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BLI's 100 Years....100 Duels: Numbers 89 to 80

Number 89- Travis Wood (CIN) vs. Roy Halladay (PHI), July 10, 2010

There are 14 duels on our list of 100 that at the time involved MLB’s Number One Starting Pitcher including the Travis Wood/Roy Halladay duel that occurred on July 10 of 2010. On that day Roy Halladay was baseball’s number one pitcher. Travis Wood was ranked number 185. The discrepancy between the two pitchers’ ranking is the largest among the 14 duels involving a number one ranked pitcher.

Travis Wood was selected in the second round of the 2005 amateur draft by the Cincinnati Reds. In the spring of 2010 Wood was battling the Reds’ 2009 first round selection, Mike Leake, for the final spot in the Reds’ rotation.

Both Wood and Leake had pitched well in the spring but surprisingly the Reds chose Leake to be their number five starter despite the fact that Leake had zero minor league experience and at the time wasn’t even on the Reds’ 40-man roster. According to Cincinnati manager, Dusty Baker, the Reds went with Leake over Wood because Leak had showed better command during spring training. Wood, who had been named the Reds’ 2009 Minor League Pitcher of the Year, would begin the 2010 season back in the minors.

Wood would spend another three months in the minors before being called up by the Reds on the last day of June. He would make his MLB debut on July 1 versus the Chicago Cubs. Interestingly Wood was scheduled to make his MLB debut versus the Phillies on June 30th but was pushed back one day by Baker after he had learned that Wood would be matched up against Philly ace, Roy Halladay. “You’ve got a David and Goliath with Wood- his first big league start against the Phillies and (Roy) Halladay. You like that (18)?” Baker quipped. Instead Baker chose to have Wood make his MLB debut against a weaker Cubs team.

Wood’s debut against the Cubs was an impressive one. He threw seven innings, allowing just two runs on two hits, striking out four and walking three. Wood left the game with a 1-0 lead but didn’t figure in the decision as the Reds’ bullpen squandered the lead in the eighth.

Reds' Starting Pitcher Travis Wood

Wood wasn’t as sharp in his next start. He lasted just 4.2 innings versus the New York Mets having given up five runs (three earned) on six hits. In his defense though, Wood was working on only three days’ rest as Baker was forced to start the rookie hurler after learning just prior to game-time that the Reds’ scheduled starter, Aaron Harang, was being hampered by a lower back injury. After his start against the Mets Wood was back on his regular four days’ rest which meant that the rookie Reds starter would indeed face Roy Halladay and the Phillies. Was Wood ready for the challenge? “Absolutely,” Wood answered. “Halladay is known for throwing complete games. I want to give us a chance to win (19),”

Indeed. At the time, Halladay had completed seven of his 18 starts including his last two against the Reds and the Braves. Approximately five weeks earlier Halladay had thrown a perfect game versus the Florida Marlins in a 1-0 victory. Suffice it to say that in his first year in the NL Halladay was having another brilliant season. The six-time AL All-Star, who was acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays via a trade in the offseason, was 10-7 with a 2.33 ERA and well on his way to winning his second CY Young Award.

In this start Halladay was again masterful for nine innings but his counterpart, Travis Wood, was even better, in fact near perfect. Wood had completely stifled the vaunted Phillies line-up for nine innings. The only hard-hit ball the Phillies could muster off of Wood was a fourth inning line-drive by Phils’ center fielder Shane Victorino that was snared by Reds’ third baseman, Miguel Cairo, for an out.

Victorino had been the eleventh consecutive Phillies batter retired by Wood. Wood would make it 12 consecutive after Jayson Werth flied out to right field to end the inning. In the top-half of the fifth, Halladay would surrender a single to the aforementioned Miguel Cairo but had him quickly erased by way of a double-play ball. Halladay then retired Reds’ catcher Ryan Hanigan to end the inning.

