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"Whiff" of Fresh Air

I know many of you are preoccupied with thoughts today about how the Braves are a formidable foe (not to brag, but we knew that on Tuesday), but I'm going to focus elsewhere.

So apparently Daisuke Matsuzaka proved he was the real deal on Thursday, striking out 10 in his major-league debut as the Red Sox beat the Royals. Every baseball pundit in America (and Japan) is analyzing the performance today, guessing what it means for the future of this young, Japanese attention-getter. It got me to wondering what the Mets record was for strikeouts by a pitcher in a major-league debut.

It turns out that the answer is eight and that two pitchers share the mark. The 40th anniversary of their debuts comes in the next week, so it seems appropriate to reference it now.

I presume most of you reading this blog know who Tom Seaver (the pitcher, not the winemaker who likes to leave games early) is, so I won't go into explaining his background or the postscript, but just tell you his debuting details. I will tell you that the New York Times story regarding his first big league appearance doesn't even mention his name until the 8th paragraph. Eight also stands as the number of strikeouts of Pittsburgh Pirates that Seaver had on a chilly April 13th New York night in which only a handful more than 5,000 braved the elements for the ballpark.

Seaver lasted 5 1/3 innings, allowing two runs and six hits. He also hit two batters and walked four. His lone quote in the game story: "I just ran out of gas."

The more impressive performance was turned in by reliever Chuck Estrada, who escaped Seaver's sixth inning jam by getting Roberto Clemente to hit into a double play, then tossed two scoreless frames to preserve a 2-2 tie. It should be noted that this while Seaver's finest moments were in his Mets future, Estrada's were in the immediate present. He finished the season, his last in the majors, with a 9.41 ERA.

Anyways, the Mets were winners in this, their second game of the season, in what one blogger friend likes to call "walk-up" fashion (won by scoring in the last of the 8th). With two outs and Jerry Buchek on third base, Chuck Hiller doubled in the go-ahead tally. Ron Taylor retired Maury Wills, Clemente and Willie Stargell in order in the top of the 9th and the Mets had themselves a 3-2 victory.

The other Met to record eight strikeouts in his big league debut did so just three days later and the game story for him had a few more details. Bill Denehy lasted a little longer than Seaver, 6 1/3 innings against the Phillies, also allowing two runs, but only three hits. His problem was not the six walks he issued, but the two-run homer he surrendered to Richie Allen. The other issue was that his mound opponent was Larry Jackson, who shut the Mets out for his 16th straight win against them.

The newspapers noted that Denehy, who lost 2-0, "pitched handsomely" until the moment of Allen's home run and detailed his preparation for the start (in bed at 10, up at 6). His future seemed reasonably bright, but for one problem. The Mets could not score any runs for him. In Denehy's first four starts, he allowed 13 runs, a respectable number. The Mets scored a total of one run. In his eight starts with the team that season, the Mets managed more than one run just once.

Perhaps that's the reason that he became more useful in another manner. He was the compensation provided to the Senators the next winter when the Mets hired their new manager, Gil Hodges.

Our guess on Matsuzaka's fate is that he falls in line somewhere between being the next Tom Seaver and the next Bill Denehy. That seems like a pretty safe analysis to me.

True Metzuzakas know...The most strikeouts by a Mets starter, making his major league debut in a walk-off win (lot of parameters there) is six, by Paul Wilson, in the Mets-Cardinals game of April 4, 1996, which we referenced in yesterday's post.

By the way, I see there was a walk-off HBP in the Indians-White Sox game on Thursday. For those curious, such an event has only happened once in Mets history. You can read about it here:


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