That was the final line of Eduaro Sanchez, who was making his major league debut. The young right hander had just been called up from Memphis to replace Brian Tallet, who had broken a bone on his non-pitching hand. On the day his name would first appear on the Cardinals active roster, he found himself pitching the final two innings of a blowout against the Arizona Diamondbacks. They were two of the most impressive innings we have seen in a long time, debut or not.
If you had been following the Springfield Cardinals and Memphis Redbirds the last two years, the trio of Fernando Salas, Eduardo Sanchez and Francisco Samuel would be familiar names. Samuel throws hard, Sanchez throws pitches that are only seen in video games, and Salas is the unflappable young man with pinpoint control. These three also represent a very bright future for the St Louis bullpen.
For Sanchez, we knew he was good. We knew his pitches were electric and had absolutely silly late movement. Broadcasters debate whether he throws a fastball or a slider, or something in between. The only question remainaing is what major league hitters might think of them. That was largely answered on Wednesday night. Four of the five strikeouts were of the swing-and-miss variety. The other was a frozen-like-a-deer-in-headlights punch-out.
Does Sanchez have the stuff to be a future closer ? Perhaps. To help put this into a historical context, let’s look back at how some of the other closers did in their Cardinals debut. Note that a few were well established veterans at the time of their Cardinals premier.
Hal Woodeshick – 1965. Woodeshick became one of the leagues first closers while pitching for the Houston Astros. The Cardinals needed bullpen depth, especially from the left side, and made a deal with the Astros to acquire the tall lefty. He would immediately take over as the closer in 1965.
It would take Woodeshick 4 appearances and 5 1/3 innings to record his fifth strikeout. Over that period, he surrendered 4 hits and 5 walks, resulting in 3 runs. He would also take the loss in that 4th game, thanks to three of his five walks leading to the game losing run.
Joe Hoerner – 1966. It would take Lefty Joe 4 appearances to record his fifth strikeout. He would fare a bit better than Woodeshick, thanks to a lot better control. He would allow just 1 run on 4 hits over those games.
Before we move on, it is easy to forget how important Joe Hoerner was to the Cardinals two NL pennant seasons, 1967 and 1968. In the three years between his Cardinals debut and the end of 1968, he would throw almost 200 innings and compile a 17-7 record with a 1.88 ERA. If you are a fan of ERA+, his was 177 for that period.
Joe kept a lot of games close so that the offense had a chance to rally.
Sal Campisi – 1969. Campisi is one of those “if only” types of pitchers. Campisi was yet another of the great arms coming out of the Cardinals farm system. When he broke into the majors just before the rosters expanded in 1969, we immediately recongized him as our future closer. While he would struggle with his control throughout his short career, he most certainly had swing-and-miss stuff.
It would take Campisi 5 outings to record 5 strikeouts. He would hold opponents scoreless over that period. He would also limit them to just two hits, for a batting average against of 0.087. Campisi had a knack of missing opponents bats with his pitches. He also missed the plate a few times and would record just as many walks as strikeouts.
Diego Segui – 1972. The veteran pitcher would come to St. Louis in the middle of the 1972 season, where he would immediately take over as closer. It would take him 4 appearances to record 5 strikeouts. Over that span he would throw 7 2/3 innings, allowing 1 runs on 5 hits.
Al Hrabosky – 1970. The Mad Hungarian didn’t exactly burst onto the scene in 1970. While he would become one of the best late inning pitchers in baseball a few years later, he didn’t make you say wow in his first few appearances. It would take 6 games for Hungo to record his 5th strikeout, and that included a 5 1/3 inning start against the Pirates. Over those six games, he would throw 11 2/3 innings, allowing 4 runs on 11 hits. Add 5 walks to go with those 5 strikeouts. Not exactly 1-2-3 and then sit down.
Mark Littell – 1978. Littell had broken in with the Kansas City Royals in 1973. In 1978, he would make his Cardinals debut. He would record his 5th strikeout in his second appearance, a start against the Philadelphia Phillies where he put as many on base as he stuck out (4 BB, 1 HBP, 5 K).
Bruce Sutter – 1981. The bearded one would make his Cardinals debut in 1981. He was already a veteran of five seasons with the Chicago Cubs. His split-fingered fastball was already legendary and he had led the NL in saves the previous two years.
He would record 4 strikeouts in his first appearance, but it would take him 3 innings to do so. 3 innings of no-hit no-run baseball for his first Cardinals save. The only base runner reached on a walk.
To think that a 22 year old rookie’s major league debut being more impressive than Bruce Sutter’s first game with the Cardinals has to make you stop and say “wow.”
Jeff Lahti – 1982. Not exactly known as a strikeout pitcher, Lahti was the man that held the bullpen together until Todd Worrell came to the rescue in 1985. The fidgety right hander was a ton of fun to watch, and he was very effective until a cold night in Kansas City where he developed arm troubles that would cut short a very fine career.
