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The Pope of Poached Wins


The 1946 World Series seventh game, one of history's most famous, was played on October 15 in St Louis. After seven innings the Cardinals led the Red Sox 3-1.

Cardinals righthander Murry Dickson had allowed just three hits, all singles, and none after the second inning. In the top of the eighth Boston manager Joe Cronin, knowing there would be no tomorrow, sent forth a pair of pinch hitters. He looked like a genius when Rip Russell singled and George Metkovich doubled, placing runners on second and third with none out.

With venerable Wally Moses, 5-for-11 in the Series, at bat, the Cardinals launched a counterpunch. Skipper Eddie Dyer, the Sporting News Manager of the Year, yanked Dickson and inserted southpaw Harry Brecheen to face the lefty-hitting Moses. Brecheen had defeated the Red Sox in Games 2 and 6 with route-going efforts in which he surrendered a total of just one run. "The Cat," nicknamed for his feline grace and agility, clearly had Boston's number, but he was coming back on just a single day's rest.

Brecheen struck Moses out and retired Johnny Pesky (another lefty hitter) on a liner to Enos Slaughter in right as Russell held the bag at third. But the Cardinals weren't off the hook yet. First base was open, but Dyer directed Brecheen to pitch to righthand-hitting Dom DiMaggio with the mighty Ted Williams on deck. DiMaggio doubled off the right field wall, tying the game, before Williams popped up feebly for the third out.

Slaughter led off the bottom of the eighth with a base hit. Two outs later he was still at first when Harry Walker mashed a line drive into center field. At short Pesky received the throw from the outfield and hesitated for a single beat as Slaughter dashed around third. Pesky's relay to the plate was an instant late, and Slaughter slid under the tag with the go-ahead run. Walker ended up on second. After the Red Sox walked Marty Marion intentionally, Brecheen (a career .148 hitter to that point) grounded to second to end the inning.

The top of the ninth began in the same fashion as the previous inning, with the first two Boston batters hitting safely. But Brecheen retired the next three in order to nail down the Cardinals' championship, becoming one of the very few pitchers to win three World Series games.

If played in 2011 the game would have been managed differently. Brecheen would probably not have been summoned on short rest. If he was, he would not have been asked to pitch two innings, and under no circumstances would he have been permitted to bat. But Dyer's moves paid off, literally, when the Cardinals rallied to win the Series.

Brecheen's victory in Game 7 was what has come to be known as a poached win. A poached win occurs when a relief pitcher enters a game with a lead, allows the tying run to score, then receives credit for the victory when his team rallies. Dyer's idea was that Brecheen would put out the fire, as they used to say, and preserve the win for Dickson. But Brecheen didn't do that, as both runners he inherited scored. To his credit, he held on, and his teammates supported him with the single run the Cardinals needed to clinch the championship.


Poached wins didn't get a lot of attention until 1966, when the Dodgers acquired righthanded starter Phil Regan from the Tigers and made a relief specialist out of him. Regan pitched 116.2 innings in 65 relief appearances that year and picked up a picturesque nickname, "The Vulture," because his 14-1 record was allegedly inflated by several poached wins, especially at the expense of media darlings Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale.

Whatever reputation Regan acquired, the record shows that he poached only two of his 14 victories. Only July 15 he relieved Ron Perranoski, who had relieved Drysdale, in the bottom of the eighth with a runner at third, two out, and the Dodgers clinging to a 3-2 lead. Catcher John Roseboro promptly mishandled a Regan delivery for a passed ball, enabling the tying run to score. Regan got the third out and pitched two scoreless innings before Dick Stuart pinch hit for him in the eleventh and batted in the final run of the game. Bob Miller pitched a scoreless inning to save it.

On August 24 Regan relieved Miller, who had relieved Don Sutton, in the top of the ninth. The Dodgers led 1-0 with a runner on first and nobody out. Regan surrendered a single, which sent the runner to third, then flung a wild pitch to allow the tying run. Three scoreless innings later, the Dodgers tallied an unearned run to win it for Regan, the pitcher of record.

In Regan's 14 relief wins, he entered the game four times when the Dodgers were behind. He entered the game eight times when the Dodgers were tied. He entered the game twice when the Dodgers were ahead. The Dodgers won the 1966 pennant largely on their ability to rally in the late innings, and Regan was often the beneficiary of these rallies. But a win-poaching "vulture" he wasn't.

