From Cambria to Cumpton: Best Bucco starting pitcher major-league debuts

Justin K. Aller

The past week saw two products of the Pirates' farm system make major-league debuts as starting pitchers. Gerrit Cole climaxed twenty-four months of fan, organizational and industry anticipation in a win over San Francisco; four days later against Los Angeles, less-heralded Brandon Cumpton proved himself an able replacement for an ailing A.J. Burnett.

Their debuts evoked memories of past Bucco squads calling on hot rookies for spot starts or extended rotation stays (or spot starts that transformed into extended stays), so I searched Baseball Reference for the Bucs' best starting-pitcher major-league debuts since 1970 and ranked the twenty-five best outings by Game Score. The list, in ascending order of Game Score, has a relatively narrow focus; Bucco pitchers who debuted with other teams, made initial major-league appearances from the bullpen, commenced their careers before 1970, or had low Game Scores the first time out did not qualify. I've added a quotation for each to show how eyewitnesses perceived these debuts at the time.

25. Bruce Kison, July 4, 1971 (Game Score 45):

Bob Moose's two-week reserve tour with the U.S. Marine Corps forced the first-place Bucs to requisition a starting pitcher for their Independence Day game at Wrigley Field. From AAA Charleston they summoned Bruce Kison, drafted in the fourteenth round three years earlier. The Cubs hit Kison early (with three runs in the first) and late (a Jim Hickman solo home run in the sixth), but the twenty-one-year-old sidewinder shut down Chicago's attack between those unpleasant bookends to finish with a credible six-inning, four-run outing and a no-decision. (The Bucco bullpen subsequently would surrender five runs in the eighth inning to give the Cubs a 9-7 triumph.) Kison's stay in the big leagues outlasted Moose's midsummer military obligation: he remained in Pittsburgh for the rest of the season and came out of the bullpen to earn victories in the National League Championship Series and World Series.

A pitcher on the far outside is Bruce Kison, a 21-year-old rookie righthander who has the build of a thermometer but the arm of a comer. Kison was left behind of his Central American junket, but he's scheduled to face the Los Angeles Dodger varsity in a game back in Bradenton this afternoon.

– Bill Christine, The Pittsburgh Press (written during spring training 1971; the Press and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette were on strike when Kison made his debut)

24. Brandon Cumpton, June 15, 2013 (GS 45):

Cole's debut had generated more buzz by several orders of magnitude, but the sellout crowd gathered at PNC Park for Cumpton's first start had reason to believe, at least in the early going, that it likewise beheld the arrival of a phenom. The Georgia Tech product struck out the side in the first inning, recorded five strikeouts in the first two innings, and, by and large, seemed up to the challenge of Dodgers' ace Clayton Kershaw. But Los Angeles figured out Cumpton shortly after that initial salvo, and he left the mound in the top of the sixth with a 2-1 deficit (with a runner on base who would eventually score the third run charged to Cumpton); it took some late clutch hitting for the Bucs to get Cumpton off the hook in their eventual 5-3 loss in ten innings. Nevertheless, his spot start had kept the Pirates in the game, earning the opportunity for a second turn in the rotation.

The same could be said for the Los Angeles Dodgers (29-38) their first time facing Cumpton in his Major League debut. With little more than a 93 mph fastball, a breaking ball and a mound of nerves, Cumpton sliced his way through the top of the Dodgers lineup. Leadoff hitter Skip Schumaker looked at a slider that nicked the outside edge for the first K. Then Cuban phenom Yasiel Puig whiffed at a low breaking ball for the second and Adrian Gonzalez swung and missed at two fastballs and could only tip a slider for the third. Three up, three down, 36,941 stunned.

– James Santelli, Pirates Prospects

23. Steve Parris, June 21, 1995 (GS 48):

Less than two months into the strike-delayed 1995 campaign, the Bucs had already diminished expectations to depths unseen for a decade: last-place in the NL Central, a double-digit divisional deficit, and opening day starter Jon Lieber banished to AAA Calgary with a 2-7 record and 7.48 ERA. To take Lieber's place for a getaway day game against San Francisco at Three Rivers Stadium, the Pirates called up the twenty-seven-year-old Parris, a veteran of three other organizations and survivor of shoulder surgery. Parris contributed three and two thirds innings of two-run work against the Giants—including retiring Barry Bonds twice—before a 114-minute rain delay in the top of the fourth persuaded Jim Leyland to turn the game over to the bullpen. The Bucs' relief corps ultimately surrendered three runs over the final two innings in a 6-5 loss, and the '95 Pirates finished with the worst record in the NL, but Parris would go on to start 129 games in eight major-league seasons.