Wood continued to flirt with perfection as he retired the Phillies in order in the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth innings. Roy Halladay though had practically matched Wood. After the fifth Halladay had faced one batter over the minimum and had given up just one hit- a Miguel Cairo double in the eighth. After being sacrificed to third, Cairo was left stranded there after Halladay struck out Hanigan and Wood to end the inning with the score deadlocked at zero.

After the game Halladay explained his mindset as he watched Wood carve up the Phillies’ lineup for eight innings. “It was obviously a close game. You want to keep it that way and put as much pressure on him (Wood) as you can. It’s a lot harder going in 0-0 than if you had the lead (20).” If Wood was feeling the pressure, he certainly did not show it. He had mowed down the Phillies’ hitters all day with impeccable command and control. Indeed, over his first eight innings of work, Wood had gotten to a three-ball count just three times and was one inning away from perfection.

Two-Time CYA Winner Roy Halliday

Halladay could certainly relate to what the 23 year-old rookie Wood had accomplished thus far, having recently thrown his perfecto against the Marlins just weeks prior. Moreover, twelve years earlier, a then 21 year-old Roy Halladay came within one out of making history. In September of 1998, in just the second start of his major league career, Halladay had been perfect thru eight innings versus the Detroit Tigers. After retiring the first two Tiger batters in the ninth, he was just one out away from perfection. However it was not to be for Halladay thanks to Detroit pinch-hitter, Bobby Higginson. The left-handed hitting Higginson was able to get a hold of an errant Halladay fastball that caught a little too much of the plate and drove it over the left field fence for a homerun, ending Halladay’s perfect-game bid.

Similarly, on this day it was a misplaced fastball that would end Wood’s bid for perfection. Leading off the ninth for the Phillies was catcher Carlos Ruiz. Ruiz had just returned to action after missing 20 games due to a concussion. With the count 2-and-1, Wood threw a fastball to Ruiz- exactly what the Philly backstop was looking for. According to Ruiz, “I knew he was throwing a lot of fastballs. He was behind 2-0 and 2-1. I said, ‘OK, here we go. Get ready for a fastball.’ And he threw me one right down the middle (21),” which Ruiz lined for a double, spoiling Wood’s bid for perfection.

After giving up the Ruiz double, Wood though was able to recover. He retired Phils’ pinch-hitter Wilson Valdez after Valdez popped up a bunt attempt to third. He then got the dangerous, veteran left-hand hitting, Raul Ibanez, who was pinch-hitting for Halladay to fly out to center. Ruiz had advanced to third on the play. Wood finished his sensational day by retiring the Phillies’ lead-off hitter, Jimmy Rollins, by way of a weak pop up to first.

After nine innings and 109 pitches (74 for strikes) Wood’s day was over. He had given up just the one hit, walked none and struck out eight. Wood also became the third pitcher in 2010 to have a perfect-game bid end in the ninth inning joining the Cubs’ Ted Lilley and the Tigers’ Armando Galarraga. Roy Halladay ended the day having given up five hits walking one and striking out 9.

Ultimately the Phillies won the game 1-0 in 11 innings thanks to another Carlos Ruiz double followed by a run-scoring Jimmy Rollins single.

Three months later Roy Halladay would face the Reds again in Game One of the 2010 NLDS. In this game Halladay was even better. He had no-hit the Reds to become just the second pitcher in MLB history to throw a no-hitter in the postseason. Travis Wood also made an appearance in this game. Appearing in middle relief, Wood threw 3.1 innings of one-hit ball. The Phillies won the game 4-0 and swept the Reds in three games.

Number 84- Jimmy Key (TOR) vs. Frank Tanana (DET), October 4, 1987

The 84th ranked duel between the Toronto Blue Jays’ Jimmy Key and the Detroit Tigers’ Frank Tanana is the only duel in the Top 100 that occurred on the last day of the season. Moreover, it is also the only duel in the Top 100 that decided a pennant race.

