Monday, October 7
Millwood must overcome short rest
Call it the Curse of Doug Drabek.
In 1992, the Pittsburgh Pirates' ace started Games 4 and 7 on three days' rest in the National League Championship Series against the Braves. After losing Game 1, Drabek struggled in Game 4 and lost again. In Game 7, however, he took a 2-0 lead into the bottom of the ninth. The Pirates appeared headed to the World Series. Except ...
Terry Pendleton doubled. Jose Lind made an error. Sid Bream walked. Drabek was gassed. And when Stan Belinda gave up that fateful single to Francisco Cabrera ... Drabek had lost again. Three starts, three losses.
The Pirates haven't had a winning season since.
Tonight, in Game 5 of the NL Division Series between the Giants and Braves, Atlanta's Kevin Millwood will be the latest pitcher to tempt the fates of pitching on the dreaded three days' rest instead of the regular four days. Teammate Tom Glavine couldn't do it Sunday; the Giants hammered him for seven runs on seven hits in 2 2/3 innings.
Oakland's Mark Mulder also went on only three days' rest Sunday and only gave up two runs in seven innings, but nonetheless became the first pitcher in baseball history to lose two winner-take-all playoff games in his career. Mulder's teammate, Tim Hudson, did it Saturday but couldn't escape the fourth inning.
Those kinds of shaky outings are nothing new. Over the past five postseasons, from 1998 through Sunday, the record of pitchers going on three days' rest is abysmal. In 23 starts, pitchers are a combined 3-13 with a 6.75 ERA. Only eight of the 23 outings were "quality starts" (at least six innings pitched with three or fewer runs allowed). They've allowed 134 hits and 90 runs in 105 1/3 innings.
Some of the starts have been horrifically bad. The Mets' Al Leiter didn't retire any of the six batters he faced in Game 6 of the 1999 NLCS against the Braves. Bret Saberhagen and Charles Nagy locked up in a classic non-duel in Game 5 of the '99 ALDS, combining for four innings pitched and 13 runs allowed.
Millwood hasn't started all year on three days' rest (he did pitch four innings of one-run relief on April 13 vs. the Marlins). In his career, he has started six times on short rest with a 2-3 record, 3.16 ERA. He did throw only 72 pitches in winning Game 2.
The Braves tried to alleviate some of the three-days stress Millwood will be under by having him take a commercial flight to Atlanta from San Francisco on Sunday morning, so that he could get a full night's sleep at home.
"We thought that would be the smartest thing to do," Braves manager Bobby Cox told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "There's not much time between landing and (tonight's first pitch). We wanted to make sure he got at least a decent night's sleep."
For positive reinforcement, Millwood can take solace in the three pitchers who have won on three days' rest since '98: Jarrod Washburn (Saturday, 5 IP, 2 R); Jamie Moyer in Game 5 of the ALDS last year (6 IP, 1 R); and Sterling Hitchcock in Game 6 of the NLCS in '98 (5 IP, 0 R). And Curt Schilling had two quality starts in last year's World Series, but came away with no-decisions both times out.
As for the Giants, they start Russ Ortiz on four days' rest.
That extra day may prove to make all the difference.