Being a Good Loser

September 2, 2019
Intro
 
On August 21, 2019, the AL West-leading Houston Astros were sitting with an 81-46 record. They were getting ready to host the Detroit Tigers in the third game of a four game series. The Tigers were sitting last in the AL Central, with a 37-86 record.   
 
To make matters worse for the Tigers, they were facing their former ace, Justin Verlander, who is having another outstanding season for the Astros, and is one of the leading contenders for the AL Cy Young award. The Tigers countered with Daniel Norris, who, to put it mildly, is not in the mix for the Cy Young award.
 
The game gained a lot of national attention for the fact that the Astros were listed by Las Vegas as the heaviest betting favorites in at least the last 15 years.   The most common figure I saw was that the Astros were listed as -550 favorites, meaning that a bettor would have to wager $5.50 on the Astros in order to win $1. 
 
As anticipated, Verlander was outstanding in the game, as he threw a complete game two-hitter, struck out 11, didn’t walk a batter, and threw 75 of his 99 pitches for strikes. Baseball being what it is, though, the Astros lost 2-1, as the two hits Verlander did allow were both solo home runs (one by Ronny Rodriguez, the other by John Hicks, both of who had batting averages in the low .200’s).
 
In our Bill James Online Reader Posts, BJOL member MarisFan61 initiated a thread after the Verlander outing with the observation that it was reminiscent to some degree of a game pitched by Steve Carlton in 1969. On September 15 of that year, Carlton struck out 19 Mets, but yielded a pair of 2-run homers to Ron Swoboda, and lost 4-3.
 
That got me thinking in a broader context about great outings by pitchers that nevertheless resulted in a loss. Where does Verlander’s effort rank in the annals of such games?
 
The Approach
 
I decided to use the Play Index on Baseball-reference.com to investigate great pitching efforts in losses. I decided to primarily leverage Game Scores, although I’ll also look at a few other angles.
 
As a Bill James reader, you’re likely familiar with the concept of a pitcher’s Game Score (Tom Tango also has version), but just to define it quickly…..a Game Score summarizes, in a single integer, the relative strength of a starting pitcher’s result in a given game by assigning (or subtracting) points based on his innings pitched, runs and hits allowed, walks given up, and strikeouts recorded. A Game Score of 50 is considered about average, and Game Scores in the 80’s or above are relatively high. 
 
The highest Game Scores ever recorded are ones that occurred in extra inning games. As you might already be aware, the 2 highest Game Scores of all time both occurred in the same game, the famous 1920 Boston-Brooklyn matchup that ended in a 26-inning, 1-1 tie, in which Joe Oeschger of Boston and Leon Cadore of Brooklyn both went the distance. Oeschger posted a Game Score of 153, and Cadore had a 140. 
 
Here are the pitching lines from that contest:
 
GSc = "Game Score"
BF = "Batters Faced"
 
 
Pitching
IP
H
R
ER
BB
SO
HR
BF
GSc
26
15
1
1
5
7
0
96
140
26
9
1
1
4
7
0
90
153
 
Impressive, of course, but the Game Scores are largely driven by the innings. The top 57 Game Scores of all time occurred in games where the starting pitcher went more than 9 innings. A rather large number of those (18) were in games that, like the 1920 Oeschger-Cadore matchup, ended up in ties. 
 
In fact, there are several other long-inning matchups that weren’t as long as the Oeschger-Cadore game, but were impressive nonetheless. For example, this one from August 4, 1910, between the Philadelphia A’s and the Chicago White Sox, in a matchup of 2 pretty good pitchers, that ended in a 16 inning, 0-0 tie:
 
Pitching
IP
H
R
ER
BB
SO
HR
BF
GSc
16
3
0
0
6
18
0
54
128
16
6
0
0
3
10
0
60
117
 
Walsh is the Hall of Famer of the 2 pitchers, but 1910 was Coombs’ magical year where he went 31-9 with a 1.30 ERA plus 3 more wins in the World Series to help the A’s claim the title that year. Walsh, despite leading the league with 20 losses, did nudge out Coombs for the ERA title that season with a 1.27 mark.
 
The highest game score recorded by a pitcher in 9 innings or less is the famous Kerry Wood effort in 1998 when he shut out the Astros on one hit, striking out 20 batters and not allowing any walks. Wood recorded a Game score of 105 for that effort. It was very nearly equaled in 2015 when Max Scherzer threw a gem – a no-hit, no-walk, 17 K effort in shutting out the Mets (the Mets’ lone base runner was due to an error). Scherzer’s Game Score was 104. Extremely High Game Scores virtually always result in a win….but not always. 
 
