One & Done: Wilbur Wood had no issues pulling double duty for the White Sox
In the world of sports, athletes often dedicate their entire lives to reaching the pinnacle of their profession, but for many, life at the top can be short-lived. Sometimes all a player gets to experience at the highest level is one minute on the court, one trip to the plate, one shot on goal or one checkered flag, but more often than not, that fleeting moment in the spotlight is a story all its own. This is One and Done, a FOX Sports series profiling athletes, their paths to success and the stories behind some of sports’ most ephemeral brushes with glory.
As Major League Baseball’s regular season winds down and the postseason draws near, one of the sport’s most talked-about subjects has become Mets ace Matt Harvey and how much, or even whether, the righty will pitch for New York this October.
Harvey has stated publicly that he plans to take the mound for his team in the playoffs despite objections of his agent, Scott Boras, who voiced concerns about his client surpassing the 180-inning limit he was supposed to stay under in his first year back in the rotation after Tommy John surgery.
The solution, for the time being, seems to be that Harvey will throw fewer innings in the final three weeks of the season, rather than pitching less often in September — as was the original plan — but regardless of how much Harvey throws during New York’s playoff push, it’ll still pale in comparison to the workload Wilbur Wood was known to take on during his 17 years in the big leagues.
In fact, between now and the NLDS, Harvey might not throw as many innings as Wood once did in one day.
Over the course of his career, Wood always was known to shoulder a heavy load, particularly after he abandoned the more conventional style of pitching for the knuckleball when he was traded to the Chicago White Sox in 1967. In 1971, the White Sox made him a full-time starter, and over the next five seasons he started 224 games, leading all of Major League Baseball in the latter four.
Wood threw nearly 1,700 innings in that five-year span, topping the league with 376 in 1972 and 359 in 1973 — the former is a record in the live-ball era; baseball hasn’t seen a 300-inning pitcher since 1980 — and in ’73, Wood went 24-20, making him one of just two modern era pitchers to both win and lose 20 games in the same season.
So perhaps it comes as no surprise that Wood, in that 1973 season, had both a day when he won two games and a day when he lost a pair, as well.
The first came on May 28, when Wood threw five innings of relief to finish a game against Cleveland that had been suspended two nights earlier, then turned around and threw a shutout against the Indians that afternoon. The earlier game had been stopped due to curfew with the score tied 2-2 after 16 innings on May 26, so when the teams picked back up on Memorial Day, Sox skipper Chuck Tanner decided to let his regularly scheduled starter close it out, anticipating that the game couldn’t go on much longer.
Instead, the game went five more innings, with Wood retiring 14 of the first 15 batters he faced before a walk and an error set up a Walt Williams RBI single to break the tie in the top of the 21st. Fortunately, the Chicago bats rallied in the bottom of the frame, with Dick Allen hitting a walk-off, three-run homer.
The plan was never for Wood to throw five innings in the first game, so before the start of the second game, Tanner left the decision to send the lefty out for his regularly scheduled start up to Wood. It wasn’t unheard of for Wood to put in extra time if needed — he went 11 innings in a win over the Angels a few weeks earlier — so he decided he’d be fine for the second start.
"I was scheduled to pitch that day," Wood told FOX Sports in a phone interview this week. "And if you’re scheduled to pitch, then why not pitch? Just because you started the suspended game, too? So it just worked out."
It turned out to be a great decision because in the second game, Wood threw a masterpiece. The lefty tossed a shutout, allowing four hits and striking out four in a 4-0 Chicago win. His final line for the day? Fourteen innings pitched, six hits, zero earned runs, nine strikeouts and two wins.
"Back then you went out and you went out to pitch a complete game," said Wood, who went the distance in 114 of his 297 career starts. "That was your goal, to finish what you started."
Unfortunately for Wood, his next chance to work double duty didn’t go nearly as well. That came on July 20, when Wood made his regularly scheduled start against the Yankees.
That afternoon, Wood didn’t make it out of the first inning. The outing started well enough, with a leadoff strikeout, but Horace Clarke was able to reach base when strike three got by catcher Ed Herrmann. After that, Wood allowed a walk followed by two doubles and two singles. He was pulled from the game before recording an out and ended up being charged for six runs (five earned) and the loss in a 12-2 blowout.
The six batters faced were the fewest in a start for Wood to that point in his career, so when Tanner again gave him the choice to start the second game, Wood was more than happy for the chance at redemption. Alas, Game 2 went nearly as poorly as the first, and Wood took his second loss of the day after surrendering seven runs (again five earned) in 4 1/3 innings during a time-shortened 7-0 Yankees win.
"You just go out and do the best you can, and it was one of those days where it didn’t work out very well," said Wood, who faced 27 batters for the day, 24 fewer than he had on May 28. "Then there are other days where it does, like the time I went 14 innings, and there’s that day, where I might have thrown enough pitches to go 18 innings, but I was done in a short period of time."
Prior to the doubleheader, Wood had gone 18-12 with a 2.66 ERA in his first 29 starts, with 17 complete games. In his 17 subsequent starts, he went 6-6 with a 4.51 ERA and four complete games. Still, Wood doesn’t figure either case of double duty had anything to do with his decline. He also says he doesn’t feel any particular sense of honor in being the last of 103 pitchers in baseball history to start both games of a doubleheader.
"It’s just one of those things," Wood said. "It’s no big deal one way or the other. That’s just the way it turned out."
That being said, Wood recognizes how rare his feats were in the context of how baseball is played today.
"The game has changed a great deal now, and whether it’s for the good or the bad, who knows?" Wood said. "It’s entirely different. If someone goes out and they pitch 200 innings, they think they had one hell of a year, but 200 innings back when I played, that wasn’t a very good year. … I mean, how many starts do they have (in a season) today? And then all they do is pitch five or six innings and that’s it. They’re done for another week.
I could see it happening, but if it did, he wouldn’t be coming back the next year.
Wilbur Wood, on whether a Matt Harvey situation would've happened in his era
"It’s just the way the game has gone," he added. "Changes have been made. I talked with (former White Sox general manager) Roland Hemond, and I had to ask him, ‘What the hell is a quality start?’ He told me what it was and I said, ‘Jesus, I wish to hell I was paid in quality starts instead of wins and losses.’"
And as for Harvey? Wood never got a chance to pitch in the playoffs during his career, but he says he doesn’t suspect a situation like Harvey’s would have arisen in his day.
"I could see it happening, but if it did, he wouldn’t be coming back the next year," Wood said. "But we’re talking about different eras, and times have changed. Something like that just wouldn’t happen back in the ’70s or ’60s or ’50s. You wouldn’t hear about it, and it wouldn’t even be thought of. But everything has changed.
"They’re making more in meal money than we made in salary," he added. "So that probably has something to do with it."
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