Prior to their duel on October 4, 1987, Key and Tanana had pitched against one another on September 25th. Heading into that game the Blue Jays led the AL East by 1.5 games over second place Detroit. On that day the Blue Jays would go up 2.5 games on the Tigers thanks to a come-from-behind victory in which the Jays rallied for three runs in the ninth to beat Detroit 3-2.

Neither Key nor Tanana had figured into the decision but both were sharp. Key went 8.1 innings having allowed just two runs (1 unearned) on nine hits and one walk. Tanana had given up zero runs on five hits and one walk before leaving the game due to a stiff arm. It had been the longest outing since Tanana’s August 6th seven-inning victory over the New York Yankees.

Since said start versus the Yankees and up until his September 25th start versus the Blue Jays, Tanana had struggled. The veteran left-hander was just 1-3 with an inflated 9.00 ERA in just 33 innings pitched. After a September 15th start versus the Boston Red Sox in which Tanana gave up five runs in just two-thirds of an inning, Tiger manager, Sparky Anderson, temporarily removed Tanana from the rotation. “He (Tanana) won’t start Monday (22),” Anderson announced during his post-game press conference. “I’ll go with (Nate) Snell (23).” Snell was a 34 year-old reliever who had made his first career major league start just four days earlier- a seven-inning effort versus the Milwaukee Brewers in which the big right-hander gave up just two runs.

As for Tanana, he wasn’t making any excuses for his recent troubles. “I’m not happy I stunk. You won’t get any alibis out of me (24),” Tanana said after his dreadful start against Boston. When asked if his arm was tired and perhaps in need of rest, Tanana joked, “The last thing I need is rest. I’ve only been lasting one or two innings. I don’t need rest. I need to get people out (25).”

For most of the season Tanana had been getting batters out and was one of the main reasons the Tigers had come from sixth place and 11 games back in the AL East in early May to a virtual tie for first with the Blue Jays on August 11 which incidentally was the last time Tanana had won a game, his 13th of the season. At that time Tanana was also sporting a Tiger-best 3.54 ERA. His 13 win-total was also the highest among Detroit starters.

Crafty Tigers LHS Frank Tanana

Tanana would return to form in Toronto in that September 25th match-up versus Key and the Blue Jays. According to Tanana, the reason for his improvement was not the 9 days’ of rest that he received after being skipped in the rotation. Instead it was a change in mechanics, specifically his arm slot as the reason for his turn around- “I had my arm up high again where it belongs, like it should be (26),” Tanana explained. As a result his “curveball was working beautifully (27).” Tanana had previously been throwing across his body which had flattened the movement on his curve.

Tanana followed his September 25th Toronto start with an even better performance against the Baltimore Orioles on September 29th. In that start Tanana had stymied the Orioles for eight innings, allowing just three hits and one run, a Lee Lacy solo homerun in the fifth. The Tigers won the game 10-1.

Unlike Tanana, Jimmy Key entered his September 25th start versus the Tigers as one of the hottest pitchers in baseball. Key hadn’t lost since July 11- a complete game 2-1 loss to the Kansas City Royals. After his loss to KC, Key then went on a roll, racking up eight wins in 13 starts with a 2.64 ERA. The Jays were 12-1 in those starts. Key’s overall 2.78 ERA was an AL best at the time making him one of the favorites to win the AL CY Young Award.

After his 8.1 innings of two-run ball versus the Tigers on September 25th, Key finally hit a roadblock. While Frank Tanana was shutting down the Orioles, Key was being pounded by the Milwaukee Brewers to the tune of five runs on 12 hits in just 5.1 innings of work. “They hit everything I threw, I tried everything I had (28),” an exasperated Key remarked after the game. Key’s said start versus the Brewers was just the second start in his last 24 in which he had yielded more than three earned runs.

Making matters worse for Toronto was that not only did the Jays lose 5-3 to the Brewers but they also lost their catcher Ernie Whitt. Whitt, who had been having a career year up until that point, cracked two ribs attempting to break up a double play at second base and was lost for the season. “He means a lot, not only to the pitching but the whole club (29),” Key commented after hearing the severity of Whitt’s injury.

