Today in Knuckleball History: June 21, 1997
Candiotti Throws Seven Shutout Innings as Emergency Replacement
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 their 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 responded by flummoxing the San Francisco Giants for seven shutout innings, lifting the Dodgers to an 11-0 victory over their arch rivals.
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 San Francisco again on July 12, handing the bullpen a 2-1 lead only to see the Giants rip 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 1997 season.
A free agent after the season—he signed with the Oakland Athletics in the off-season—Candiotti would finish his six-year Dodger career with a 3.57 ERA but just a 52-64 record, thanks primarily to a paucity of run support. No Los Angeles pitcher with an ERA as low as Candiotti’s had a lower winning percentage than his .448 in a Dodger uniform. (It should be noted that Ramon Martinez, who received much better 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, perhaps L.A.’s unluckiest pitcher ever, 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.