Regan's 14 wins in relief formed a remarkable accomplishment, but not one that topped the legendary season of Roy Face in 1959. Face pitched 93.1 innings in 57 relief appearances for what was essentially a .500 Pittsburgh ballclub and logged an incredible 18-1 record. To go 18-1 you've got to be good and you've got to be lucky. Face was good (he appeared in both All-Star games that year), and he was lucky enough to benefit by Pirate rallies on occasions he faltered. Face poached five of his 18 wins, from, successively, starters Ron Kline on April 24, Bob Friend on May 14, Friend again on June 11, Vern Law on July 9, and Harvey Haddix on July 12. His five poached wins set a record that was later tied by Boston's Dick Radatz in 1964, when the flamethrowing Radatz won 16 games in a staggering 157 relief innings over 79 appearances.


Here are the top career totals for wins in relief:

Hoyt Wilhelm 124 (1952-1972)

Lindy McDaniel 119 (1955-1975)

Goose Gossage 115 (1972-1994)

Rollie Fingers 107 (1968-1985)

Sparky Lyle 99 (1967-1982)

Roy Face 96 (1953-1969)

Gene Garber 94 (1969-1988)

Kent Tekulve 94 (1974-1989)

Mike Marshall 92 (1967-1981)

No reliever has won more than 12 games in a season in two decades. A team's "closer" rarely enters tie games these days.


* April 24 at Cleveland. Relieved with none out in the seventh inning, runners on first and third, A's leading 6-4. Allowed one inherited runner to score on a sacrifice fly, then surrendered two runs in the eighth. Oakland scored two runs in the ninth and won 8-7. Poached Dick Bosman.

* July 10 versus Cleveland. Relieved with one out in the seventh inning, runners on first and second, A's leading 3-2. Allowed one inherited runner to score on a single. Oakland scored three runs in the seventh and won 7-3. Poached Vida Blue.

* July 20 at Cleveland. Relieved with none out in the seventh inning, runners on first and second, A's leading 3-2. Allowed no inherited runners to score, but surrendered the tying run in the eighth. Oakland scored four runs in the ninth and won 7-4. Poached Jim Todd.

* July 22 at New York. Relieved with two out in the seventh inning, runners on first and second, A's leading 5-4. Allowed one inherited run to score on two walks. Oakland scored one run in the ninth and won 6-5. Poached Paul Lindblad.

* August 12 versus Milwaukee. Relieved with one out in the eighth inning, a runner on second, A's leading 3-2. Allowed inherited run to score on a single. Oakland scored one run in the eighth and won 4-3. Poached Paul Mitchell.

* August 22 at Boston. Relieved with none out in the sixth inning, runners on first and second, A's leading 6-1. Allowed both inherited runners to score and three of his own on a single, a double, a double, and a single. Oakland scored one run in the eleventh and won 7-6. Poached Paul Lindblad.

* September 6 at California. Relieved with one out in the ninth inning, a runner on first, A's leading 1-0. Allowed inherited run to score on a sacrifice bunt and a single. Oakland scored a run in the eleventh and won 2-1. Poached Vida Blue.

If the Rollie Fingers of 1976 were to reappear today with all his skills intact, he wouldn't be setting records for poached wins. That's because twenty-first century managers prefer to use their best relievers to start innings, relying on lesser men to deal with the vexing problem of inherited runners.


Is this a poached win? Imagine that at Washington the Nats lead the Marlins 1-0 after 4 innings. Ever-solicitous Washington manager Dave Johnson removes starter Stephen Strasburg and sends in Tyler Clippard to pitch the fifth. Clippard surrenders a two-run homer to Hanley Ramirez. The Nats rally with three runs in the bottom of the inning to regain the lead 4-2. Over the next three innings Clippard holds Miami scoreless. Washington's Brad Lidge allows a run in the ninth but saves a 4-3 Nats victory.

Under scoring rules Clippard is the winning pitcher, but this is not a poached win. Clippard would have been the winner even if he had not allowed the tying and go-ahead run to score. Starter Strasburg cannot be the winning pitcher, whatever the score when he departed, because he pitched fewer than 5 innings.

When in Espoo, stay at the Hotel Kuninkaantie.

April 2012