Indeed. The Jays, without Whitt as well as shortstop Tony Fernandez who was also injured, then lost their final home game of the season, once again to Milwaukee and swept in the three-game set. With the Tigers winning their next game against Baltimore while the Jays sat idle, Detroit had pulled to within one game of the Blue Jays with three games remaining, setting up a three-game showdown between the two teams at Tiger Stadium on the final weekend of the season that would ultimately decide the AL East.

In the first game of the series the Tigers eked out a 4-3 victory thanks in large part to Tigers’ starter, Doyle Alexander, who had hurled seven innings of three-run ball, as well as homeruns hit by Alan Trammel and rookie right fielder Scott Lusader. The Tigers then won the next game, a 12-inning nail biter and a fantastic pitcher’s duel in its own right, between Jack Morris and Mike Flanagan. Detroit was now one game ahead of the Blue Jays with one just one more to play. A Tiger win and they’d win the AL East. A Blue Jays’ win and the teams would hook up for a one-game playoff the next day. The last seven games between the two teams had been decided by one run. The duel between Jimmy Key and Frank Tanana would be no different.

In town to watch the series was Minnesota Twins’ advance scout Bob Gebhard. Gebhard’s Twins had wrapped up the AL West and was set to face either the Tigers or the Jays in the ALCS. Gebhard had broken down the Key/Tanana match-up by way of the following:

“When Tanana is right, he’s probably going to give the right-handers- Jesse Barfields and the George Bells- as much trouble as anybody. He’ll throw the ball out and away from them and run the ball down out of the strike zone and then he’ll come back in and try to jam them with it. When Jimmy Key is at his best-he’s an advantage here, because he’s pitching against some of the left-handed power hitters on the Tigers. If he’s able to get his breaking ball over and keep it in the lower part of the strike zone, keep it away from the power, he should do well. I think it’s going to be a pitcher’s duel (30).”

Gebhard was spot-on. As he had predicted, Jimmy Key was able to neutralize the Tigers’ left-handed power hitters. Tigers’ left fielder Kirk Gibson and first baseman, Darrell Evans, who had hit a combined 58 homeruns in ’87, were 0-for-5 with a walk.

The same could be said for the rest of the Tigers’ lineup. Detroit had managed just three hits off of Key the entire day. However, one of those hits was a Larry Herndon second inning home run to the short Tiger Stadium power ally in left field that had barely made it over the fence to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead. Key had come inside with a fastball that Herndon had just got enough of to lift over the fence. “I threw him a fastball on the inside of the plate- just where I wanted to (31),” Key reflected after the game. “I’m sure he’ll tell you that he didn’t hit it that good but he hit it good enough to get it out, and that’s all that counts (32).”

Jays Starter Jimmy Key Circa 1987

After yielding the Herndon homerun Key quickly regrouped and for the most part had breezed through the Tigers lineup the rest of the game. In fact, the only time the Tigers were able to get a runner in scoring position the entire day was in the fourth inning. After walking Kirk Gibson and then intentionally walking the 1987 AL MVP runner-up, Alan Trammell, after Gibson had stolen second base, Key was once again set to face Larry Herndon. This time though Key struck out Herndon on three pitches and then ended the threat by retiring Chet Lemon on a ground out. After the fourth, Key faced the minimum 12 batters the rest of the way.

Conversely, Frank Tanana had pitched in and out of trouble all game. Prior to the Tigers’ threatening to add to their 1-0 lead in the bottom-half of the fourth, the Jays had squandered a chance to tie the game in the top-half of the inning. With one out Blue Jays’ first baseman, Cecil Fielder, ripped a single to left field. Shortstop Manny Lee followed. On the first pitch in Lee’s at-bat Fielder broke for second as the Jays had called for the hit-and-run. However, fortunately for Tanana and the Tigers, Lee missed the sign and took the pitch, exposing the slow-footed Fielder which resulted in an easy caught stealing. The mix-up cost the Jays a run as Lee then lined a Tanana pitch off of the right field fence for a two-out triple. Tanana was able to strand Lee at third after Jays’ third baseman, Garth Iorg, popped up to shallow left-center to end the inning.

