On the 130th anniversary of the first game in franchise history, we have three former Pittsburgh Pirates pitchers and a Jolly Roger Rewind from John Fredland, covering a game against the first place Braves and their payroll that dwarfed the Pirates. The 1997 Braves had the highest payroll in the NL at just over 50mil while the Pirates came in dead last at just under 9mil but on that day, money spent didn’t guarantee the big spenders a victory.
Jose Ascanio (1985) Pitcher for the Pirates in 2009 and 2011. He was originally signed as an amateur free agent by the Braves in 2001. Jose made his major league debut six years later, pitching 13 games out of the bullpen for Atlanta. In 16 innings, he struck out 13 and had a 5.06 ERA. The Braves traded him to the Cubs in December 2007 and Ascanio struggled in his brief six game stay in the majors the following season. In 2009 he pitched much better in Chicago, posting a 3.52 ERA in 15.1 innings with 18 strikeouts. On July 30, 2009, the Pirates acquired him along with Josh Harrison and Kevin Hart in exchange for Tom Gorzelanny and John Grabow. Jose ended up getting injured after just two games and missed the rest of 2009 and all of the 2010 season. He finally made it back to the majors in mid-May of 2011 but lasted just eight games before he was designated for assignment and sent back to the minors. Ascanio left via free agency following the 2011 season and he signed with the Dodgers for 2012.
Clay Carroll (1941) Pitcher for the 1978 Pirates. He had a successful 15 year career in the majors as a reliever, pitching 731 games with 96 wins, a 2.94 ERA and 143 saves. His career was near the end when he signed with the Pirates as a free agent after the White Sox had released him just prior to the start of the 1978 season. Carroll had pitched 59 games and 101.1 innings during the 1977 season, posting a 2.75 ERA. He spent most of 1978 in the minors, joining the Pirates in September when the rosters expanded. In the minors he pitched 31 times and had a 3.90 ERA in 60 innings, while saving seven games. In the majors he saw very limited action, pitching at the end of a 10-3 loss on September 11th and then twenty days later, on the last day of the season, he pitched two innings. Both of his outings were against the Phillies. Clay was released following the season and he pitched briefly in the minors in 1979 before retiring.
Freddy Sale (1902) Pitcher for the Pirates on June 30, 1924. With Pittsburgh down 7-3 to the Cardinals in the eighth inning, Fred Sale just out of the University of Georgia, made his major league debut. He allowed singles to the first two batters he faced, putting runners on the corners with no outs. Two batters and a double play later, Sale left the mound without allowing a run. The Pirates were unable to make a comeback and Sale’s major league career was over. He would pitch two seasons for the Wilson Bugs of the Virginia League before his pro baseball career was also over. Fred had a 20-13 4.21 minor league record in 306 innings. On April 30,1923, while in college, Sale pitched a perfect game against the Univ. of Virginia, striking out eight batters in his 4-0 victory.
Jolly Roger Rewind: May 2, 1997
Their reputation as a low-budget-but-gritty unit growing, the Pirates parlayed a young starter’s impressive seven innings, a rookie closer’s first major-league save, and two unheralded first basemen’s clutch ninth-inning plays into a 3-2 victory over the first-place Braves at Turner Field.
Atlanta, division title-holders in each of the previous five seasons for which organized baseball would recognize such an accomplishment, had surged through the season’s first month seemingly hell-bent on surpassing the heights of their respected and feared predecessors. Winners of 12 of their first 14 games played in their new ballpark and 20 of their first 26 played anywhere, the Braves’ April blitzkrieg had claimed victims by margins like 15-5, 14-0 (twice) and 12-3.
But Jason Schmidt, acquired from Atlanta in the Denny Neagle trade less than nine months earlier, kept the Braves’ offense at bay, limiting them to two runs over seven innings. Schmidt’s performance matched that of the venerable Greg Maddux, who zipped through seven innings of his own, marred only by a two-run Al Martin homer that broke a string of 32 consecutive innings without an earned run.
The game moved to the ninth inning tied 2-2. With Tony Womack on second base and one out, Braves manager Bobby Cox called in left-handed reliever Alan Embree to face Bucco lefties Martin and Mark Johnson. Embree (who finished the season with a 165 ERA+) struck out Martin, but Johnson, enjoying a brief flash of glory in his ’97 downfall from April’s starting first baseman to August’s waiver wire fodder, lined a single to right field to score Womack.
Bucs manager Gene Lamont turned the lead over to Rich Loiselle, who had assumed the closer role after a neck injury to John Ericks. Loiselle proceeded to ratchet up the tension by allowing one-out singles to Javier Lopez and Jeff Blauser. Cox called on pinch-hitter Andruw Jones, nine days removed from his 20th birthday and already with two World Series home runs on his resume. Loiselle induced Jones to hit a broken-bat liner back at him, and then threw to first in an attempt to double off Blauser. The toss was wide of the mark, but Kevin Young, who had replaced Johnson at first in a double switch (continuing his ascent from March’s non-roster hopeful to late May’s starting first baseman), left the bag, caught the ball, and beat Blauser to the base to end the game.
Box score and play-by-play.
Albany (Georgia) Herald game story.
John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.
When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.