Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Saving Face

Every morning I take a look at the baseball birthdays for the day on baseball-reference.com, and I see if I can pick out who they chose for the birthday of the day on my wall calendar before looking at it. I'm usually right about 50% of the time.

I look at February 20th, and several names jump out at me:

- "Baby Braves" Brian McCann and Ryan Langerhans
- Justin Verlander
- Livan Hernandez
- Bill "Gully" Gullickson, Clyde "Crazy" Wright, and Shane Spencer, all of whom have legacies of sorts in Japanese baseball
- Sal Yvars and Tommy Henrich, both of whom had roles in "The Era", which I read recently
- Muddy Ruel AND Sam Rice, teammates during the glory years of the 1920's Washington Senators

Well, it seems obvious to me, that since Sam Rice is a hall of famer, he'd be the calendar birthday. Right?

No. The calendar birthday is someone who didn't even jump out at me at ALL - Roy Face.

I'll be honest, all I remembered about Face was that he was one of the Pirates pitchers who screwed up that infamous topsy-turvy 7th game of the 1960 World Series. Last time I'd looked at the events of October 13, 1960, it was because I was thinking more about how Hal Smith would have been the Series hero instead of Bill Mazeroski, if Bob Friend and Harvey Haddix hadn't given up those two runs in the 9th which nullified Smith's 3-run homer in the 8th. But of course, when Roy Face came out to pitch in that game in the 5th inning, the score was 4-1 Pirates with runners on first and second. When he left the game at the top of the 8th for a pinch-hitter, it was 7-4 Yankees. Not the best impression to leave if that's the only game someone remembers of your career.

But then when I look at the rest of Roy Face's statistics, several things stand out as being sort of crazy. For example, in 1959, he had a won-loss record of 18-1, despite having never started a game. With wikipedia to the rescue, one can also find out that he was the first guy to save three games in a World Series, namely games 1, 4, and 5 of the 1960 series. One might note that the Pirates won every game in that Series that Face pitched in, outscoring the Yankees 24-17 in those four games, as opposed to the other three games of the series, where they were outscored 38-3 by the Yankees, making for one of the most lopsided contests in history. Games 1 and 4 had been won by a combination of just Roy Face and Vern Law, the 1960 Cy Young winner, so it's no wonder that the Pirates staked game 7 on this combination as well.

Face may not have been a super power pitcher, but he struck out more guys than he walked, didn't give up many home runs, and obviously kept his team in the game. The 1959 Pirates scored 29 less runs than they gave up, but finished with a 78-76 record, indicating that they had a little more luck, or control, of their close games. 9 of Face's 18 wins that year were in one-run games, and 11 of them were in extra innings. If Joe Page was Casey Stengel's first contribution to the world of high-leverage situational relief ace management, then it seems like Roy Face was Danny Murtaugh's.

Like many other early relief aces, Roy Face's career mostly predated the actual save statistic, which came along in 1969. 1969, however, was Face's last year in the majors. He officially saved 5 games for the expansion Montreal Expos, who were only marginally worse at 52-110 (.321) than the first Pirates team Face pitched on in 1953 at 50-104 (.325), who were one year removed from arguably being one of the worst teams in the 20th century.

So, happy 78th birthday, Roy Face, and forgive me for not realizing you deserve the honor.

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