Red Sox Steven Wright: A “complete” success

Jul 31, 2016; Anaheim, CA, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Steven Wright (35) pitches against the Los Angeles Angels during the first inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 31, 2016; Anaheim, CA, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Steven Wright (35) pitches against the Los Angeles Angels during the first inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports /

The Boston Red Sox lead the AL in complete games with eight – a number that is just a fraction of what was once the standard.

Red Sox fans have enjoyed a remarkable rare occurrence in the 2016 season and that is the complete game. The Red Sox lead the American League in complete games with eight and Steven Wright has contributed four to that total.

On September 1, 1906, the Red Sox, or Boston Americans, played a game at the Huntington Avenue Grounds against the Philadelphia Athletics that Boston eventually lost 4-1 in 24 innings. The loss meant little in the giant scheme of a pennant race since the Americans were now 38-82 and firmly entrenched in last place.

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The game did have an interesting note and that was the Boston starting pitcher – Joe Harris – a 24-year-old right-hander from Melrose, Massachusetts who pitched the entire game for Boston. The loss was not unusual for Harris since he finished the season at 2-21 and that tied another pitcher on the staff – a gent called Cy Young – for most losses in the American League.

Harris managed an American League record that will probably never be touched and that was 20 consecutive scoreless innings in the contest that was won by Jack Coombs who also went the distance. For Harris, the misery was not unusual since he was on the short end of eight shutouts that season. The Americans finished dead last in an eight-team league. Bill Nowlin has written on the interesting Harris and the historic game.

The pitching staff for Boston completed 124 complete games for the 1906 season with five shutouts. For those of you who consider saves a relevant statistic, there was a grand total of five. How have the complete games changed over the years for the Red Sox? Let’s take a look with emphasis on championship teams.

The 1903 championship team had 123 complete games. In 1912 the total was 108 and in 1915 the total shrunk to 84. The following year it was lowered to 76 and in the shortened season of 1918, the number increased to 105.

On May 1, 1920, the longest game in innings was played in Boston, but at Braves Field with the Braves hooking up with the Dodgers for 26 innings before the game was called as a 1-1 tie. Both pitchers – Leon Cadore and Joe Oeschger went the distance. As a side note, the game lasted three hours and fifty minutes.

The 1946 Red Sox ran away with the American League pennant and pitching roles were also becoming more defined. The staff had 79 complete games and 20 saves, but starters were still expected to take on most of the innings and games. Tex Hughson (39) and Dave Ferriss (40) led the staff in appearances and both started 35 games.

In 1967 the team had 41 complete games, but the 1975 team boosted that total to 62. The 1986 team lowered that total to 36. Then came the new century and the reliance on a five-man staff, defined bullpen roles and a closer expected to go only one and not multiple innings.

The 2004 team had just four complete games and 2007 managed five – a total matched by the 2013 team. So far this 2016 team is in a complete game frenzy. Tracing back since 2001 it is not unusual to see a team with no complete games or just one. Also, a team having double-digit complete games is simply not that common in baseball of the new century.

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One can reminisce about the “Good” or “Bad” old days of baseball where a four-man rotation and a ten man staff was common. Pitchers were expected to finish what they have started since in many instances the bullpen staff consisted of pitchers simply lacking the ability to be in the rotation.

The specialist was limited to a closer and the role was far different from today. Bob Stanley and Dick Radatz went well over 100 innings pitched. Mike Marshall once pitched in 106 games for the Dodgers tossing 208.1 innings in relief in 1974.

From my perspective, I have a certain level of difficulty accepting the pitching philosophy that is utilized today. I happen to be a firm believer in the “Hot Hand,” meaning if a pitcher has a clean inning you bring him out for another and even another. I find the regimented role and even the use of “Hold” a change I have difficulty accepting.

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For now, Wright sits on the sidelines resting an ailing shoulder – I will avoid all the expletives I could unleash regarding the managerial decision to use him as a pinch-runner. Wright will (hopefully) return soon and cement a title as the complete game leader in the American League. Undoubtedly Wright will fall a few games short of the records.

Sources: Baseball-Reference/FanGraphs