Mike Torrez and his unique Yankees history

Mike Torrez is now 66 years old. Where does the time go? He pitched eighteen years in the big leagues. He started his career with the St. Louis Cardinals. That is hard to believe and to remember. He won more of his career starts than he lost (185-160) and he was one of the first free agent hired guns when the Boston Red Sox signed him to a big contract in 1978. It was that deal that brought him to that fateful moment that would forever become one of the New York Yankees' signature moments: The Bucky Dent home run. Dent hit his Fenway miracle off of Mike Torrez, and the Carl Yastrzemski reaction is almost as memorable as the euphoria that swept through the Yankees as Dent rounded the bases. That moment prolonged the Red Sox curse another sixteen years until it was finally broken in 2004. Mike Torrez was not an especially great pitcher. He finished his career with a 98 ERA+. His career strikeout to walk ratio was 1.02. He only struck out 4.2 batters per nine innings while walking 4.1. All the times he led the league in pitching categories were for the wrong reasons. Torrez led the league in walks three times. He led the league in earned runs twice. He led the league in losses once. But he was, what was then and now described as an innings eater...a gamer. He kept his team in the game long enough to win his share. He completed a quarter of his starts. And he helped save the Yankees' pitching staff in 1977.

The early season of 1977 is most noted for the Reggie Jackson / Billy Martin / Thurman Munson circus. But the truth is that much of that circus would have disappeared if the season had started differently. The Yankees were four and a half games out of first place on June 21 and pitching was the problem. After completing 51 games for the Yankees in 1975 and 1976, Catfish Hunter's arm was pretty much dead. His missed much of the season and was not that effective when he did pitch. Ken Holtzman and Don Gullett missed much of the year to injuries. Gil Patterson was too young and too raw. Of the opening season rotation, only Ron Guidry and Ed Figueroa were fixtures.

Then on April 27, 1977, the Yankees traded Dock Ellis, Larry Murray and Marty Perez to the Oakland A's for Mike Torrez. And while Torrez was not exactly a lights out pitcher for the Yankees in 1977, he did stabilize the Yankees rotation enough to give them a chance to win every time Figueroa, Guidry and Torrez pitched. Torrez would go on to win fourteen games for the Yankees that season and he completed fifteen of his 31 starts. His contribution and consistency helped allow the Yankees to go on a tear in August and September to propel the Yankees to the World Series.

And Mike Torrez might have been the MVP of that 1977 World Series if not for certain heroics by Reggie Jackson. Mike Torrez made two starts in that World Series against the Dodgers. He won both games and both were complete game wins. He was on the mound and the winning pitcher when Jackson hit his three homers on three pitches. He was the winning pitcher in the clinching game of the 1977 World Series. That is kind of epic. But it was the last game he ever pitched for the Yankees.

The following season, the hated Boston Red Sox snatched him to one of the biggest free agent contracts of that time. The Red Sox paid Torrez nearly as much as the Yankees paid Catfish Hunter. And Mike Torrez gave the Red Sox a solid season in 1978. He won sixteen games and pitched 250+ innings. He was solid enough that with the season on the line and facing a one-game playoff against the Yankees to decide who won the division, the Red Sox were more than comfortable to give the ball to Mike Torrez.

Torrez was cruising in that 163rd game of 1978. Through six innings, he had given up just two hits and two walks and went into the top of the seventh inning with a 2-0 lead. Everything looked good in the Red Sox' world. And then Bucky Dent became a swear word in Boston.

Torrez got the first out in the top of the seventh as Graig Nettles flew out. But then Chris Chambliss singled and Roy White singled and things got interesting. The Yankees pinch hit Jim Spencer for Brian Doyle and Spencer flew out. Torrez was an out away from getting out of the inning with the weak-hitting Bucky Dent coming up. We all know the rest of the story. At that point, the Yankees had a win expectancy of 18%. Bucky Dent changed all of that. And Mike Torrez was the guy who threw the pitch.

Mike Torrez pitched against the Yankees eighteen times in his career. He only beat them once. He had a lifetime record against the Bronx Bombers of 1-10. So it is pretty safe to say that he was a hero when he pitched for the Yankees and a hero for the Yankees when he pitched against them. He has a unique place in Yankees history. He won two World Series games in two tries in 1977 and then he gave up the Bucky Dent home run. You do not get much more of a diverse Yankee experience than that.