In the end, I decided to eliminate ties, and I also eliminated games where the pitcher may have pitched well but did not get tagged with the loss. So, here are some of the more interesting results I found among pitchers who pitched well, but ended up with the loss.
 
The Results
 
First, a few extra inning losing efforts that I think are worth noting. Below are the top 5 Game Scores by pitchers who pitched more than 9 innings but still took the loss. All 5 were by quality pitchers…each had at least one 20-win season in his career.
 
The highest Game Score by a pitcher who got tagged with a loss is 118 by Art Nehf. Nehf, who would become more famous later on in his career as a key member of several New Giants pennant-winning staffs, started for the Boston Braves against the Pirates on August 1, 1918. Nehf matched zeros with the Pirates pitchers (first Erskine Mayer, who was then relieved by Wilbur Cooper in the 16th) for 20 innings. In the top of the 21st, though, Nehf yielded 2 runs to take the loss.
 
Nehf’s pitching line courtesy of Baseball-reference.com:
 
Pitching
IP
H
R
ER
BB
SO
HR
BF
GSc
Art Nehf, L (13-12)
21
12
2
2
5
8
0
77
118
 
Four years, earlier, Babe Adams of the Pirates had a game somewhat similar to Nehf’s. On July 17, 1914, Adams dueled with Rube Marquard of the Giants in a 21-inning affair where both pitchers went the distance. The game was tied 1-1 after 3 innings, and stayed that way until the Giants tallied 2 runs in the top of the 21st.
 
Pitching
IP
H
R
ER
BB
SO
HR
BF
GSc
Babe Adams, L (7-10)
21
12
3
3
0
6
1
75
117
 
On May 18, 1918, the Chicago White Sox and the Washington Senators hooked up in a scoreless tie for 17 innings before the Senators scored in the bottom of the 18th. Again (as was common in a lot of these games from that era), both pitchers went the distance. The legendary Walter Johnson ended up with the win for the Senators. The hard-luck loss went to future disgraced "Black Sox" conspirator Lefty Williams.   His line is below:
 
Pitching
IP
H
R
ER
BB
SO
HR
BF
GSc
17.1
8
1
1
2
3
0
63
109
 
 
I’m willing to bet that when the topic of "great games in which a pitcher took the loss" was mentioned, Harvey Haddix and his "perfect game" came to your mind. Probably still one of the most famous pitching efforts ever, Haddix, who came over in a big offseason trade from the Reds (along with Don Hoak and Smoky Burgess), pitched 12 perfect innings against the Milwaukee Braves on May 26, 1959.
 
However, it came apart in the fateful 13th in one of the more bizarre endings you’ll see. After an error by Hoak ended the perfect game, Eddie Mathews laid down a sacrifice bunt, Hank Aaron was intentionally waked, and then Joe Adcock ended the game with (seemingly) a home run over the outfield fence, that ended up not officially counting as a home run at all.
 
Here’s the way Baseball-reference.com summarizes that final, unusual play:
 
Double to CF (Deep CF-RF);
 
Mantilla Scores/unER;
 
Aaron to 3B; Adcock out at 2B/SS; Joe Adcock hit the ball into the right center stands for a homerun, but was declared out for passing Henry Aaron between 2B and 3B;
 
Aaron thought the ball had landed inside the fence;
 
1B Umpire Frank Dascoli ruled the final score was 2 to 0 but was overruled by NL President Warren Giles who said that since it was only a double, then only one run was needed to win the game;
 
Just your standard ending to your standard ball game….
 
The final pitching line for Haddix:
Pitching
IP
H
R
ER
BB
SO
HR
BF
GSc
Harvey Haddix, L (4-3)
12.2
1
1
0
1
8
0
40
107
 
Finally, there was a spectacular effort put forth by Jim Maloney of the Reds on June 14, 1965 against the Mets. Maloney’s final line is below:
 
Pitching
IP
H
R
ER
BB
SO
HR
BF
GSc
Jim Maloney, L (5-3)
11
2
1
1
1
18
1
35
106
 
What you may know about this game is that Maloney had a no-hitter through 9 innings. In fact, he had a no-hitter through 10 innings. However, Frank Lary (8 innings) and Larry Bearnarth combined to keep the Reds off the scoreboard. Maloney finally surrendered a home run to Johnny Lewis in the 11th (as well as giving up a second hit), finally losing the game 1-0.   Although this game is not recognized as a no-hitter, Maloney went on to throw 2 no-hitters (one in 10 innings) in his career.
 
