1953 would open with Face on the Pirates. In his major league debut, he gave up four hits and a walk, only retiring one batter in an eventual 14-12 loss to the Phillies. Fortunately, it was not a performance indicative of a trend. Even though his first season wasn’t great (6-8, 6.58), he showed flashes of what he would one day become. His best game of the season was on June 24th, when he allowed seven hits and pitched all nine innings in a 10-1 win over the Milwaukee Braves. Pittsburgh went 50-104, 55 games behind the first place Brooklyn Dodgers for the NL pennant.
Face was sent back to the minor leagues in 1954 for more seasoning. He played for the New Orleans Pelicans of the Southern Association, the Pirates “AA” level affiliate, going 12-11, 4.45. Apparently, Pittsburgh was satisfied with his performance, letting him rejoin the club in 1955. He would go 5-7 with a much improved 3.58 ERA, starting 10 games and saving five. His best performance of the season was again one of his starts, when on August 25th he struck out nine, allowing eight hits and an unearned run in a complete game, 2-1 win over the Chicago Cubs. A 60-94 record had the Pirates planted firmly in last place, eight games behind the seventh place St. Louis Cardinals.
1956 would see Face starting to define his soon-to-be longtime role, as a designated reliever. He led the NL by pitching in 68 contests, going 12-13 with six saves. On July 12th, in game two of a doubleheader against the Cubs, he entered the game in the top of the third inning and pitched the rest of the way in a 5-4 win. He struck out six and allowed five hits through his seven scoreless innings. Pittsburgh managed to claw their way out of the cellar, finishing at 66-88 and in seventh place, six games ahead of the Cubs.
Face pitched in 59 contests in 1957, going 4-6 with a 3.07 ERA. He earned his second win of the season on May 28th by coming on in relief with two outs in the ninth inning of a 2-2 tie with the Dodgers. He struck out three over his 2.1 innings pitched, earning the win by laying down a bunt single to lead off the bottom of the 11th and eventually scoring on an error. The Pirates finished back at the bottom with a 62-92 record, 33 games out of contention.
In 1958, Face started setting the bar higher for relief pitchers, appearing in 57 games and leading the NL with 40 games finished and with 20 saves. He went 5-2 with a 2.89 ERA and 8.3 hits allowed per nine innings. He also racked up enough NL MVP votes to finish 17th in the season ending balloting. On August 10th, he pitched in both ends of a doubleheader sweep over the Cincinnati Reds, earning his fourth win of the season while allowing one hit and striking out three in 2.2 combined innings pitched. The Pirates finished off with a respectable 84-70 record, losing out on the money by eight games to the Milwaukee Braves.
1959 would see Face post a season that had me saying to myself, “Are you kidding me?” He won his first 17 decisions on his way to an 18-1 record with 10 saves, leading the NL with a .947 winning percentage. He was at his best on June 18th, earning his 11th victory of the season by pitching five innings of three hit relief, striking out four in a 4-2, 13-inning win over the Cubs. The Pirates finished in fourth place at 78-76, nine games behind the pennant winning Los Angeles Dodgers. Face earned his first selection to the All-Star team, also finishing seventh in the NL MVP award race.
In 1960, Face went 10-8 with a 2.90 ERA. He led the NL with 68 games played and with 61 games finished. His 24 saves ranked him second in the league. He registered a then-career best with a 1.064 WHIP and 7.3 hits allowed per nine innings. Maybe his best appearance of the season was on May 28th, when he allowed one hit over three innings of shutout ball in an eventual 4-2, 13-inning win for the Pirates over Philadelphia. He was invited to his second consecutive all-star game, and finished 12th in the NL MVP balloting. The Pirates won the NL at 95-59, seven games ahead of the Braves. The Pirates took all seven games to finally earn the World Championship. Face pitched in four of the seven contests, allowing nine hits over 10.1 innings and earning three saves over the AL Champion New York Yankees.
Face went to his third all star-game in a row in 1961. He went 6-12 with a 3.82 ERA and an NL leading 17 saves. He only walked 10 batters in 92 innings, keeping his WHIP down at 1.130. He earned his sixth win of the season on September 2nd, allowing two singles and striking out two over three innings in a 5-4 Pirates win over the St. Louis Cardinals. Pittsburgh went 75-79, finishing in sixth place in the NL.
1962 would see Face go 8-7 with career bests in ERA, at 1.88, and WHIP, at 1.011. He saved an NL leading 28 games, allowing 74 hits in 91 innings. On May 25th, he came on in the top of the eighth inning of a 3-3 tie with the Houston Colt .45’s. He pitched five shutout innings to earn his second victory of the season. The Pirates finished with a strong 93-68 record, but finished fourth in the watered-down expansion season National League.
Face pitched five and a half more seasons for the Bucs, saving 68 more games and going 26-29. He later pitched two games with the Detroit Tigers to close out the 1968 season. 1969 would see him play for the expansion version of the Montreal Expos, going 4-2 over 44 games with five saves and a 3.94 ERA.
For a more thorough writeup, check out Face’s SABR Bio, by Gary Gillette.
All-Time Statline: 15 seasons, 100-93, 3.46 ERA, 802 games, 27 starts, six CG, zero shutouts, 188 saves, 1314.2 innings pitched, 1283 hits allowed, walked 346, struck out 842, 1.239 WHIP, 18.3 wins above replacement.