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2004 ALCS Leit-motif?
2005-07-18 09:52
by Mike Carminati

Last year the Red Sox withstood a shellacking at the hands of the Yankees in game thee of the American League Championship Series, 19-8, and then went on to take the next three games by a total of five runs. The Yanks crumbled in the anticlimactic seventh game 10-3, and the Sox were vaulted to one of the most lopsided World Series ever, sweeping the Cards.

This past weekend, the two old rivals replayed that scenario, slightly. This time it was the Yankees winning the war winning close games after the Red Sox won the one lopsided battle. The Sox tied their most lopsided victory over the Yankees in their 105 history with a 17-1 drubbing Friday. However, the Yankees won the three other games in the series by a total of seven runs, and in so doing they clawed to within one-half game of first place, a feat that seemed inconceivable for most of the first half of the season.

The biggest difference between the last game and game seven of the ALCS was perhaps that Al Leiter was a guest commentator for FOX during the playoffs last year. On Sunday he started for the Yankees and went 6.1 innings allowing three hits and one run while striking out eight for the win, his first AL win since 1995. It was his first win as a Yankee since April 14, 1989, an 8-5 win over Frank Viola and the Twins at Yankee Stadium.

Leiter was a second round pick for the Yankees in 1984 and pitched at the major-league level for three years in pinstripes, 1987-89. But given that he was just 7-8 in 22 starts as a Yank in his first stint and was injured so often (bluster problems?), that most just remember that his departure (to the Blue Jays) brought Jesse Barfield to the Bronx and the unfulfilled promise. Apropos to his previous AL stint, Leiter went to Toronto and quickly landed on the DL. Leiter put his career back together in his last year in Toronto and quickly left as a free agent for Florida, quickly establishing himself as one of the better pitchers in the game over the next decade.

So at age 39, Leiter now returns to the AL after having a failed return to Florida this season and being cut by the Marlins. After a 15-year gap, he is a Yankee again. That made me wonder what the longest gap was between stints for a given player/team combination. Here they are:

PlayerTeamFirst StintSecond StintGap
Heinie PeitzSt. Louis Browns/Cardinals1892-1895191317
Muddy RuelSt. Louis Browns1915193317
Bucky WaltersBoston Braves1931-32195017
Patsy DonovanBrooklyn Bridegrooms/Superbas18901906-0716
Joe KelleyBoston Beaneaters1891190816
Willie KeelerNew York Giants1892-93191016
Jesse TannehillCincinnati Reds1894191116
Bobby WallaceSt. Louis Cardinals1899-19011917-1816
Grover HartleySt. Louis Browns1916-17193416
Al LeiterNew York Yankees1987-89200515

Walters is the last guy to go at least 15 years between stints with a given team, the Braves in his case. Though a right-hander, he's a great analogue to Leiter. Their career numbers in wins, losses, and adjusted ERA are very similar. Walters, too, took quite a while to establish himself as a star pitcher: At age 30, he won 27 games for the Reds after five undistinguished seasons. Walters did do Leiter one better—he was third baseman when he left the Braves in 1932 and returned a pitcher with 198 wins. He had also managed for two seasons before throwing his last and only game as a Brave on July 23, 1950. That trumps sitting in a booth with likes of McCarver and Buck for a few playoff games, though I'm sure that experience seemed to last longer than a couple of seasons.

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