"He had arm surgery [two years ago], and I didn't want to take any chances putting him back out there," Leyland said.

– Paul Meyer, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

22. Pascual Perez, May 7, 1980 (GS 49):

As April 1980 turned to May, the defending champions' rotation took on heavy losses: a disgruntled Bert Blyleven announced his "retirement" on April 30 and Jim Rooker went down with a career-ending arm injury two days later. But Perez, taking Three Rivers Stadium's mound against Los Angeles ten days before his twenty-third birthday, gave the depleted staff a boost by pitching into the seventh inning with a 6-2 lead and contributing a single and run scored. He even managed to provoke angry gestures from Dusty Baker after hitting the Dodgers' left fielder on the hand with a pitch in the fifth. Enrique Romo, Grant Jackson and Kent Tekulve would squander the four-run advantage within seven batters of Perez's departure, but Dave Parker's home run in the bottom of the seventh off Charlie Hough—the fourth Bucco homer of the night—put the Bucs ahead to stay in a 7-6 triumph.

Last night, in the Pirate clubhouse, it suited skinny right-hander Pascual Perez, all of 6-feet-2 and a Tekulve-ish 162 pounds, to boogie to some downright funky stereo stuff that lit up disco freak Don Robinson. And to smile, and accept congratulations for his moves from such as Mike Easler.

– Marino Paracenzo, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

21. Joe Beimel, April 8, 2001 (GS 49):

Better known as a reliever—all but twenty-three of his 567 career appearances over eleven seasons would come from the bullpen—Beimel made his major-league debut as a starter, tapped by new Bucco manager Lloyd McClendon to replace an injured Terry Mulholland at the launching pad then known as Enron Field. While the calendar indicated "Sunday," Houston declined to welcome the twenty-three-year-old Duquesne University product with a reserve-weakened lineup: Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell and Lance Berkman all appeared in their customary spots on the Astros' lineup card. Beimel, however, overcame surroundings and foe alike to limit Houston to two runs in five innings. Aramis Ramirez's three-homer, six-RBI coming out party ensured that Beimel would earn his first big-league win in the Bucs' 9-3 victory.

Beimel, 23, went 1-6 with a 4.16 ERA for the Class AA Altoona Curve last season, but didn't seem intimidated by the big-league surroundings. The attendance of 30,174 at Enron Field yesterday was six times more than the population of his hometown of Kersey, just outside of St. Mary's.

– Robert Dvorchak, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

20. Rich Sauveur, July 1, 1986 (GS 50):

At management's suggestion, the twenty-two-year old lefthander had reinvented himself as a knuckleball pitcher in spring training, and the transformation propelled Sauveur from an opening day assignment with AA Nashua to a midseason replacement for an injured Bob Kipper. Sauveur's debut against the Phillies at Three Rivers Stadium aligned with the rest of his rapid rise; he pitched into the seventh inning and allowed only two runs in a duel with fellow rookie/future Pirate Mike Maddux. But the most memorable aspects of this damp night occurred after Sauveur's departure: Philadelphia closer Steve Bedrosian threw consecutive wild pitches in the tenth inning to squander a 4-2 advantage; Phillies' manager John Felske successfully employed two intentional walks and a five-man infield to deny Joe Orsulak a game-winning hit; and Mike Schmidt's 473th career home run in the twelfth gave the visitors a 5-4 win.

Rich Sauveur's major-league debut was a good one. He allowed seven hits and two runs-a two-run, third-inning home run by Rick Schu-in 6 2/3 innings. "I'd do anything to get that pitch back . . . a fastball, right down the middle," said Sauveur, a knuckleballer. "I didn't throw many knuckleballs tonight because of the weather. I threw mostly screwballs."

