Slow Out of the Gate
Much like the 2005 Pirates, the Bucs of 20 years ago got off to a slow start. Both teams were 4-11 after 15 games were complete. Both the 1985 team and the 2005 team struggled offensively at the onset of the season. Through 15 games, neither team was averaging even three runs per contest. While the 2005 team also had struggles on the mound – giving up 5.8 runs per game – the 1985 pitching staff was holding together fairly well, comparatively. The pitchers in 1985 were yielding 4-2/3 runs per game.
The 1985 team split the first six games and proceeded to win just one of the next nine they played. The seventh game was a heart breaker. Jose DeLeon was matched up against Ron Darling. Highly touted rookie Mike Bielecki had beaten long since forgotten Bill Latham the day before.
DeLeon was tough. He allowed one run (a double from George Foster followed by a Howard Johnson single in the second) in 8 innings of work. He allowed four hits and no walks while striking out 14. Darling was equally tough. He allowed just one hit through seven innings. But he was unable to retire a hitter in the 8th. He walked Sixto Lezcano and Joe Orsulak. Jesse Orosco relieved and walked Lee Mazzilli to load the bases. But the Mets only let in one run. Johnny Ray’s fly out to center wasn’t deep enough to score Bill Almon, who pinch ran for Lezcano. Bill Madlock’s grounder got the run home. Orosco retired George Hendrick for the final out.
John Candelaria relieved DeLeon in the 9th and immediately ran into trouble, as Mookie Wilson hit a lead off triple. Keith Hernandez hit a sac fly to put the Mets up. Orosco struck out the side in the 9th. That was the end of a heartbreaking loss and the beginning of slump from which the 1985 Pirates would never recover
Rick Rhoden was the Opening Day starter and the ace of the staff as the season started. Coming off a 14 win season with a sub 3.00 ERA, Rhoden had a down year with an ERA of 4.47. He accumulated just 10 wins against 15 defeats. Rhoden was acquired in 1979 for Jerry Reuss. He overcame a shoulder injury to become a mainstay in the rotation in the early and mid-80s. He was also a very good hitting pitcher. He now competes on celebrity golf events.
Rick Reuschel didn’t pitch in a game until May 21. But, he quickly developed into the club’s only above average starter. Despite the late start, he led the staff with 14 wins. Despite a stellar 2.27 ERA, he suffered 8 losses. Earlier in his career, Reuschel was a big winner with the Cubs. A rotator cuff injury derailed his career and his efforts in 1985 earned him not only the Comeback Player of the Year Award but also a Gold Glove. He was signed as a free agent and later was traded to San Francisco in a deadline deal in 1987.
The biggest disappointment in 1985 was hands down Jose DeLeon. After a promising rookie campaign in 1983 and a strong second start against the Mets and Darling, the wheels fell off. He went 2-19 with a 4.70 ERA. His last victory of the year was June 14 against Philadelphia. He was traded to the Comiskey’s in 1986 for Bobby Bonilla and had his best success in St. Louis in 1988 and 1989, compiling consecutive 200 strikeout seasons. If there was one player from this era in Pirates history that I’d like to give a “do over” to for his career, it’d be DeLeon.
The Pirates second round pick in the 1981 draft, Lee Tunnell, like DeLeon, also had success as a rookie and little after. He won 11 games and threw three shutouts as a 22 year old in 1983. He won just 10 games for the rest of his career. In 23 starts in 1985 he won four games, lost 10 and generated and ERA of 4.01. He pitched in 2 games for St. Louis in the 1987 World Series.
Lanky lefty Larry McWilliams finished 5th in the Cy Young vote in 1983 with 15 wins and 199 whiffs. Known as a quick worker, he followed that up with a 12 wins and sub 3.00 ERA in 1984. It got bad quickly, despite winning three of his first four decisions, McWilliams finished 7-9 in 19 starts. His ERA was 4.70. He was so ineffective that he as lifted from the rotation in early August. He started for the Braves the night Pete Rose’s consecutive hit streak was stopped at 44. He came to Pittsburgh for Pascual Perez. His successful season in Pittsburgh earned him a large multi-year contract that was immediately an albatross around the Pirates collective financial necks.
In the next installment, I’ll examine several themes for the season, including the shortstop situation.
1985 Pirates Retrospective – Part 3
Slow Out of the Gate