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Classic look-back: Candiotti wins in second debut with Cleveland in 1999

Candy Man Wins in Second Debut with Cleveland

July 3, 1999 

Cleveland Indians 9, Kansas City Royals 8 At Jacobs Field

Tom Candiotti:  5.2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 5 SO. 

Tom Candiotti, who’d previously pitched for the Cleveland Indians from 1986 to 1991, made a triumphant return to the ballclub, winning his first game for the franchise in eight years. 

Signed by Cleveland on June 29 after spending the first three months of this season with Oakland—he was let go when the A’s called up Tim Hudson from Triple-A—Candiotti was making his first appearance of his second stint with the Indians in the first game of today’s doubleheader against Kansas City.  

In his previous stint with Cleveland, he went 72-65 with a 3.53 ERA for five-and-a-half seasons before being traded to Toronto on June 27, 1991. He also pitched for the Dodgers and A’s before rejoining the Indians this season.  

Brought back this season to shore up the Cleveland bullpen, Candiotti entered today’s contest in the third inning with the Royals already ahead 8-3. The score was actually 8-0 at one point—Kansas City battered starter Charles Nagy for eight runs in two innings—but the Indians struck for three runs in the bottom of the second before giving the ball to Candiotti. 

And the knuckleballer turned back the clock like it was 1991 again, pitching 5.2 shutout innings with no walks and five strikeouts. He threw curveballs and fastballs in his first two innings, and then threw more knucklers as the game progressed. “He was really tough,” said Royals rookie Carlos Febles of Candiotti. “He threw a soft one and a hard one and they were really moving.”

Whatever Candiotti threw worked. He retired the first nine Royals he faced, allowing his first base runner when Febles led off the sixth with a bunt single. A passed ball and sacrifice bunt moved Febles to third, but Candiotti struck out Carlos Beltran and Joe Randa swinging to keep the deficit at 8-3. 

Perhaps sparked by that clutch pitching, Cleveland rallied for five runs off Jay Witasick and Alvin Morman to tie the game in the bottom half of the inning. Candiotti returned in the seventh and got three quick outs, and then watched Tribe slugger David Justice homer off Marc Pisciotta in the bottom of the seventh for a 9-8 lead. In the eighth, Candiotti retired the first two Royals before Febles—that man again—doubled, only the second base runner the knuckleballer allowed, and “Candy Man,” as he is called, walked off the mound to a standing ovation by the Jacobs Field crowd of more than 43,000. Fortunately, reliever Ricardo Rincon retired the next batter, keeping the lead intact. Stopper Mike Jackson closed out the ninth, preserving the victory and giving Candiotti his first win with the franchise in eight years.

This win was Candiotti’s 151st and final victory in the majors. Although he never won another major-league game, this appearance was a fitting way for Candiotti to end his career. “After every inning, I’d get a standing ovation from the crowd every time I got back to the dugout. They gave me four loud ovations when I was out there. I mean, it was really spectacular for me. It goes to show that the people in Cleveland really respected me,” he reflects now. “It was like, I was in one last go-around, and all the fans were acknowledging me for all those years in the 1980s when I had to suffer [on those bad Indians teams when the club played at Cleveland Stadium]. It really brought a tear to my eye, seeing how the fans were appreciative of all the years I’d given them.”

Speaking of debuts, exactly eight years earlier, on this date, July 3, 1991, Candiotti recorded his first victory with the Blue Jays. Traded to Toronto on June 27, the knuckleballer pitched a quality start the following day with six innings of three-run ball against the Mariners but the Blue Jays lost 3-1 to Bill Krueger. But on this date, July 3, he pitched seven shutout innings of six-hit, three-walk, seven-strikeout baseball to beat the Minnesota Twins 4-0. With Candiotti on the staff, the Blue Jays went on to capture the AL East crown. 

Classic look-back: Candiotti’s gem vs. Giants in June 1997

Here’s a look back at a classic Candiotti game against the Giants from June 21, 1997.

Los Angeles Dodgers 11, San Francisco Giants 0 At 3Com Park

Tom Candiotti:  7 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 6 SO.

So that’s why the Dodgers kept Tom Candiotti around. As insurance, just in case one of the starters went down.

Sent to the bullpen to begin the season, Candiotti finally made his first start of the year, filling in for injured starter Ramon Martinez, who’d complained the night before about a sore right shoulder. 

The knuckleballer pitched seven shutout innings, lifting the Dodgers to an 11-0 victory over their arch rivals, the San Francisco Giants.