– Ron Cook, The Pittsburgh Press

19. Sean Lawrence, August 25, 1998 (GS 50):

Seeking to avoid a sixth consecutive losing season, the Pirates had reeled off seven wins in a row—and eleven wins in thirteen games—to move within six games of the elusive .500 mark. With Jon Lieber sidelined with an oblique injury, the Buccos called on Lawrence, a twenty-seven-year-old left-hander who had made a slow climb through the system after being drafted in 1992. Lawrence continued the winning streak against the first-year Diamondbacks, holding them to two runs through five innings to earn a 9-6 win. All glories, however, proved fleeting: Lawrence would pitch in only six more games and finish with a 7.32 ERA, and the Bucs would finish the season with twenty-five losses in their final thirty contests.

Before Tuesday night, Sean Lawrence experienced his biggest baseball thrill last November. He awoke one morning at his home near Chicago, looked in the newspaper and saw his name in the "Transactions" section on the agate type. There it was, in the Pirates part. Lawrence had been put on the 40-man roster, meaning he'd go to major-league spring training for the first time in his six-year career. But that was then. On Tuesday, Lawrence added to his list of thrills.

– Paul Meyer, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

18. Mike Dunne, June 5, 1987 (GS 51):

Andy Van Slyke and Mike LaValliere joined the Pirates right away; Dunne, the third member of the blockbuster trade that sent Tony Pena to St. Louis, spent the season's first two months gaining seasoning at Class AAA Vancouver. When Bucco general manager Syd Thrift finally did summon the twenty-four-year-old right-hander to the big leagues, Dunne received a daunting initial mission: facing Dwight Gooden at Shea Stadium in Dr. K's first appearance since entering drug rehabilitation on the season's eve. But the 1984 U.S. Olympian thrived in the limelight. Before more than 51,000 onlookers, Dunne survived a two-error, two-unearned run first inning, and limited the Mets to one earned run in six innings in a 5-1 Bucco loss. He went on to finish second in the NL Rookie of the Year voting.

Although he was the loser in the Pirates' 5-1 loss to the Mets, Dunne performed well in his six innings. "I give him an A-plus," catcher Mike LaValliere said. "The kid's got some good stuff. It's hard to say what his best pitch is. His hard sinker or his fork ball—both are just nasty pitches."

– Paul Meyer, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

17. John Candelaria, June 8, 1975 (GS 53):

Their rotation left short-handed by injuries to Jim Rooker, Ken Brett and Dock Ellis, the first-place Pirates turned to Candelaria, their second-round draft pick three years earlier, to start the first game of a doubleheader against the Giants on a chilly, gray Sunday afternoon at Three Rivers Stadium. Candelaria's six-inning, three-run outing hinted at the phenomenal work to come from his left arm over the next few seasons, but both he and his fellow twenty-one-year-old second-game starter Larry Demery failed to overcome an uncharacteristically poor afternoon by the Bucco bats; a pair of home runs by Richie Hebner represented the only Pirates' offense in 3-1 and 4-2 losses.

Candelaria, pitching his first big-league game after a recall from Charleston only a few days previous, was a 3-1 loser, but actually the only mistake he made during three innings of duty was throwing strikes to Bobby Murcer. Murcer has not found Bobby Bonds' San Francisco act that awfully tough to follow, and in yesterday's preliminary, every time the right fielder got a hit, which was the first three times, he was an accessory in a Giant run.

– Bill Christine, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

16. Sean Burnett, May 30, 2004 (GS 53):

Forensic investigators marking the crime scene of twenty consecutive losing seasons should note the Pirates' meager return on five pitchers drafted in the first round from 1998-2002: two who never reached the major leagues (Clint Johnston and Bobby Bradley), two with eminently forgettable major-league stays (John Van Benschoten and Bryan Bullington), and a solid left-handed reliever (Burnett). Before arm surgery set Burnett on a bullpen-bound career path, however, he was a hard-charging potential starter, reaching the Buccos days shy of the four-year anniversary of his draft selection. Burnett's debut at PNC Park failed to cap a sweep of Chicago in the apparent greatest weekend of Rob Mackowiak's lifethe Cubs scored eleven runs over the final three innings against a sextet of Pirates' relievers to pull away for a 12-1 winbut he did demonstrate promise by limiting the visitors to a single run in five innings.

They gave him a spring B-game number 61 to wear; they shrank his margin of error by putting the ponderous posse of Craig Wilson, Jason Bay and Daryl Ward in the same outfield for him, they bobbled grounders behind him and visited the mound as though he was running some kind of frequent guest program, but nothing the Pirates did yesterday, much less the Chicago Cubs, came close to puncturing the concentration of a young Floridian who looks as much like a vendor as the guy at the center of an emotional storm.

