Wednesday, June 8, 2022


Earlier in this 1962 Giants-Dodgers retrospective we have run across a phenomenon that we see only rarely these days (and when we do, it's in a modified form)--we speak of the long relief appearance. Today a "long relief appearance" could be defined as any such outing by a relief that's greater than a single inning in length--or is embodied in the Tampa Bay Rays' Ryan Yarbrough, whose "delayed starter" role flourished sufficiently during 2018-19 to place him in the top 100 of pitchers whose relief outings lasted four or more innings. (Yarbrough, by the way, was much less effective as a starting pitcher, and the continued deterioration of his effectiveness has recently prompted the Rays to option him to the minors.)

So from all that, let's stick with the idea that four innings is the minimum requirement for our conception of the "lengthy relief appearance." In 1962, such things were still relatively commonplace (as the table at right will demonstrate). For purposes of comparison, note that the average number of relief appearances per team of ≥4 IP in 2021 was...four (4). And there's this: the Rays' MLB-leading total of 17 such "lengthy" relief appearances was lower than the average number of such occurrences in 1962. 

As you can see from the table, the Dodgers and Giants are at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to such appearances. And as we'll see, the "heroic" variant of the lengthy relief appearance--the one where the reliever holds off the opposition to give his team a chance to rally and win the game after being behind early--is one that the Dodgers relied upon from their bullpen in 1962. The game of June 8, 1962--Dodgers vs. Colts in LA's second trip to Houston--is one of ten games in which one of three Dodger relievers--Ed Roebuck, Larry Sherry and Ron Perranoski--notched a win as a result of a relief appearance of ≥4 IP.

Space doesn't permit us to do more than scratch the surface of the "lengthy relief appearance" as it evolved from the early days of the game; but, as you'll suspect from the above account, the trend line is one of decline. As starters threw fewer innings, and as managers began to juggle their pitchers more, "lengthy relief appearances" rose above 20 per team per year in the middle of the Deadball Era, and intermittently exceeding 25 per team per year through the 1920s and 1930s (as the chart at left shows).

Those numbers stayed constant until the early 60s, when we see a precipitous decline during the Era of the Strike Zone (1963-68), where the MLB average drops down to 12 per team. There's a recovery in the 70s thats briefly into the 80s, in large part due to certain teams re-adopting the usage pattern as a conscious strategy--most prominently the late 70s/early 80s Red Sox--remember Bob "Snapper" Stanley? Or Tom Burgmeier, his teammate on the Sox from 1978-82? These two lengthly relief specialists accumulated enough such appearances to wind up #3 and #4 on the all-time list, behind all-time leaders Lindy McDaniel (80) and Hoyt Wilhelm (78).

But then the decline is swift and dramatic, pushing toward zero in a way that presages what happens to complete games during the 2010s. There's a brief blip due to the "opener" fad initiated by the Rays in 2018-19, but the average seems to have bottomed out at 4. (Thus far in '22, there have been 41 such appearances, which tracks to a season total very similar to what we saw in 2021, when there were 116, or just slightly under four per team.)

Roebuck (37 such appearances), Sherry (33) and Perranoski (30) have fairly modest lifetime totals compared to the leaders mentioned above. But these were guys who specialized in the "heroic" kind of lengthy relief appearances. In '62, the three of them combined for ten such appearances, resulting in ten precious wins salvaged from defeat. Larry Sherry's four-inning stint on June 8th, in innings ten through thirteen, in a road game where every scoreless inning that keeps you alive means that there's still another scoreless inning needed to win or stay alive, is just the second of these ten outings that the Dodgers received in 1962. And as it turned out, they needed every one of them to get to that star-crossed October playoff series.

OH yes--in St. Louis, Willie Mays and Willie McCovey hit back-to-back solo homers, but the Cardinals took it to Juan Marichal in the fifth inning, with Ken Boyer's three-run homer the decisive blow. Lindy McDaniel didn't add to his MLB leading total of  "lengthy" relief outings in his late-inning support of Bob Gibson, but he did retire eight straight to hand the Giants their third consecutive loss. Final score: Cardinals 8, Giants 4.