Saturday, August 27, 2005

White knight?

On the morning of August 8, 1989, a baseball fan scanning the standings in the local paper found the Toronto Blue Jays at .500, 56-56, three full games behind the season's success story, Frank Robinson's Baltimore Orioles. The Blue Jays had been a tremendous disappointment to this point in the season; expected to claim the American League East division crown that had somehow eluded them the past two seasons, the Jays started with a whimper, and in May manager Jimy Williams lost his job. Batting coach Cito Gaston took the reigns and had guided the Jays back to break-even.

The Blue Jays weren't out of the divisional race by any stretch, especially since the O's were coming back to earth; however, the Jays woke up on August 8 knowing that four teams were nipping on their heals right behind them. It was conceivable, if a bit unlikely, that any of five squads could claim the playoff spot allotted to the AL East winner.

So, with the foregoing as background, Toronto sent to the Skydome mound a complete unknown, Mauro Gozzo, to make his major league debut against the Texas Rangers. Gozzo, to put it mildly, enjoyed some beginner's luck:

Name  Dec.  IP H R ER BB SO HR
Gozzo W,1-0 8 3 0 0 3 4 0

Toronto beat Texas, 7-0, and the Blue Jays had pulled to within two games of Baltimore.

The Blue Jays did not kick it into hyperdrive over the next week; in fact, by August 14, the Milwaukee Brewers had caught the Jays, with both teams sitting one game below break-even. Fortunately for both, the Orioles similarly struggled, and the gap was 2.5 games. Gozzo had earned a second start, and he did his job again:

Name  Dec.  IP H R ER BB SO HR
Gozzo W,2-0 5 7 2 1 1 2 0

The Blue Jays defeated Boston, 4-2, and kept pace with the Orioles and Brewers, both of whom also won that day.

By August 18, Toronto was 61-60, a game behind Milwaukee and 2.5 games behind Baltimore. The night before, the Orioles had bludgeoned the Blue Jays, 11-6, chasing starter John Cerutti in the fourth. The onslaught forced Gaston to expend his long-man, Frank Wills, who was no more effective but nevertheless hurled 3.2 innings. Gozzo warmed up for his third big league start no doubt knowing that Gaston would need an effective effort, with innings. And that is exactly what Gozzo produced:

Name  Dec.  IP H R ER BB SO HR
Gozzo W,3-0 7 8 2 2 1 2 0

The Blue Jays inflicted their own bludgeoning, pounding out 15 hits in a 9-2 victory. The Blue Jays kept pace with the BrewCrew and gained the game back on the Orioles.

Between August 8 through August 18, the Toronto Blue Jays won six games, and Mauro Gozzo, who had never pitched a big league game previously, was credited with the victory in half of those. Over the course of three starts, Gozzo posted a 1.35 ERA in 20 innings pitched.

Gozzo would not start another game for the Blue Jays in 1989, and three of his six appearances out of the bullpen were fairly ignominious. Nevertheless, he plugged a hole precisely when the Blue Jays needed someone to do so. It would be folly to suggest that Toronto wouldn't have prevailed in the end by two games over Baltimore had Gozzo not stepped into the breach and thrived in his three opportunities, but Gozzo undeniably played some role.


This afternoon, the Nats throw
unknown Matt White against the St. Louis Cardinals. White represents something of a superficial parallel to Mauro Gozzo, except it's not quite White's big league debut today; he got his six bullpen outings out of the way in 2003. No one---and I mean, no one---knows much about White. Heck, his own manager, the aforementioned Frank Robinson, doesn't even know who the guy is, as recounted by the Post's Les Carpenter:

The Nationals will call up pitcher Matt White from New Orleans to pitch today's game against the Cardinals and their number two starter, Mark Mulder. White has some major league experience, pitching six games for the Red Sox and Mariners in 2003, but is a relative unknown in the Nationals' system. He's so anonymous that Robinson called him "Rick White."

Last night's rousing, somewhat unexpected victory over the Cards has lifted the team's (and the fanbase's) spirit again. It obscures (and momentarily obliterates) the fact that the Nats have been essentially treading water the past couples weeks after rapidly losing ground in the preceding month.

The Nats need a Gozzo-like performance out of Matt White today. The fortunate thing is this: since it's called "Gozzo-like," that's proof it can be done.


A new Nationals Inquirer feature: "Operation: 89!"

I've wagged previously that the Nats need 89 wins to feel comfortable about playing for at least one more day. When the thought coalesced in my mind, a 27-18 finish would have met the goal. Now, we're at 22-12 for the final 34 games.

Can it be done? Probably not, but who knows. Is it even necessary? Probably, but who knows.

Do I hope it can be done? Absolutely. And hopefully it would be more than sufficient.

So, track the goal in the sidebar.

Note: My baseball memory, especially of events in my teen years, is generally pretty good, but not quite good enough to put together that Mauro Gozzo retrospective. As you might have guessed, the dates, standings, and pitching lines are made possible by the incredible Retrosheet. It's definitely worth our support.

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