Candiotti had been sent to the bullpen because of the emergence of right-hander Chan Ho Park, who joined a Los Angeles rotation which already included Martinez, Hideo Nomo, Ismael Valdez, and Pedro Astacio—a pitching staff that was second in the majors only to the Atlanta Braves’ staff headed by Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz. 

Although Candiotti, with 126 wins and a 3.53 ERA in his 13 big-league seasons entering 1997, was rumored to be traded all spring, Dodger general manager Fred Claire hung on to the knuckleballer, and it proved to be the right decision. 

Through June 10, pitching exclusively out of the bullpen, Candiotti had three wins and a 2.03 ERA in 22 games, with five walks and 18 strikeouts, holding opposing hitters to a .212 average. 

Then, on this Saturday afternoon, he held the Giants to just four hits in seven innings as the Dodgers bounced back from a 5-2 loss in the series opener on Thursday and a blown 7-0 lead on Friday night—a game which saw L.A. use six pitchers. 

Candiotti even delivered at the plate, driving in the Dodgers’ sixth run on a squeeze bunt. The other Dodger heroes offensively were Raul Mondesi, who smacked an RBI triple and two-run single, and Tripp Cromer, who had three hits and three RBIs.

Candiotti and the Dodgers expected this would be his only start, as Ramon Martinez was expected to return after skipping just this start. As it turned out, though, Martinez’s injury was revealed to be a torn rotator cuff, and the Dodger ace would be sidelined for two months.   

Although the Dodgers did not win the division in 1997, losing out to the Giants by two games, Candiotti did do the job for L.A., going 6-2 with a 3.62 ERA in 11 starts during Martinez’s absence. It should have been at least seven wins; he nearly beat the Giants again on July 12, handing the bullpen a 2-1 lead, only to see San Francisco batter two relievers for seven runs in the ninth. 

Candiotti pitched well enough as a starter that when Martinez did return in August, the Dodgers dealt fourth starter Astacio (4-8 with a 5.19 ERA over a three-month stretch) to Colorado for second baseman Eric Young while keeping the knuckleballer in the rotation for the rest of the season.

A free agent after the 1997 season—he signed with the Oakland Athletics to stay on the West Coast—Candiotti would finish his six-year Dodger career with a 52-64 record despite a 3.57 ERA, thanks to poor run support. (It should be noted that Ramon Martinez, who received much better run support from the Dodgers, was 72-48 with a 3.67 ERA during that same stretch. In 1995, for instance, Martinez was 17-7 with a 3.66 ERA and a league-leading 81 walks and 138 strikeouts over 206.1 innings. Candiotti was 7-14 with a 3.50 ERA in 190.1 innings with 58 walks and 141 strikeouts.)

But, as Charlie Hough often told other knuckleballers, “When the other guys get hurt or don’t pitch well, be there when they need someone.” And that’s exactly what Candiotti did for the Dodgers in 1997.

TB12 in TB… what’s with the glowing reactions?

Tom Brady made it official earlier this week that he was leaving New England to test free agency. Within hours, news circulated that the six-time Super Bowl champ was going to sign with Tampa Bay.

Virtually all of the commentary on “TB12 to TB” was positive.

But I just don’t understand why.

Okay, Bucs’ attendance will see an increase, which is a positive thing for the franchise.

But remember last year when there was all this talk about how nobody at Brady’s age had started all 16 games in a season at the quarterback position?

Guess what? As much as I admire Brady, he’s another year older, and again, this is uncharted territory for QBs in the NFL. Yes, Brady is the greatest of all-time, but Father Time is undefeated.

Also, Brady’s going from a team that has relatively weaker competition in the AFC East, to a team that gets to play Drew Brees’ Saints twice, Matt Ryan’s Falcons twice. And don’t dismiss a rejuvenated Teddy Bridgewater (who was 5-0 filling in for the injured Brees in New Orleans in 2019) and his Panthers, as Brady will have to face them twice as well.

The wins aren’t going to come as easily as with New England, regardless of the talent around Brady in Tampa Bay. Don’t forget, nobody has played a full schedule at QB at his age (he’ll turn 43 before the 2020 season starts), the competition is stiffer, and it might not be as smooth a year as many now seem to think.

“1993 Canadiens” Press Release

Riverdale Ave Books has issued a press release regarding my new book, The 1993 Canadiens: Seven Magical Weeks, Unlikely Heroes and Canada’s Last Stanley Cup Champions, which is attached here.

The 1993 Canadiens PR

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Podcast interview: The Sports Corner

Here’s my latest podcast interview, with GabeRealSports on The Sports Corner.

Gabe and I briefly discussed the Houston Astros baseball scandal before talking about the 1988 Dodgers book and my other book projects.