Open Shots

By Dave Reardon

Friday, October 10, 1997


Braves’ pitching no
guarantee of Series title

THE Atlanta Braves' starting rotation of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Denny Neagle has a chance to be the greatest in the history of baseball.

So far this postseason, they've pitched 402/3 innings and allowed six earned runs for a 1.33 ERA. Maddux lost the first game of the National League Championship Series on Wednesday, but he has a 0.60 postseason ERA.

Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz have won the past six NL Cy Young Awards, and it's a good bet that either Maddux or Neagle will get it this year. The four have combined for seven 20-win seasons since 1991. They average right around 30 years in age, and are all signed to long-term contracts.

Granted, these numbers won't mean anything if the Braves blow a gasket in the playoffs or World Series -- which they have done in the past.

But the Atlanta pitching should be appreciated, even if you don't like the team, simply because it's a thing of beauty. It's like when the Cowboys were at their peak in the early 90s -- if you weren't a fan, they probably irritated you. But you had to admit you were getting to see something very special.

IF this foursome stays healthy, it may earn the title of best rotation ever in a single season, as well as over the course of several years.

Who would the Braves take these mythical crowns from?

Interestingly, staffs from the franchises that are playing for this year's American League championship, the Orioles and the Indians.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a better one-year four-man rotation than Baltimore's 1971 group of Jim Palmer (20-9, 2.68), Mike Cuellar (20-9, 3.08), Dave McNally (21-5, 2.89) and Pat Dobson (20-8, 2.90).

They were helped by one of the best defensive infields ever, featuring Brooks Robinson at third, Mark Belanger at short and Dave Johnson (yes, that Dave Johnson) at second. And Paul Blair in center was also among the best.

Frank Robinson and Boog Powell supplied many of the three-run homers manager Earl Weaver so loved and that his offense was built around.

But after sweeping the A's in the playoffs, the Orioles ran into the Pirates in the Series. Roberto Clemente had no problem solving the Baltimore pitching, hitting .414 with two homers. And Steve Blass overshadowed the vaunted Oriole starters with two complete-game victories, including a four-hitter in Game 7.

The greatest pitching rotation over the course of several seasons also had its share of misfortune in the World Series -- the only time it made it as a group.

In the six years they were together, 1949 to 1954, Bob Feller (85-56), Mike Garcia (104-57), Bob Lemon (128-68) and Early Wynn (112-63) took turns with the Yankees' Whitey Ford in dominating the American League.

FELLER was no longer a great strikeout pitcher, but he had one last great year in '51, leading the league with 22 wins and a .733 winning percentage.

Garcia, the only one of the four not in the Hall of Fame, was 22-11 with a 2.37 ERA in '52.

Wynn led the league in ERA in '50, when he was 18-8.

Lemon was the most consistent of the four aces, winning 20 or more games in five of the six seasons.

In '54, they were joined by yet another future Hall of Famer, Hal Newhouser. And they put it all together. The Indians won a record 111 games.

Wynn and Lemon led the league with 23 victories each, Garcia paced the AL with a 2.64 ERA and won 19 more. Feller was 13-3 in limited action, as Art Houtteman took his rotation spot and won 15. Newhouser was 7-2 with seven saves.

But then the Indians met the Giants in the World Series. In Game 1, Willie Mays made the most famous catch of all time, and Dusty Rhodes began his one-man, six-at-bat demolition of the Tribe pitching with a 10th-inning blast off Lemon.

Three days later, it was over.

Just goes to show, the best pitching doesn't always win.

Dave Reardon is a magazine editor and freelance
writer who has covered Hawaii sports since 1977.
He can be reached via the Star-Bulletin or
by email at dreardon@hmsa.com.




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