Solid Witt pitched with guts, savvy

Solid Witt pitched with guts, savvy

The Rangers were 44-44 and six games out of first place on July 13, 1997, when they sent Bobby Witt to the mound to face the division-leading Seattle Mariners at the old Kingdome.

Witt was 10-4 with a 3.62 ERA, but his opponent that night was Randy Johnson, who was 12-2 with a 2.20 ERA and on his way to his first 20-win season of his career.

There were 46,467 at the Kingdome that night, mainly to watch Johnson, and he was pretty good in holding the Rangers to two runs on five hits in seven innings while striking out 14. But Witt matched him, holding the Mariners to two runs on eight hits in 6 2/3 innings.

The Rangers ultimately won, 4-2, even though Witt was not involved in the decision. But reliever John Wetteland, who earned the save, pretty much summed up Witt's effort that scintillating night.

"When I got to the mound, Bobby Witt's guts were all over the place," Wetteland said.

There were many times when Witt pitched his guts out for the Rangers, and there was the memorable night of Aug. 25, 1986, when he faced Roger Clemens and the Boston Red Sox on national television.

Clemens was on his way to a Cy Young Award and the Red Sox were on their way to the World Series, but Witt went head-to-head with the future Hall of Famer in one of the most memorable games in Rangers history.

Witt, in his rookie season, held the Red Sox to two runs in seven innings. The Rangers trailed, 2-0, in the eighth inning but Geno Petralli hit a pinch-hit two-run home run off Clemens to tie the game. Ruben Sierra later won it with a home run in extra innings.

It was one the most memorable victories in club history. Witt's career numbers are not spectacular, but it was the heart and guts that he showed time and time again on the mound through a 16-year career that puts him on the Hall of Fame ballot this winter.

"It would be almost impossible to have been involved with the Rangers as long as I have and not love Bobby Witt," said former Rangers general manager Tom Grieve. "He was one pitcher who wanted to pitch every day and would throw 300 pitches in a game and never complain. To me he was the ultimate when it came to wanting the ball, wanting to stay in the game no matter what the score is and give everything he had on every pitch.

"He was a great kid who came from a great family, a tremendous competitor who never said no. He came into the organization with a lot of fanfare and high expectations and gave it everything he had every time out there."

Witt was the third overall pick in the 1985, an All-American pitcher out of the University of Oklahoma who made the Rangers out of Spring Training in 1986.

The first four years were a struggle, as he went 39-42 with a 4.85 ERA, but he also showed his potential by striking out 8.7 batters per nine innings.

He finally put it together in 1990. With the help of a club-record 12-game winning streak, he went 17-10 with a 3.36 ERA and was second in the American League behind teammate Nolan Ryan with 220 strikeouts. He was third in the league with seven complete games.

A torn rotator cuff in 1991 kept Witt from building on that season, and on Aug. 31, 1992, he was traded to the Oakland Athletics. He pitched in his first playoff game that year as the Athletics won the division title.

The following season, Witt was 14-13 with a 4.21 ERA and in 1994, finishing second in the American League with three shutouts.

He signed as a free agent with the Florida Marlins in 1995 and was traded back to the Rangers on Aug. 8 of that season. That proved to be a crucial deal because Witt was one of the club's top pitchers the following season, a memorable one as the Rangers won their first division title in club history.

Witt ended up going 16-12 with a 5.41 ERA in 33 games and was particularly impressive in the second half. During the stretch drive to the division title, Witt was 8-1 with a 4.19 ERA between July 20 and Sept. 8.

He won 12 more games for the Rangers in 1998, then started to drift, going from Texas to St. Louis to Tampa Bay and then to Cleveland.

His final season was with the Arizona Diamondbacks, where he was 4-1 with a 4.78 ERA. But he was 3-0 in his last six starts over the final five weeks of the season, helping the Diamondbacks hold off the Giants by two games in the National League West.

He closed out his career with a scoreless inning in Game 6 of the 2001 World Series. He would finish ranked 64th all-time with 7.14 strikeouts per nine innings and 69th all-time with 1,955 strikeouts.

Shoulder problems plagued him earlier in his career and a bad back was a concern over the final few seasons. But over and over again during the course of his career, he showed plenty of guts and lots of heart.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.