While I have been lamenting the St. Louis Cardinals’ decision to let infielder Aaron Miles go, it probably isn’t for the same reason that most Miles-backers cite for their dissatisfaction. Sure, it looks especially bad now that Adam Kennedy has been sent packing, leaving behind a gaggle of unprovens to try to assume both veterans’ roles in 2009.
Nope, I am disappointed because Cards skipper Tony La Russa has lost his most active career performer in the role of a hitter playing a pitcher.
Three times over the last two seasons, the manager called on the utilityman to secure the final three outs in blowout losses. Twice Miles accomplished his mission without allowing further damage.
In recent years, La Russa has stepped up his use of this tactic, with four different such relief appearances over the 2007 and 2008 seasons, three by Miles and the other by former infielder Scott Spiezio in 2007. Rarely does La Russa wave the white flag in any game, but perhaps there have been more one-sided defeats than normal since the world championship flag was raised.
The frequency of this approach in the last two years equated La Russa’s previous level over his initial 11 years as Cardinals manager. From 1996 through 2006, La Russa made such a call just four times. Cody McKay did it in 2004, Bobby Bonilla in 2001 and Gary Gaetti in both 1997 and 1998.
In every case, these non-pitcher pitchers were asked to secure the final outs of a blowout loss. Only once was the reliever brought on during an inning and only one other time was the outing longer than three outs in duration.
In aggregate, the position players-turned-pitchers allowed four earned runs in 8 1/3 innings or a 4.32 ERA. None of them were able to log the ultimate, a strikeout.
One of the very first questions I am going to ask La Russa when I arrive at spring training is to quiz him on the identity of his new 2009 “emergency pitcher”, replacing Miles. Or maybe I should ask his third base coach instead.
Of course, the most famous Cardinals position player-turned-emergency pitcher of this generation is none other than current third base coach Jose Oquendo. “Secret Weapon” took the mound three different times – in 1987, 1988 and 1991 – but was scored upon each time for a career ERA of 12.00.
His defining mound outing came on May 14-15, 1988, when he was called upon to pitch the 16th inning against the Atlanta Braves at home. Oquendo remained on the bump to toss three scoreless innings, including logging one strikeout, before losing the game in the 19th on a two-run double by Ken Griffey, Sr. It was the first decision in the majors by an non-pitcher in 20 years. For the record, Jose’s strikeout victim was pitcher Rick Mahler.
Here are the logs for the eight “emergency pitcher” outings by Cardinals position players since 1996.
2008 – one appearance
|Aaron Miles||13-Jun||Phi||L 2-20||9||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||10||7|
On June 13, Miles took the ball in the ninth to close out a game that Todd Wellemeyer just wasn’t up for. The starter had uncorked three wild pitches and yielded three home runs in 3 1/3 innings. Miles was the only one of the five hurlers not to yield a run. The game also marked the fourth and final appearance of Mark Worrell in a Cardinals uniform.
2007 – three appearances
|Aaron Miles||20-Sep||Hou||L 1-18||9||1||3||2||2||0||0||1||16||11|
|Aaron Miles||4-Aug||at Was||L 1-12||8||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||9||6|
|Scott Spiezio||15-Jun||at Oak||L 3-14||8||1||0||0||0||1||0||0||20||10|
Finishing out the disappointing non-playoff season, the Cardinals were getting spanked at home by the Houston Astros on September 20. While Miles hit a batter and yielded a home run to catcher J.R. Towles in the ninth, he still allowed the fewest runs of any of the five St. Louis hurlers that day.
On August 4 in Washington, Miles pitched a perfect eighth to close out a 12-1 loss. Again, he was the only pitcher of the four that day to not be charged with a run. The defense contributed by tacking on four unearned runs to the team total.
Spiezio made his only career appearance on the mound on June 15 at Oakland. He finished up by tossing a scoreless eighth, though it took him 20 pitches to get three outs. Yet all three pitchers who preceded him were charged with runs.
2005, 2006 – none
2004 – one appearance
|Cody McKay||8-Apr||Mil||L 5-11||8,9||2||0||0||0||1||0||0||19||10|
In just the fourth game of the season, La Russa gave the ball to his back up third baseman and catcher McKay. The first base coach’s son threw two hitless, scoreless innings at the Brewers, walking only one, the longest non-scoring outing of this type. McKay was also the only Cardinals pitcher to be unscored upon in that game.
2002, 2003 – none
2001 – one appearance
|Bobby Bonilla||17-Apr||Ari||L 4-17||9||1||3||2||2||1||0||1||22||13|
The 38-year-old Bonilla, in his final season as an active player, made his only mound appearance in 16 years as a big-leaguer. Ironically, it was on 4/17 that he allowed the final two runs in a 4-17 home loss to Arizona. Bobby Bo yielded a long ball to Erubiel Durazo and added a balk during his 22-pitch outing. This game also brought to an end the two-week major league career of former bonus baby Chad Hutchinson, who was charged with seven runs in 1 2/3 relief innings that evening.
1999, 2000 – none
1998 – one appearance
|Gary Gaetti||24-Jul||at Col||L 3-12||8||1||2||0||0||0||0||0||16||9|
The Miles of his era, third baseman Gaetti, made his second mound appearance in as many years. This time, it was at altitude in Colorado on July 24. Though he allowed a couple of singles, G-Man escaped unscathed as he pitched the final frame.
1997 – one appearance
|Gary Gaetti||20-Sep||at Pit||L 1-10||8||0.1||1||0||0||0||0||0||12||8|
Gaetti made the only documented appearance of a Cardinals non-pitcher taking the mound in the middle of an inning during the La Russa era when he was called upon on September 20. Jose Bautista had already allowed three Pirates runs in the eighth when Gaetti took over with the bases loaded and two out. It didn’t go all that well as two of his inherited runners scored on an infield single and a hit batter. Bautista’s final appearance as a major leaguer was just five days away.
1996 – none