Red Sox Eduardo Rodriguez – a latter day “Yankee Killer”

Jun 27, 2016; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez (52) throws a pitch during the first inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 27, 2016; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez (52) throws a pitch during the first inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

The Red Sox Eduardo Rodriguez has developed a special talent for being a “Yankee Killer,” but the very first was a talented Frank Lary.

Eduardo Rodriguez is back – hopefully, or maybe, or let’s wait a few more starts.

Manager John Farrell made two excellent pitching decisions over the weekend against the Yankees. First was to start Steven Wright, who did not appear in the All-Star Game. Wright would offer a special challenge with the time off and is also now 4-0 with a 2.25 ERA at New York.

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The second move was to put recovering Rodriguez into the start on Saturday and E-Rod certainly responded with a nice seven innings and one run effort. The victory bounced his record against New York to a career 4-1 and an impressive 2.01 ERA. The new title of “Yankee Killer” was now assigned to Rodriguez and I hope it can be refined to “American League East Killer.” E-Rod, however, was not the original killer.

The original “Yankee Killer” was a right-handed hurler for the Detroit Tigers, who brought a special brand of misery to the Yankees in the late 1950’s and into 1961 – Frank Lary. A pitcher I vividly remember for his gritty game face and ability. Lary’s ability to torment the Yankees certainly got him notoriety with the Yankee haters – everyone outside the Bronx.

"“I just throw them that breaking stuff of mine.” Frank Lary"

Lary was not an overpowering pitcher, as shown by a career 4.6 K/9, but had mastery of several pitches and was quite adept at keeping hitters off stride. Lary also personified “old school” pitching with the age-old battle for the inside of the plate and that certainly shows by his leading the league in hit batters four times and in three of those seasons the BB/9 was well under 3.00 – selective control?

The numbers for Lary are impressive up to age 31 when the wear and tear finally got to him. In his last notable season – 1961 – Lary won 23 games and that made his career total 117. Then he crashed and in four more seasons with five teams won just 11 games, but against the Yankees he was a “killer.”

"“Let me tell you something: I love the Yankees. And let me tell you why: because without the Yankees, there is nobody to hate.” Denis Leary"

The Yankees of this era were a machine – the best in baseball and the rest of the American League was just a routine they had to go through before moving on to the World Series. For Lary the career numbers are staggering against New York considering their lineup. The result was a 28-13 career record with a 3.32 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP. At The Stadium it was 12-6, 3.11 ERA and 1.27 WHIP. Almost one-quarter of his wins were against the Yankees.

"“Rooting for the Yankees is like rooting for U.S. Steel” (1950) – Jim Murray"

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Overwork is a key word when examining the Lary statistics – three times leading the league in innings pitched and three times leading in complete games. From 1955-61 Lary won 117 games – the most in the American League – started the most games, pitched the most innings and faced the most batters. Twice Lary won 20 or more games and was honored with a Gold Glove Award during that time frame.

Rodriguez is off to an excellent start on his (hopefully) career as a “Yankee Killer” and his similar style of pitch to contact is clear. The aura of the Yankees is certainly not what it was when the hit musical “Damn Yankees” was playing on Broadway, but there is something special about beating New York and that is certainly magnified in the ongoing border war with our AL rivals.

Will he do it?

Rodriguez is a special talent and do not forget he is still only 23-years-old and the upside potential is certainly apparent. Rodriguez has a fastball that can touch into the mid-90’s, but also has some decent secondary pitches that allow him to do as Lary did and keep batters off stride. The recent start against New York showed the value of pitching to contact and it also showed a steamed Rodriguez being calmed by his manager after the fifth inning thanks to calls by a home plate umpire that were totally inconsistent.

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That last part showed a bit of maturity from my vantage point as he did not display some of the theatrics on the mound he did in 2015 when the strike zone mysteriously changed within each at-bat. That is where you let your catcher do the verbal reminders to the umpire.

For an interesting metric view of Lary’s history against the Yankees is contained in this article.

Sources: Baseball-reference/FanGraphs/SABR (Jim Sargent).