– Gene Collier, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

15. Daniel McCutchen, August 31, 2009 (GS 53):

Drew Stubbs drove McCutchen's second major-league pitch into Great American Ball Park's left-field lower deck, but the twenty-six-year-old right-hander rebounded from that inauspicious beginning. Pitching before fewer than 2,000 fans in the first game of an afternoon doubleheader, the second player named "McCutchen" to debut with the 2009 Bucs qualified for a quality start with six innings of three-run pitching against the Reds; he also contributed an RBI single for his first major-league hit. His best efforts, however, were not enough to reverse what would turn out to be a 21-56 slide between June 28 and September 24: Jesse Chavez wild-pitched home the winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning to give Cincinnati a 4-3 win.

McCutchen was glad that the crowd was small and subdued—better to help him get through the debut jitters that started when he bolted awake at 4:30 a.m. and couldn't get back to sleep. He singled home a run in his first at-bat, and settled down after Stubbs' homer, lasting six innings. "I was a little antsy, trying to block that crowd out," he said, breaking into a grin. "That's a joke there."

– Associated Press

14. Gerrit Cole, June 11, 2013 (GS 53):

"Only time will tell/if we stand the test of time," Sammy Hagar once proclaimed; the ultimate arc of Cole's major-league career likewise remains to be seen. But the twenty-two-year-old UCLA product's debut against San Francisco last Tuesday seemed the work of a man intent on justifying his 1.1 selection in the 2011 draft. With an enthusiastic PNC Park crowd looking on, he limited the Giants to two runs in six and a third innings and kickstarted the Bucs' offense with a two-run single off Tim Lincecum; the Pirates coasted to an 8-2 win.

Clint Hurdle tried to put Cole's debut in context. "I've seen some pretty good debuts before," Hurdle said. "Go check out Jason Jennings' debut in the majors leagues when he was with Colorado. That's where my bar's set, and this guy, he came close." "Did [Jennings] do it against the defending World Champions?" Cole joked in response.

– Charlie Wilmoth, Bucs Dugout

13. Aaron Thompson, August 24, 2011 (GS 54):

Thompson's spot start against Milwaukee at PNC Park hardly had "most likely to succeed" stamped all over it. The twenty-four-year-old left-hander had spent his fourth consecutive season (with three organizations) at Class AA prior to a brief stint with AAA Indianapolis; the division title-bound Brewers had won ten of eleven contests between the teams to date. To make matters appear even less promising, the Pirates had lost twenty-one of twenty-eight games to drop from first to fourth place in the NL Central. Thompson, however, kept Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder and Co. scoreless through four and a third innings, another recently acquired Neal Huntington reclamation project named Jason Grilli added a perfect two and two thirds frames, and two more budget-bullpen acquisitions (Jose Veras and Joel Hanrahan) closed out the five-hit shutout in the Bucs' 2-0 triumph.

If you told me that the Pirates would get four hits, rely on Aaron Thompson and Jason Grilli to get through seven innings, and win against the Brewers, I'd have thought you were crazy, but that's exactly what happened. The Bucs scored twice on sacrifice flies, Thompson got through 4.1 scoreless innings, and then the often-walktastic Grilli had four strikeouts and no free passes in 2.2 innings. Also, Joel Hanrahan got three whiffs while picking up the save, which is a great sign given how poorly he's been pitching recently. Hey! Awesome. And welcome to the Show, Aaron Thompson.

– Charlie Wilmoth, Bucs Dugout

12. Esteban Loaiza, April 29, 1995 (GS 57):

The Pirates had followed their infamous "frustrated fans fling flags on field" home opener loss to the Expos with two more defeats in as many games; for Game #4, they trotted out a twenty-three-year-old right-hander who had spent the previous season in Class AA and, in large part, owed his spot in the rotation to Rick White's spring training lack of fitness and arm injury. But Loaiza, supported by fellow two-level promotee Mark Johnson's first major-league home run, showed that he belonged by limiting Philadelphia to an unearned run on five hits through five innings. The relief pitching of Jason Christensen, Mike Maddux and Jim Gottalong with a controversial eighth-inning call that Jay Bell had tagged Gregg Jefferies before Lenny Dykstra crossed home plate with the potential tying runpreserved the 3-2 Bucco victory.

