeat Cubs. But the last three games the Cardinals played saw them face the hapless (53-109) New York Mets – at home – and the star-studded rotation of Al Jackson (10 wins), Jack Fisher (10), and Galen Cisco (5). They shelled Fisher, but were promptly staved off by five innings of five-hit relief by rookie Tom Parsons, who was getting half his career wins that day (2-13 lifetime, though they would trade him for Jerry Grote).

On the last day of the insane 1964 NL season, the Giants were opposed by a 24-game winner (Jackson), the Reds had to go up against a future Hall of Famer who’d just thrown a perfect game early in the season (Bunning), and the Cardinals had to somehow overcome Galen Cisco.

Wanna see Galen Cisco’s line that day?

New York Mets   IP H  R  ER BB  SO 

Cisco L (6-19)        4  7   5    5     4      0

Galen Cisco lifetime? 25-56, 4.56 ERA.

Did you hear the Phillies bitching that the Cardinals got a soft opponent at the end? Even after St. Louis went on to win the World Series and the ’64 Phillies went on to eternal ignominy? Anybody even mention it when Cisco wound up as pitching coach…of the Phillies?

There is also something else to consider about Betances. Though we live in a time when fans are more aware of minor league prospects than ever before, last week the Rays drew weird looks when they gave Matt Moore his first big league start against New York. Moore merely struck out eleven in five innings. Betances is not quite the prospect Moore is, but he has superb motion on his fastball and is one of the top 20 or 25 pitching prospects in the minors and frankly the Yankees needed to see what he could do, eventually. Moreover, all I heard about yesterday was how, with Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jason Varitek out, the Red Sox were “stuck” starting rookie catcher Ryan Lavarnway in the penultimate game in Baltimore. All Lavarnway did was hit a three-run homer, a game-cinching solo homer, and then save the contest in the bottom of the 9th when Jonathan Papelbon froze on a squib in front of the plate and Lavarnway calmly threw the batter out at first.

Red Sox fans have every right to feel frustrated that their hopes of avoiding a play-in game hinge in part on a guy whose career consists of having gotten two outs while giving up two hits, four walks, and a hit batsman. But they have no right to complain nor claim the Yankees aren’t living up to some kind of sportsmanship standard. And ultimately – whose fault is it that the Sox are in this mess to begin with? Betances? The Babe?



  1. Dirk Hayhurst (@TheGarfoose)

    As always Keith, you bring history’s penchant for repeating itself to the forefront of every current baseball grumbling. This is not a new situation by any stretch.
    It’s worth noting that, even though these teams are in contention for post season triumphs, they are still responsible for developing the next wave of talent. That means the future stars of these respective clubs needs get their feet wet, audition their skills, and taste what it means to play for something in the only league that matters; the Bigs. What better time to teach an up and coming talent what it’s like to play in the AL East, under the scrutiny of New York’s infamous fan base that makes every game feel like a life or death scenario than here, in September, in a game that kinda decides something for the Yankee’s future. To win or loose here is about a faux a pressure situation as you can get in the AL meat grinder. Aside from resting the veterans that will anchor post season lineup cards, you also get a fresh, young talent prepared for the moment he may be called upon.

  2. Sam

    Not that it matters if the Yankees were pitching Betances with the intent to play Tampa soft because…. it’s a rivalry, this is what NY and Boston do! People who complain evidently haven’t been paying attention the last 100 years. Boston spends $300 million last winter on two players and then doesn’t even win the wild card? What Yankee fan isn’t drooling over the prospect of that. If the shoes were on the other feet, Boston would do the same thing. The same sort of gamesmanship manifests itself in different forms every season.

  3. SM

    The Yankees started resting players after the third win against Tampa last week. It’s not the Yankees fault if the Rays manage more wins against the B-Team than the Red Sox.

  4. Patricia Powell Couvillion

    It is the fault of George HERB “Babe” Ruth! You betcha! I am so glad he can still dance after all these years! Bristol was on that show, too! (Wink!) Gotta go. Getting on the bus to repel down the side of the Lincoln Monument as I announce my candidacy! Good luck to the Raiders in the playoffs!

  5. Sam

    As a Yankee fan I was nervous about Betances pitching because I thought the Yankees might win! The element of unfamiliarity on the part of the Rays’ hitters (unless it’s just the Yanks who don’t have a lot of success against pitchers they haven’t seen before). The fact that Betances wanted to make a big impression. But he looks very raw. Lots of talent but I’m not expecting Jaime Garcia here. What a great teammate CC Sabathia is though– his words of encouragement for Betances and talking to him by his locker.

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