Getting Tommy John to 300… #291
by Paul Semendinger
300 is a great round number.
And if a pitcher wins 300 games, that’s also almost a sure fire way to gain induction.
Every single pitcher in baseball history with 300 wins, save for Roger Clemens (but that’s another story) is in the Hall-of-Fame.
The pitchers just outside 300 have not been as fortunate.
Bobby Mathews (who pitched from 1871 to 1887 – spending a few years in New York on the NY Mutuals) won 297 games, he’s on the outside looking in. It was, of course, a different game then.
But next on the All-Time Wins list is Tommy John with 288. He’s also on the outside looking in.
(Note – With Jim Kaat and his 283 wins gaining entrance into the Hall of Fame, Tommy John should earn election the next time his name comes up in committee. Tommy John is every bit as deserving as Jim Kaat.)
I decided to take a look at Tommy John’s long career to see if I could find him 12 more wins.
This, then is my new quest. Today I will seek and find win #291 for Tommy John.
I found two wins in Tommy John’s first season, 1963. Today begins my deep dive into his 1964 season.
In 1964, Tommy John began the season with a 2-2 record. He earned the two wins allowing just one earned run over 17.2 innings against the Orioles and the Red Sox.
He also “earned” the two losses, including his first loss of 1964 when he lasted just 1/3 of an inning against the Yankees and allowed three runs on four hits including a home run to Mickey Mantle.
Tommy John didn’t make it through the fifth inning in either of his next two starts…
And in his next start, his seventh, on June 3, he pitched well enough to win, allowing three runs over 7. 1 innings, but his team, the Cleveland Indians, were shutout 3-0. Usually giving up just three runs in 7.1 innings is good enough to win, but John gave up eight hits and he walked three others so there were eleven base runners out there making this a less-than-good outing. I’m not ready to give Tommy John a win for that performance.
The game Tommy John pitched on June 10, though, is interesting. On that day he took the loss but allowed only one earned run as the Angels defeated the Indians 5-3. The problem was that Tommy John allowed all five runs, but only one of them was earned.
Of note, in Tommy John’s second win of the season, back on May 11, he had allowed six runs, but only one of those runs was earned. (What was it with those Cleveland Indians teams?) Since Tommy John already got the benefit of a game where he allowed a bunch of unearned runs, I was not ready to give him another win for that June 10 game.
The search continued…
I finally found the game on June 20, 1964.
On that day, Tommy John was pitching against the Angels in California. He pitched seven innings. He allowed only five hits. John walked three and struck out five. Most importantly, Tommy John allowed just two earned runs. No, better yet (knowing those Indians), just two runs in total!
Tommy John still took the loss that day because the Indians scored only once, but any time a pitcher gives up just two runs in seven innings, he pitched more than well enough the deserve the win.
In that game on June 20, the two runs off Tommy John scored in the bottom of the third inning. Jim Fregosi hit a two-run triple that scored Fred Newman (the opposing pitcher, who John had walked) and Vic Power (a former Yankee prospect) who had singled.
The Indians’ sole run came on a Leon Wagner solo homer in the fourth inning.
After much searching, I was able to get Tommy John what would be his 291st win. This would have been his third win of the season, but since he took the loss in real life, Tommy John’s record stood at 2-6. After an 0-2 start to his career in 1963, things were not looking great for the left-handed pitcher. Not many pitchers survive a 2-8 beginning to a Major League career.
For Tommy John, things were actually not going to get any better for a while…
All game information came from Baseball-Reference. (I do love that site.)
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