Joe Nuxhall beat the .45's, and pinned the loss on Johnson. The run was unearned. Johnson walked two and struck out nine. Nuxhall pitched a five-hit shutout with a walk and six strikeouts. Both pitchers beat almost every hitter all night long.
This year, more than a few pitchers have dominated games. It wasn't just luck when Ubaldo Jimenez no-hit the Braves on April 17. We're almost two months into the season and he's 7-1 with a 1.17 ERA. The Dodgers pinned a 2-0 loss on him on May 9, but they didn't exactly throttle him. Roy Hallady continues to dominate for the Phillies, and we've already had a perfect game by A's pitcher Dallas Braden.
This past Saturday, the Giants' Tim Lincecum outdueled the Astros' Roy Oswalt, 2-1. And Lincecum wasn't even that sharp. He only gave up four hits in eight innings, but he also walked five. Oswalt worked seven innings and gave up six hits without walking a batter, while striking out seven. What's more, Juan Uribe's two-run homer off Oswalt came on a reprieve with two outs in the fourth inning. Earlier in the at-bat, Uribe lifted a foul pop up down the first-base side, and first baseman Lance Berkman, fighting the sun and wind, missed it. It wasn't so much that he should have caught the ball, but he could have. Oswalt could have won, 1-0.
On another day (July 2, 1963), in another stadium (Candlestick Park), in San Francisco, Juan Marichal outdueled Warren Spahn, 1-0, in 16 innings. Willie Mays homered on a first-pitch screwball to end it. Giants manager Alvin Dark wanted to take his young starter out in the 14th inning, but Marichal said, "That man is 42 years old and I'm 25. I can pitch as long as he can."
I was there in 1968 when the pitchers in both leagues dominated the hitters. Denny McClain won 31 games. Bob Gibson posted a 1.12 ERA. Don Drysdale pitched 58 consecutive scoreless innings. Carl Yastrzemski won the batting title in the American League with a .301 average. And the combined batting average of all Major League hitters was .237, the lowest since 1915, in the dead ball era!
The next year, they lowered the mound, hoping to give the hitters a better chance. It didn't work.
In 1973, the American League adopted the Designated Hitter. That didn't work so well at first. There were a lot of good pitchers back then, and perhaps not so many good hitters.
In my opinion, there are very few things in life that do not go through phases and stages. Base stealing was a big factor in the dead ball days. It resurfaced in the 1980s and is still important. But it's more difficult now because pitchers and catchers have made some adjustments.
On the surface, it seems like the last two decades of heavy hitting are related to steroids. But watching day by day, I believe that it was also a cycle. Outside of a handful of pitchers, there were no ERAs below 3.00. There seemed to be enough good hitters to cover the expansion to 30 teams, but not enough pitchers. It wasn't just steroids.
Now, it seems, the ratio has changed. There are as many, if not more, talented pitchers coming up. We may be on the precipice of another cycle. I've been predicting it for several years and there hasn't been dramatic proof yet. But it could be coming.
When I got the manager's job with the Astros in 1997, I often said I didn't want to simply do what everyone else was doing, but do it better. Instead, I wanted to do what everyone else was going to do next, but do it first. I didn't want to use my mop-up men in the bullpen. So I tried to push the starters deeper into the game. Since most hitters of recent vintage have no clue what contact hitting means, I hardly ever employed the hit-and-run play. I did encourage practically every one of our players to steal on their own. But -- and this is a very big but -- I told our hitters to hit away when a runner was stealing. "You're only going to get that fat pitch a few times in a game," I said. "If you get it, swing! Forget the runner!" You'd be surprised how many times I was credited with the masterful use of the hit-and-run play.
We didn't win because I had a crystal ball. We won because we had good players. But I do believe that I anticipated the next cycle, though perhaps prematurely. If the pitchers gain the upper hand again, it will augur a new trend toward speed and defense.
I grew up in L.A., following the Dodgers of the late 50s and early 60s. They won a lot of games with a puny offense. But it was exciting because almost every game was close.
I still remember trying to beat Drysdale, Sandy Koufax, Don Sutton, Claude Osteen, Bill Singer and Tommy John. I also remember 1968.
Good pitching beats good hitting -- period!