Palehosed adventures of lefty closers

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Palehosed adventures of lefty closers

Roger Angell in 1973 wrote in The New Yorker (via Neyer-James Guide to Pitchers):

Everything about Wilbur Wood is disarming. On the mound, he displays a comfortable expanse of tum and the stiffish-looking knees of a confirmed indoorsman, and thus resembles a left-handed accountant or pastry chef on a Sunday outing. Even the knuckler which he throws, sensibly, on nearly every pitch - looks almost modest, for it does not leap and quiver like Hoyt Wilhelm's old hooked trout.

Dave Letterman, in the mid 80s, once referred to Terry Forster as:

A big fat tub of goo; the fattest man in professional baseball.

Besides both seemingly being produced by the same pitcher factory (fat-ctory?) which produced the likes of David Wells, Bartolo Colon and Bobby Jenks, this pair of portly portsiders has something else in common: theyre the only White Sox lefties with 20 or more saves in a season. While similar in body type, they couldnt have been at further ends of the spectrum in terms of pitching repertoire.

Wilbur Wood was a big New Englander who had pitched limited innings with the Red Sox and Pirates from 1961-65. With the tutelage of Eddie Fisher and Hoyt Wilhelm, he transformed his knuckleball from a pet project into a legitimate weapon.

In 1968, he set a still-standing White Sox record with 88 appearances, and in 1970, he flicked flutterballs to the tune of a career-high 21 saves. It was the first time a Sox lefty reached the 20-save plateau. It was also the last time he pitched primarily in relief; Chuck Tanner took the reins as manager and didn't like his ninth innings peppered with passed balls and wild pitches from wayward knucklers.

Don't worry about Wilbur; he was just fine in the starting rotation. He averaged 22 wins and 348 innings over the next four seasons. When he logged 376 23 IP in 1972, you had to go back to the White Sox previous World Series championship season to find a higher total (the legendary Grover Cleveland Alexander's 388 for the 1917 Phillies).

Terry Forster was a fireballing phenom. In his age 20 season, the southpaw set a franchise record with 29 saves. Due to injuries as a starter, he was shuttled from the bullpen to the rotation and back to the bullpen, and in 1974 he won the AL Fireman of the Year award with his second season of 20 saves (24).

Forster had a remarkable knack for keeping the ball in the ballpark. In his 1972 breakout season, he pitched exactly 100 innings, surrendering not a single home run. The streak, including the end of 1971 and the beginning of 1973, ultimately covered a span of 137.2 innings. Since World War II, his career mark of 0.42 HR9IP is sixth=best among any pitcher with 1000 or more innings.

Forsters 1975 was decimated by elbow problems. Goose Gossage took over as closer; Forster came back to make two appearances after May 23, including one start (which ended after one inning), contributing to the second most left-handed collection of starting pitchers in Major League history. The 124 lefty starts by the 1975 White Sox (mostly Wood, Jim Kaat, and Claude Osteen) were the most by any team ever...except the 1983 Yankees.

Wood took a Ron LeFlore liner to the kneecap early in 1976; Forster and Gossage were both pressed into starting roles for the rest of the season. They combined for a 11-29 record and were both shipped to Pittsburgh after the season in exchange for Richie Zisk and Silvio Martinez. Wood was never the same again.

Since Wood and Forster roamed the mound at Comiskey Park, lefties were left out of the closer role for the Pale Hose. The last 24 seasons of 20 or more saves by a White Sox pitcher have all been by right-handers. Scott Radinsky and Damaso Marte each took turns in emergency roles as Bobby Thigpen thawed and Billy Koch got cooked, but neither held it down for an entire season.

In fact, since the save became an official statistic in 1969, 84.1 percent of all Major League 20-save seasons (612 of 728) have been by righties. With Billy Wagner's retirement, Brian Fuentes' role as a plan B to Andrew Bailey and Matt Thornton's inability to keep the closer role (0-4 in save opportunities), 2011 ended up the first season with no 20-plus save lefties since 1982.

With Sergio Santos departure to Canada, can Matt Thornton break the right-handed stranglehold on the White Sox closer role? But Jesse Crain and Addison Reed waiting in the wings in 2012, so itll be interesting to see how it all unfolds.

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White Sox snap six-game losing streak behind Jose Quintana

White Sox snap six-game losing streak behind Jose Quintana

CLEVELAND — Jose Quintana secured only the second winning record of his career on Saturday night and he did it without the use of the changeup and curveball.

The All-Star pitcher ditched his offspeed stuff early and managed to rebound from a poor start as the White Sox snapped a six-game losing streak with an 8-1 victory over the first-place Cleveland Indians in front of 32,088 at Progressive Field. Working mainly with an effectively wild fastball, Quintana, who has only one start left, improved to 13-11 with six innings of one-run ball against the first-place Indians. Six different White Sox hitters drove in a run in support of Quintana.

“You really don’t see him like that too often,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “He just gritted through it. He has a lot of heart in him to be able to keep battling through.

“Just not as smooth really the whole time through there. He grinded it out, got us to a point where we could score some runs and separate. He deserves one of these.”

Quintana didn’t look like he could buy an out in the early going as he struggled with command.

Similar to his last start in Kansas City, Quintana was missing by a lot, as much as a foot in some instances, according to catcher Alex Avila. He threw strikes on only six of 21 combined curveballs and changeups, which led to three walks in the first two innings and twice facing the bases loaded.

Even so, Quintana nearly managed to escape unscathed. He induced an inning-ending double play in the first off Carlos Santana’s bat to keep the White Sox ahead 2-0. And, after he allowed an RBI single to Rajai Davis in the second, got Jason Kipnis to ground out with runners on the corners to maintain a 2-1 advantage.

“Best adjustment was to try and throw first pitch for a a strike,” Quintana said. “I started a little slow … First inning I missed the spot too much especially with the fastball. After that I made the adjustment.”

The adjustment included working almost entirely with the fastball, even though it also had a bunch of run to it. But Avila said that worked in Quintana’s favor as it induced a number of pop outs.

Whereas Quintana looked vulnerable in the first two innings, he looked infallible over his final four.

He retired 13 of the last 15 hitters he faced, including nine on pop outs or weak fly balls. Quintana pitched around a pair of doubles in the process and only allowed a run and six hits with three walks and two strikeouts.

“The way he’s pitched, he definitely deserves to have a lot more wins,” Avila said. “But like I told him before, there’ll be a year where it flips the script on him and things will fall into place moreso than has been in the past.”

The White Sox offense rewarded Quintana for his Houdini act, one that had Avila stunned they managed their way through it.

[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]​

Melky Cabrera and Jose Abreu each had first-inning RBIs as the White Sox took a 2-0 lead. Cabrera’s two-out RBI single in the fifth inning extended the White Sox lead to 3-1 and Todd Frazier belted a solo homer in the sixth to make it a three-run lead.

Avisail Garcia, Carlos Sanchez and Leury Garcia all had RBI singles during a four-run eighth inning.

Perhaps its another sign the luck has turned for Quintana, who improved to 46-45 despite a 3.41 career ERA. Earlier this season, Quintana, whose 59 no decisions are still by far the most in the majors since 2012, finally reached 10 wins for the first time in his career.

Even though Quintana said statistics aren’t important to him, his manager believes they are a point of pride for the left-hander.

“It’s been so tough for him,” Ventura said. “I think it’s important. He has a lot of pride going out and doing what he can to help us win games. For him, it’s a step in the right direction. Hopefully we can score runs like this more often for him. Everybody knows his record would be a lot better if we could score some runs for him.”