Oakland A's manager Bob Melvin chose rookie Sonny Gray over veteran Bartolo Colon to start Game 5 of the American League Division Series against the Tigers -- making Gray the third rookie to start what I call an "ultimate" game this postseason (a do-or-die game), following Gerrit Cole for the Pirates last night and Danny Salazar for the Indians in the AL wild-card game.
Cole pitched well, but made one mistake, a slider over the plate that David Freese lined for a two-run homer, the only runs Cole allowed in five innings before being lifted for a pinch-hitter. Salazar was less effective, allowing three runs in four innings.
Here are some of the memorable outings by rookie starters in ultimate games:
Jarrod Parker, 2012 A's
Sound familiar, A's fans? One year ago, another rookie right-hander faced Justin Verlander in Game 5 of the Division Series. Parker allowed four runs and Verlander was brilliant in a complete-game shutout.
John Lackey, 2002 Angels
Manager Mike Scioscia had a decision to make for Game 7 of the World Series: Ramon Ortiz on full rest or the rookie on three days' rest. The Giants actually scored first, but the Angels soon jumped on Livan Hernandez and Lackey allowed just one run in five innings as the Angels won 4-1.
Jaret Wright, 1997 Indians
Wright had gone 8-3 with a 4.38 ERA in 16 starts, but ended up starting both Game 5 of the Division Series and Game 7 of the World Series. He got the win against the Yankees, although he allowed three runs in 5.1 innings, and survived five walks against the Marlins to leave after 6.1 innings with a 2-1 lead. The interesting note here is that manager Mike Hargrove chose Wright on three days' rest over Charles Nagy; it proved to be the right choice, but Jose Mesa couldn't get the save in the ninth and Nagy ended up taking the loss in the 11th inning.
Joe Magrane, 1987 Cardinals
The left-hander had gone 9-7 with a 3.54 ERA, but drew the start after Whitey Herzog had scrambled his rotation. Magrane had started Game 1, followed by Danny Cox, John Tudor and Greg Mathews. He brought back Cox and Tudor on three days' rest in Games 5 (Cardinals win) and 6 (Twins win), setting up Magrane again. Magrane left with a 2-1 lead in the fifth and a runner on first, but Cox entered and gave up a game-tying double to Kirby Puckett. The Twins then scored in the sixth and the eighth (closer Todd Worrell pitched three innings!) and won 4-2.
Fernando Valenzuela, 1981 Dodgers
The youngest pitcher to start an ultimate game, Fernando beat the Expos in the NLCS. He allowed a run in the first, settled down and dominated, Rick Monday homered in the ninth to give the Dodgers a 2-1 lead and after Fernando walked Gary Carter and Larry Parrish with two outs in the ninth, Bob Welch came on and got Jerry White for the final out.
Marty Bystrom, 1980 Phillies
Bystrom was a September call-up who had gone 5-0 with a 1.50 ERA in five starts. Ace Steve Carlton had started Games 1 and 4, so Dallas Green went with Bystrom over Dick Ruthven for Game 5 of the NLCS against the Astros. Bystrom was solid -- he left in the sixth with the game tied 2-2 -- but the excitement happened after he left in one of the great games (and series) in baseball history. The Astros scored three in the seventh, the Phillies five in the eighth (Nolan Ryan couldn't hold the lead), the Astros tied it and the Phillies finally won in 10 innings, Ruthven pitching two perfect innings for the win.
Mel Stottlemyre, 1964 Yankees
This was the last hurrah of the long Yankee dynasty that began in the 1920s. They wouldn't appear in the postseason again for 12 seasons. Manager Yogi Berra had started Whitey Ford in the World Series opener, but Ford, who had pitched in pain throughout the season, didn't pitch well and wouldn't appear again, leaving Berra's rotation in a bit of a mess. Stottlemyre had been called up in August and gone 9-3, 2.06 in 12 starts, and he started and went the distance in Game 2. Jim Bouton threw another complete-game victory in Game 3. Al Downing started Game 4 and allowed four runs in six innings. Stottlemyre pitched well in Game 5, although the Yankees lost in extra innings, and then Bouton won Game 6. Berra went with Stottlemyre on two days' rest in Game 7 over Downing. The Cardinals started Bob Gibson, also on two days' rest -- after pitching 10 innings in Game 5. The Cardinals scored three in the fourth and Stottlemyre was lifted for a pinch-hitter. They extended their lead to 6-0 off Downing. Gibson staggered to the finish line but held on for a 7-5 win.
Joe Black, 1952 Dodgers
This was one of the curious pitching decisions in World Series history. Black was a 28-year-old veteran of the Negro Leagues who had gone 15-2, 2.15 -- but almost entirely out of the bullpen; he started just two games in the regular season. Chuck Dressen tabbed Black to starts Games 1, 4 and 7 of the World Series, however and it almost worked. Black won the opener, pitched well but lost 2-0 in Game 4, and then gave up a go-ahead home run to Mickey Mantle in the sixth inning of the final as the Yankees won 4-2.
Babe Adams, 1909 Pirates
Adams was an unknown rookie on a great, 110-win Pirates team. He'd gone 12-3 in a starter/reliever role, but was the surprise Game 1 starter. He ended up winning three games over Ty Cobb's Tigers, all complete games: 1, 5 and then an 8-0 shutout in Game 7.