Tonight should be an amazing display of pitching in Game 1 of the World Series. We’ll have it showing on the big screen here at the Tap Room (and you can watch leisurely, O’s fans, now that the New York Yankees are home, too).
Three-time NL Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers faces one-time AL Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel of the Houston Astros.
As good as Keuchel is, the advantage goes to Kershaw. It would go to Kershaw even if he were facing Justin Verlander, who will be the Astros’ Game 2 starter.
Frankly, I’d give the advantage to Kershaw in a matchup against any other pitcher in the majors right now. In my opinion, he’s the best. And it doesn’t bother me that he hasn’t pitched in a World Series yet or that he has a 4.40 ERA in 21 postseason games (17 starts).
He’s my call if I had to give the ball to any current hurler to start the final game – or first game, I suppose – of the World Series.
But that got me thinking: If I had to give the ball to any former Oriole in franchise history to pitch the deciding game of a World Series, who would it be?
The obvious answer is Jim Palmer, the Hall of Famer who won a franchise-best 268 regular season games for the Orioles in his splendid career and also picked up a World Series victory for the club in three different decades (1966, 1970, 1971, 1983).
Palmer pitched in nine World Series games for the Orioles, started eight of them, and had a cumulative 3.20 ERA on the game’s biggest stage. In the postseason, Cakes was 8-3 with a 2.61 ERA in 17 games (15 starts); by far the most playoff wins as an Oriole.
His former teammate, Boog Powell, once told me that if there were a big game that needed to be pitched, Palmer was his guy, without a doubt.
But is it completely without a doubt?
Is it a slam dunk in your mind that you would give the Game 7 baseball for the Orioles to Palmer ahead of anyone else in franchise history?
There are some tremendous choices if the only requirement is they had to pitch at least one game for the modern-day (since 1954) Orioles.
Strangely, Palmer never actually pitched the deciding contest of a World Series, but that was happenstance, not design. He started Game 2 in 1966 against Sandy Koufax, Game 3 in 1969, Games 1 and 4 (which would have been the clincher, but Eddie Watt blew the lead in the eighth) in 1970, Games 2 and 6 (another potential clincher in which he pitched great) in 1971 and Games 2 and 6 (a third potential clincher the Orioles didn’t win despite Palmer’s solid performance) in 1979.
The Orioles have had three World Series clinchers end up in their favor – and all three were complete-games thrown by left-handers: Dave McNally in 1966, Mike Cuellar in 1970 and Scott McGregor in 1983.
McGregor certainly should get some consideration for taking the ball with the Orioles’ franchise game on the line. He had a 1.63 ERA in six playoff starts and was 2-2 with a 2.12 ERA in four World Series games.
McNally was pretty great in the postseason, too. He had a 2.49 ERA in 14 playoff games (12 starts) and was 4-2 with a 2.34 ERA in the World Series.
Then there was Cuellar, who had a 2.61 ERA in six World Series starts and was 4-4 with a 2.85 ERA in 12 postseason starts.
Those are some really good names to ignore while handing Palmer the ball.
Here are some others, guys who had brilliant careers and pitched for the Orioles at one point: Hoyt Wilhelm, Robin Roberts, Mike Flanagan, Mike Mussina, Curt Schilling.
Hey, how about Don Larsen, who turned in the greatest performance in World Series history nearly two years after the Orioles traded him (in a megadeal) to the New York Yankees. He’s known for his 1956 perfect game (Game 5) versus the Brooklyn Dodgers, but, still, his ERA in five World Series was a cumulative 2.75 ERA in 10 games (six starts).
Larsen, who was an original Oriole in 1954, surely wouldn’t be a bad guy to pencil-in for your one-game assignment to preserve franchise history.
I’m assuming most of you will say Palmer, though – and that’s my call, too.
But maybe, just maybe, you’ll surprise me.
It should least be a fun conversation, anyway.
(Just don’t say Ubaldo Jimenez – leave that for the dimwit jokers on Facebook. Those geniuses are true cutups.)
Tap-In Question: If you could pick one former Oriole to pitch the World Series finale for you, who would it be? Is Jim Palmer the absolute slam dunk?