A Biography in 1,000 Players No. 57 Bert Blyleven (Number 16 Pitcher)

Favorite Chris Berman nickname Bert “Be Home” Blyleven. Say it fast.

On June 21st, 1973 I went to my first Twins game. Burt Blyleven versus Clyde Wright. Wright wasn’t a bad pitcher winning 100 games. I heard the last couple of innings of his no-hitter in 1970 when we lived in the Philippines. He won 22 that year. The game was scoreless thru 8. The Twins were giving Blyleven their normal support. In the bottom of the ninth with two outs pinch hitter Joe Lis hit a game winning single to give the Twins a 1-0 victory. I would never have remembered Joe Lis but for this game. He had 1.2 WAR in his career.

Blyleven was a hard luck pitcher. Look at the top four starters for the 1973 Minnesota Twins:

Wins-Loss Winning Percentage ERA
Burt Blyleven 20-17 541 2.52
Joe Decker  10-10 500 4.17
Jim Kaat  11-12 478 4.41
Dick Woodson  10-8 556 3.95

 

So, these pitchers who gave up a average of 4 earned runs a game had close to .500 records, while Blyleven who only gave up 2 and a half earned runs a game barely got over .500. I went through all Blyleven’s games in 1973 and found he lost 3 games 2-1 and 3 games 3-2. Normally a pitcher would have won 4 or 5 out of six games giving up 2 or 3 runs a game. Especially in a hitter’s park, which Minnesota played in that season. If Blyleven just had three of those games, he would have been 23-14 and probably would have won the Cy Young Award. He probably would have been elected to the hall of fame earlier. This is just one year but was probably the year that these games would have impressed the hall of fame voters the most.

In 1987 Burt Blyleven was on his second tour with the Twins and they won their division. By this time Blyleven was 36, but he was still the second-best starter on the team. The Twins won the first game and Blyleven started the second game. He pitched a scoreless first but gave up a single and homerun in the second to fall behind 2-0. He got thru the rest of the inning with no more scoring. When he got back to the dugout, he threw his glove against the bench in anger. I thought to myself the Twins are serious. They scored three runs in the bottom of the second to take the lead. Blyleven gave up another homerun in the eighth, but it made the game 6-3 Twins. Juan Berenger came in to finish the game with no more scoring.

The Twins were using a three-man rotation, so Blyleven started game five. The Twins were up 3 games to 1 in the series. The Twins jumped to an early 4-0 lead but gave up 3 runs in the bottom of the fourth to make the game close. Those were the only runs he gave up. When he was relieved in the bottom of the seventh the Twins were up 5-3. They stretched their lead and held on for a 9-5 victory and the American League pennant.

I was in my late 20s and my teams never won the Championship. The Vikings lost 4 Super Bowls win I was a kid and the North Stars lost in the Stanley Cup finals to the Islanders one year. So, I was hoping for my first professional championship.

The Twins won game one easily. Blyleven got the game 2 start. He pitched very well. When he gave up his first run in the fifth the Twins were up 7-0. He gave up 2 runs in 7 innings. The Twins won 8-4. The series was tied at two when Blyleven started game 5. The game was scoreless thru 5. In the bottom of the sixth Blyleven loaded the bases but there were two outs. I had confidence that he was get Curt Ford. He threw a good curve ball, but Ford hit it well enough for a single to drive in 2 runs. Unfortunately, an error was made on the next play to make the score 3-0. Blyleven’s night was done as he was lifted for a pinch hitter in his next game.

The Twins won game 6 in a comeback victory. Frank Viola the Twins ace was due to pitch game 7. I wished it was Blyleven because he was sharper in game 5 then Viola was in game 4. Meanwhile, Whitey Herzog the Cardinal manager was sad because of taking 7 games to win the National League Championship series he could not start Danny Cox in game 7 as he was the winning pitcher in game 5 against Blyleven. Herzog indicated he would try to get Cox in the game if starting pitcher Joe Magrane struggled. In the second inning the Cardinals started with 3 singles and led 1-0. Viola looked hittable. Blyleven started to warm up in the bullpen. Viola got the next two hitters but gave up an RBI single to backup catcher Steve Lake to make the score 2-0. I wished the Twin’s manager Tom Kelley would bring in Blyleven, but he was a patient man. The Twins got one back in the bottom of the second.

So who come back to start the third for the Twins? It was Viola. Do you know what happened? He starts pitching great. Not simply good, but great. He gets the next nine batters, five with strikeouts. He is so sharp his innings fly. Magrane is also pitching well. He is not as sharp as Viola, but he is getting batters out. With one out in the bottom of the fifth Greg Gagne hits a groundball to first. Gagne is called safe although the replay shows he should have been out. Magrane has been pitching solidly to this point. It wasn’t his fault that Gagne reached first. However, Herzog thought this was a great time to bring in Danny Cox. He would get the game to the bullpen and the Twins wouldn’t score again and the Cardinals would win the World Series. Didn’t happen. Cox had nothing. Puckett doubled in Gagne, tie game. Cox couldn’t get anybody out at the plate, but Puckett got caught trying to steal third and Gaetti got thrown out at the plate on Baylor’s single. The Twins gave the Cardinals two outs but had tied the game.

Viola was still pitching great.  He gave a one out single to Tommy Herr but was still sharp and got the next two batters. Cox walked the first two hitters in the bottom of the sixth. Herzog wasn’t happy with the umpires and relieved Cox. He bought in his ace reliever Todd Worrell who pitched well in the series. Ironically, it was Greg Gagne came up with the bases loaded in 2 outs. He hit a sharp ball to 3rd base. Tom Lawless made a good play to keep it in the infield, but everyone was safe. The Twins had the lead with 3 innings to go.

Viola with the long inning didn’t seem as sharp. He gave up a one out double to Tony Pena. However, he didn’t give up any runs. Viola was sharp in the 8th and got the side in order. In the bottom of the eighth the Twins got a much-needed insurance run that made me breath easier. Kelly not wanting to have a tired pitcher pitch the ninth went to his relief ace Jeff Reardon. This is part of why the Twins got Reardon in the off season was to save games like this. Reardon got the side in order in the ninth. The Twins were World Series winners and I had my championship. Tom Kelly also showed me the value of patience.



Categories: Authors: Doug Byzewski, Biography 1,000 Players, Sports: Baseball

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