It would take Jeff Lahti 7 appearances and 11 1/3 innings to record his 5th strikeout. He would allow 5 runs (3 earned) on 7 hits, plus three walks.
Todd Worrell – 1985. Of all the pitchers that came up through the Cardinals farm system, Worrell may give us the best hint at what Sanchez may become. They both throw the ball hard (94-96 mph), but mix in a sharp slider with a late break. Both of them display a good curveball that they use for their primary change of speed pitch that make batters sitting on the fastball look foolish at the plate.
As Worrell became comfortable on the major league mound, he became a strikeout machine. It took a few appearances for that to happen, which makes the Sanchez debut all the more impressive. Worrell would record his 5th strikeout his fourth game. That would include 5 2/3 innings where he would allow one run on 3 hits. Worrell always had good control, even at the beginning of his career. In those first four games, he would only surrender a single walk.
Lee Smith – 1990. After 8 years as a Cubbie and 2 1/2 as a member of the Red Sox, the big man came to St. Louis to take over for Todd Worrell. It would take Smith six appearances to record his 5th strikeout. Over those games he would allow two runs on four hits. He would also pick up a win and a save in those six games.
Tom Henke – 1995. The veteran right hander would handle the closing duties for the Cardinals in the last year of his long career. He was no longer a dominating strikeout man, but he did have his moments. It would take Henke 8 appearances to record his 5th strikeout, but in that period he would convert seven out of seven save opportunities. At age 37, Henke ended his career on a very high note, even getting some votes for MVP.
Alan Benes – 1995. OK, so Andy’s little brother wasn’t a closer, but he did record 5 strikeouts in his major league debut. It took him 4 innings to do it as he was shelled for 7 runs on 8 hits. He then went on to have two very good seasons before arm troubles limited his effectiveness.
TJ Mathews – 1995. Matthews did have an outing nearly identical to Sanchez’s debut. It was not his debut, but he was still feeling his way on August 25 when he would close out a game against the Colorado Rockies, in Colorado. In just his 11th major league appearance, he would face seven batters. He would give up a single, a harmless infield ground out, and record 5 strikeouts (1 looking). That is the exact same line as Sanchez in his debut, except the hit Sanchez gave up was a double.
Nearly 2 years later, Mathews would find himself in the middle of the biggest trade in years. He and pitchers Blake Stein and Eric Ludwick would be sent to Oakland for Mark McGwire. And yes, Eric is the older brother of former Cardinal Ryan Ludwick.
Dennis Eckersley – 1996. The ageless wonder spent 2 of his last 3 major league seasons in St. Louis, closing out games for new manager Tony La Russa. It sure seemed that he was here longer than that. I think time has helped the Eckersley story because we remember the 66 saves more than the 1-11 record he compiled over those two seasons. Eck would take 4 games to reach the 5 strikeout total. In those 4 games he would allow 2 runs on 7 hits. All four were save chances, but he would only convert two of them. He would take a loss with one of the blown saves.
Rich Croushore – 1998. Not in his debut, but shortly following that, Croushore would put together two unforgettable games. In his 10th and 11th major league appearance, he would pitch two innings, striking out four in each. He would allow one run in each game. Those were Croushore’s first two major league saves. Not bad for the big right hander – 4 innings, 8 Ks. Let’s see what Sanchez does in his next appearance.
Dave Veres – 2000. Dave Veres would be the Cardinals closer from 2000 to 2002. Although he was already an established closer in the major leagues, his first game as a Cardinal came nowhere close to the Sanchez debut. A few weeks later, he did have a pair of games when he struck out 4 in less than 2 innings pitched. In three years of pitching for the Cardinals, Veres struck out five men just one time: 3 innings of relief on September 7, 2002.
Jason Isringhausen – 2003. Like Veres, Isringhausen was an established major leaguer by the time he arrived in St. Louis. He would start the 2003 season on the disabled list, not making an appearance until mid June. It would take him 8 games to record his 5th strikeout, but was lights out on all eight. He would not allow a run and would earn 2 saves and a hold over that span. He would go on to convert 22 of 25 save chances in his first season.
Adam Wainwright – 2006. Although the tall right-hander would record two of the most famous strikeouts in Cardinals history*, he would not strikeout five batters in a game until his fourth start in 2007.
Aaron Miles. In 5 career appearances, Aaron Miles has yet to record a strikeout. His career WHIP of 1.0 is very impressive, even though the sample size makes it statistically irrelevant. Jose Oquendo did get 2 strikeouts in his 6 career innings pitched, but he was far less effective than Miles.
* Wainwright’s strikeouts of Carlos Beltran and Brandon Inge should be filed next to Bruce Sutter fanning Gorman Thomas to win the 1982 World Series and Bob Gibson’s strikeout (looking) of Willie Horton in Game one of the 1968 World Series. For Gibson, that strikeout was his 17th, to set a major league record.