It was Obscurity Night at Veterans Stadium. The only giveaway was a ball game. The anonymous combination of Esteban Loaiza and Mark Widlowski, one a Pittsburgh pitcher, the other a replacement umpire, helped the Pirates to a 3-2 win over the Phillies last night before 27,530 at Veterans Stadium.

– Frank Fitzpatrick, Philadelphia Inquirer

11. Jon Lieber, May 15, 1994 (GS 60):

Three batters into Lieber's major-league debut at Veterans Stadium, the Phillies, aiming for a four-game sweep of the weekend series, already had a 1-0 lead. But the home team would score no more in six innings against the twenty-four-year-old right-hander, acquired from Kansas City in the previous July's Stan Belinda trade. Lieber's five-hit outing earned high praise from all observers; Jim Leyland told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he was "[v]ery impressed. I was elated by what I saw today." Lieber's teammates, however, found Philadelphia's first-inning tally insurmountable; their 0-for-12 performance with runners in scoring position against four Phillies' pitchers doomed Lieber to a 1-0 loss.

Nice first impression for Lieber, huh? This wasn't Rick Reed stoning the Mets in his first start or Randy Tomlin beating the Phillies or Mike York stopping the Reds or Tim Wakefield baffling the Cardinals. This was better because it came with the promise of something more lasting.

– Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

10. Fred Cambria, August 26, 1970 (GS 61):

Bob Veale informed trainer Tony Bartirome ninety minutes before his scheduled start in San Diego that his chronically sore right shoulder continued to bother him. Clinging to a three-game lead over the Mets in the NL East, Danny Murtaugh turned to the twenty-two-year-old Cambria, the Bucs' third-round draft choice in the previous June and a recall from AAA Columbus a week earlier. The umpiring crew ejected the Bucco manager for arguing a call three batters into the game, but Cambria proceeded to shut out the Padres on three hits through six innings. In the seventh frame, however, Fred Patek bobbled Ivan Murrell's ground ball for an error. Ed Spiezo twice failed to bunt Murrell to second, worked the count to 3-2, and then drove Cambria's payoff offering into the left-field seats for a two-run homer. The Padreswho Dock Ellis had no-hit on the Pirates' previous visit to San Diegohad all the runs they would need for a 2-1 win.

"The guy (a San Diego announcer) said the 2-2 pitch on Spiezio was close to being a strike," Murtaugh said. Bill Virdon, running the team in Murtaugh's place, came in and told the manager that Cambria also thought the pitch was strike three.

– Bill Christine, Pittsburgh Press

9. Mike York, August 17, 1990 (GS 63):

York would pitch only four games with the Pirates and eighteen overall in two seasons of major-league service, but his story runs far deeper than those numbers would suggest. Merely to make it to the mound at Riverfront Stadium to start for the Bucs in the first game of a doubleheader, York had to overcome alcoholism and three teams releasing him in four years; his well-documented journey benefited from Pittsburgh native/former major-leaguer Sam McDowell's counseling and mentoring. When he finally arrived in the show, three weeks before his twenty-sixth birthday, he faced the imposing assignment of helping a first-place Bucco team maintain a half-game NL East lead against a first-place Reds squad. Mission accomplished: York held the Reds scoreless over seven innings, earning the win in a 7-1 Pirates' victory.

It was 2:45 pm and York was sitting on the Pirates' bench, watching batting practice, fidgeting the way any nervous rookie would. He said part of him was scared stiff at the thought of pitching against the Cincinnati Reds, before a sellout crowd of 48,964, for a team that feels the hot breath of the New York Mets on its neck. But York said that another part of him was calm. That part knew the sight of Barry Larkin and Hal Morris and the other Reds wasn't so intimidating. That part knew the view from the mound at Riverfront Stadium was a lot more pleasant than the view from the inside of a whiskey bottle, which is where he called home much of his adult life.

– Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

8. Zach Duke, July 2, 2005 (GS 63):

The Pirates' 30-30 crest of three weeks earlierthe latest in a season that they would reach .500 between September 1999 and June 2011had faded into frustrating nostalgia. The previous summer's mound sensation, Oliver Perez, had broken his toe when kicking a laundry cart after yet another subpar outing. But the Bucs had a few more pitching prospects up their sleeve, and the most promising one, the twenty-two-year-old Duke, provided evidence that not all was lost by replacing Perez in the rotation, taking the hill at Miller Park, and striking out nine Brewers in seven innings. He received a no-decision when Rickie Weeks' two-run, eighth-inning homer off Salomon Torres gave Milwaukee a 5-3 lead that they would not relinquish, but Duke was on his way to winning his first six major-league decisions.

"It's an exciting time," says Duke. "The next few years look bright for us, and I hope to be a big part of turning things around for this franchise."

– Albert Chen, Sports Illustrated

7. Kris Benson, April 9, 1999 (GS 64):

April showers at Three Rivers Stadium abbreviated the 1996 first overall draft pick's initial major-league start; Bucco manager Gene Lamont elected to turn the game over to his bullpen after a 65-minute rain delay in the bottom of the sixth inning. But the twenty-four-year-old Benson showed enough before the rain to suggest that the Pirates could look forward to a good return on their then-record $2 million signing bonus. In an efficient 72-pitch performance, he limited the Cubs to one run on two hits and induced three double plays. Fellow rookie Warren Morris' first major-league home run provided the margin of victory in the Pirates' 2-1 triumph.

Before the game, however, Benson wasn't too poised. "The guys did a good job of keeping me under control," he said. "I was a little jacked up. Guys just told me to take a deep breath and go out and do what I did in spring training."

– Paul Meyer, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

6. Lee Tunnell, September 4, 1982 (GS 70):

Fifteen months after the Pirates drafted him from Baylor, three days after his call-up from AAA Portland, and little more than an hour after throwing ten minutes of batting practice, Lee Tunnell found himself on the mound at Dodger Stadium as Chuck Tanner's short-notice conscript for injured starter Candelaria. Lee Lacy's first-inning home run off Fernando Valenzuela had already staked Tunnell to a 1-0 lead, but the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner would yield no further Bucco scoring. Fortunately, the twenty-one-year-old Tunnell would not need additional offense; he held the reigning World Champions scoreless on four hits through seven innings, retiring sixteen of seventeen batters (and picking off the only man who did reach base) at one stretch. A blister drove Tunnell from the game in the eighth inning, but Rod Scurry and Kent Tekulve closed out the 1-0 win.

Chief scout Howie Haak, who often says it is not wise to sign players who have played in college, explained that Tunnell was a good draft pick because he showed he was capable of pitching in Double A play in his first year. "I don't believe in signing college players who have to start out in the low minors," Haak said. "The college kid who is 21 or 22 and starting out in the low minors, his chances of reaching Triple A by the time he is 24 or 25 aren't that good."

– Charley Feeney, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

5. Jose DeLeon, July 23, 1983 (GS 71):

In the middle of a 31-11 surge that transformed a seemingly adrift squad into a pennant contender, the first-place Pirates summoned twenty-two-year-old Jose DeLeon from AAA Hawaii for a Saturday afternoon start against San Francisco. Nearly 140 pitches later, the crowd at Three Rivers Stadium gave DeLeon a standing ovation when Tanner took the ball and called on Scurry to get the final three outs; by this time, the Bucs held their eventual winning margin of 5-2. DeLeon's five-pitch repertoire yielded nine strikeouts, reduced noted Pirate-killers Darrell Evans and Jack Clark to a combined 0-for-6, and foreshadowed the sensational pitching that he would provide over the final two months of the season.

Not many rookie pitchers take to the mound with a five-pitch variety and 90-mph heat. That's one of the things that sets DeLeon apart. He throws a standard fastball, curve and forkball, but he adds a "cut fastball' that acts like a slider and a forkball variation that behaves—misbehaves, rather-like a knuckler.

– Mike DeCourcy, The Pittsburgh Press

4. Tim Wakefield, July 31, 1992 (GS 76):

The Pirates' chances at a third consecutive NL East title appeared in jeopardy; with a 12-19 slump and some inspired play by Montreal having whittled a seven-game lead into a divisional deadlock, Leyland called on a series of rookie pitchers to reverse the Bucco decline. The fourth Pirate pitcher to make his major-league debut that week was a former first baseman, reincarnated as a knuckleball pitcher three seasons earlier. Wakefield, taking the mound at Three Rivers Stadium two days before his twenty-sixth birthday, gave the Bucs their desired infusion in the form of a 146-pitch complete game against the Cardinals. He struck out ten, pitched out of multiple early-inning jams, and allowed only two unearned runs. The resulting 3-2 victory put the Buccos in sole possession of first place; they would remain alone in first for the remainder of the season.