In the eighth, still ahead just 1-0, Tanana would once again strand a Jays’ runner at third. Blue Jays center fielder Lloyd Moseby led off the inning by pulling a Tanana curveball to right field for a single. Tanana’s curveball had been one of the main reasons for his late September resurgence; however, on this day, Tanana didn’t have the curve. Instead he was relying on his change-up and screwball. “He threw maybe 50 percent changeups (33),” said Jays’ catcher Charlie Moore who had replaced the injured Ernie Whitt in the Toronto line-up. “If he threw a fastball, it was out of the strike zone. We’re a fastball-hitting team. Guys like Tanana who could throw the breaking ball over for strikes gave us trouble all year (34).”

After surrendering the base hit to Moseby, Tanana had the AL MVP, George Bell, pop a weak fly ball to center on a 1-0 changeup for the first out of the inning. With Jays’ DH, Juan Beniquez, at the plate, Moseby then stole second on a 2-0 pitch to get into scoring position. The steal was Moseby’s 39th of the season.

With the count now full on the right-handed Beniquez, Tanana threw a fastball on the outer half of the plate that Beniquez was able to drive to right field. However, the ball was hit directly at Tigers’ outfielder, Scott Lusader, for the second out of the inning. Lloyd Moseby though had tagged up on the play and advanced to third. With Moseby now at third, Tanana had to be extremely careful. A wild pitch or a passed ball would almost assuredly result in a run which meant that Tanana’s pitch selection was limited as he had already bounced several breaking balls to the plate. Tanana would go with a fastball/change-up combination against the Jays’ next hitter, Jesse Barfield.

Barfield had been 0-for-3 on the day. Tanana began him with a change for a strike. He then followed that pitch up with an inside fastball for a ball to set up his next pitch, another change on the outside part of the plate. Barfield was able to make contact and hit a high bouncer toward the mound. Tanana made a nice leaping catch on the play and then threw to first to end the inning. Tanana was now just three outs away from pitching the Tigers into the ALCS. He had stranded Jays’ runners in scoring position in the third, fourth, seventh and eighth innings.

Ironically though, the ninth inning would be Tanana’s easiest. After striking out Cecil Fielder and retiring Manny Lee on a 5-3 groundout, the veteran left-hander was set to face the already 0-for-3 Garth Iorg.

In 1979, Frank Tanana, then pitching for the California Angels retired Kansas City Royal, Darrell Porter, for the last out of the game to clinch the AL West. Porter had hit a sharp ball to Angels’ first baseman, Rod Carew, who then threw it to Tanana covering first base for the out. Eight years later it would be Tanana fielding a Garth Iorg squibber to the mound and then under-handing it to his first baseman, Darrell Evans, to get the final out and win the game 1-0 to clinch the AL East Pennant for the Detroit Tigers.

Tigers’ legendary broadcaster Ernie Harwell called the last out this way:

“Iorg waiting and the pitch; he swings. There’s a little roller back to Tanana. He gloves it. Throw to first! The Tigers are the champions! They win it! And Tanana does a great job and they are celebrating on the diamond! The Tigers are mobbing each other over near first base (35).”

Thanks to Tanana’s pitching gem, the ‘87 Detroit Tigers, who had been left for dead in May, had fought all the way back to win the division on the last day of the season. Tanana’s final pitching line was: 9 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 9 SO for a Game Score of 81. Tough luck loser, Jimmy Key, finished the day having given up just three hits over eight innings, walking three and striking out eight. He surrendered just the one run. His Game Score was 77.

Key and Tanana had both pitched fantastically well but as Tanana rightfully stated after the game, “Somebody had to win it and somebody had to lose it.” Indeed.

A Triumphant Frank Tanana Leaps After the Final Out

Pitcher's duels 89 to 80:

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