"I had relatives and friends here from Florida, D.C., North Carolina, they were all here for the big debut," said Wakefield, whose locker was covered with congratulatory balloons. "I'm glad I could stick around long enough to give them something to see. Really, I wasn't nervous except for the first pitch. I just stepped off the mound and looked around and saw Andy Van Slyke in center and Barry Bonds in left and Chico Lind at second . . . That always makes a pitcher feel better.

– Associated Press

3. Paul Maholm, August 30, 2005 (GS 76):

A rainy afternoon in Pittsburgh delayed Maholm's major-league debut by one day; in comparison with the other tribulations that the twenty-three-year-old left-hander had encountered since the Pirates drafted him in the first round in 2003 (getting hit in the face with a line drive in a minor league game in May 2004, the death of his mother a month earlier, and Hurricane Katrina's near miss of his home that week), the postponement seemed trivial. When Maholm finally did get to take the mound in Miller Park a day later, he tossed eight shutout innings at a Brewers team seeking its first winning season since 1992. The 6-0 triumph stood as the 336th and final victory (against 446 losses) of McClendon's tenure in the Bucs' dugout; Pirates' management fired McClendon seven days later.

Maholm, who had just purchased a new home near Biloxi, Miss., took the mound knowing his house and his in-laws, who live 2 miles from it, were OK. Which seemed amazing, considering the Biloxi area took a direct hit Monday from Hurricane Katrina. "We had very minor damage," said Maholm, who learned that from his in-laws in a phone call late yesterday morning. "We had to be very lucky. There are a lot of people who are going to be hurting to get back for a lot of years."

– Paul Meyer, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

2. Randy Tomlin, August 6, 1990 (GS 77):

Tied for first place in the NL East with New York, the Pirates called on an unexpected spot starter for the first game of a doubleheader in Philadelphia: Randy Tomlin of the Class AA Harrisburg Senators. The slightly-built left-handerselected over several viable AAA candidates because, according to The Pittsburgh Press, Leyland "wanted to see for the future when we play the Mets if he could get left-handers out"stymied the Phillies for a five-hit complete-game shutout in the Pirates' 10-1 win. His teammates lauded Tomlin's performance; Barry Bonds told the Press that "Tomlin tore it up . . . I mean, just tore it up. It was amazing. He buckled Von Hayes' knees. There's not a lefty in the game that can buckle that man. He's got quality stuff."

I'll admit it. I thought that it was preposterous that the Pirates would reach down to their Class AA affiliate in Harrisburg for a starting pitcher amid a tight pennant race. It reeked of bad judgment or a pathetic farm system or both. Had Jim Leyland and Larry Doughty lost it?

– Bob Smizik, The Pittsburgh Press

1. Rick Reed, August 8, 1988 (GS 79):

Three tightly contested home losses to the first-place Mets in three days had dampened the upstart Pirates' charge in the NL East pennant race, and Leyland turned to Rick Reed in place of an injured John Smiley to salvage Monday night's series finale. Reed, a 26th round draft pick two years earlier and member of the Class A Salem Buccaneers on opening day, handcuffed New York's powerful lineup, limiting the Mets to four baserunners in eight innings. Bobby Bonilla's fourth-inning RBI groundout drove in the only run that Reed would need; Jim Gott's 1-2-3 ninth provided all of the relief that the Huntington, WV native would require in the 1-0 Bucco victory.

Cinderella wears a size 10½ spike, her Prince catches her and, when you throw the only ball she knows anything about, the New York Mets can't hit it. Cinderella isn't even a she; he is a right-handed pitcher named Rick Reed, who is part Rick Reuschel, part Don Robinson and All-World today after pitching eight shutout innings in his major-league debut as the Pirates regained second place in the National League East with a 1-0 victory against the Mets last night.

– Bob Hertzel, The Pittsburgh Press

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of the managing editor (Charlie) or SB Nation. FanPosts are written by Bucs Dugout readers.

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We have our own Community Guidelines at Bucs Dugout. You should read them.




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