There are many other Game Scores of 100 or more in which a pitcher took the loss, and the list includes some big names, including Hall of Famers Juan Marichal, Warren Spahn, and Eddie Plank (twice). There are 3 more with scores of 99, and they’re all Hall of Famers (Spahn, Pete Alexander, and Nolan Ryan).
 
More Results – 9 Innings or Less)
 
OK…so those efforts and high Game Scores in losses were acquired in extra inning games. What about if we limit it to 9 innings or less?
 
Let’s cut to the chase. The highest Game Score by a losing pitcher in 9 innings or less occurred on October 2, 2012, when Tampa Bay hosted the Orioles near the end of the season. Four Orioles pitchers combined to shut out the Rays, while James Shields posted the following line for Tampa.
 
 
IP
H
R
ER
BB
SO
HR
BF
GSc
9
2
1
1
0
15
1
29
94
 
Shields yielded a 4th inning home run to Chris Davis, and gave up a single to Nate McLouth in the 6th inning….and that was basically it. But it was enough for the Orioles to prevail 1-0.
 
 
The second highest on the 9 inning list is a fairly famous start. On April 23, 1964, the Houston Colt .45’s hosted the Reds. Joe Nuxhall of the Reds and Ken Johnson battled in a scoreless tie for 8 innings before the Reds scrapped for a run in the top of the 9tth by leveraging a couple of Houston errors, eventually prevailing 1-0.
 
Johnson’s final pitching line is below:
 
 
IP
H
R
ER
BB
SO
HR
BF
GSc
9
0
1
0
2
9
0
31
92
 
There have been many bizarre no-hit situations…..we’ve had a pitcher combining with another pitcher to throw a no-hitter in a loss (like Steve Barber/Stu Miller in 1967), or a pitcher who threw an official no-hitter and took the loss in less than 9 innings (Matt Young 1992, Andy Hawkins 1990), and a pitcher that threw a 9-inning no-hitter but then his reliever got the win in the 10th inning (Francicso Cordova/Ricardo Rincon in 1997)….but this one remains the only instance where a pitcher threw an official, 9 inning no-hitter and also took the loss.  The Barber, Young, and Hawkins games all shared a common trait in that pitcher gave up a lot of walks – 5 for Hawkins, 7 for Young, and 10(!) for Barber.
 
 
This next one may have been the toughest loss of all. August 23, 2017, LA Dodgers at Pittsburgh. Rich Hill had a perfect game through 8 innings, and a no-hitter through 9 (with the only baserunner for the Pirates getting on via an error). However, Josh Harrison led off the bottom of the 10th by taking Hill deep, and that was the game.
 
Hill’s line:
 
 
 
IP
H
R
ER
BB
SO
HR
BF
GSc
9
1
1
1
0
10
1
29
91
 
Wrapping it Up
 
So, where does Verlander’s effort fall? Well, here’s the list of the top 25 Game Scores (maximum of 9 innnings pitched) in which the pitcher was tagged with the loss. (Note that Ed Walsh is on here 3 times).
 
Player
Date
Tm
Opp
Rslt
IP
H
R
ER
BB
SO
HR
GSc
James Shields
10/2/2012
TBR
BAL
L 0-1
9
2
1
1
0
15
1
94
Ken Johnson
4/23/1964
HOU
CIN
L 0-1
9
0
1
0
2
9
0
92
Rich Hill
8/23/2017
LAD
PIT
L 0-1
9
1
1
1
0
10
1
91
Ed Walsh
9/13/1910
CHW
SLB
L 0-1
9
3
1
0
1
13
0
91
Kevin Appier
7/27/1993
KCR
TEX
L 0-1
9
1
1
1
1
11
1
91
Bob Sebra
7/1/1987
MON
CHC
L 0-1
9
3
1
1
1
14
1
90
Sam McDowell
7/6/1968
CLE
CAL
L 0-2
9
3
2
0
2
14
0
89
Warren Spahn
6/23/1953
MLN
PIT
L 0-1
9
2
1
1
3
12
0
88
Fernando Valenzuela
4/28/1985
LAD
SDP
L 0-1
9
2
1
1
1
10
1
88
Pedro Martinez
5/6/2000
BOS
TBD
L 0-1
9
6
1
1
1
17
0
87
Floyd Youmans
9/27/1986
MON
PHI
L 0-1
9
2
1
1
7
15
0
87
Jim Scott
6/22/1913
CHW
SLB
L 0-2
9
5
2
0
1
15
0
87
David Price
8/21/2014
DET
TBR
L 0-1
8
1
1
0
0
9
0
87
Rudy May
6/9/1973
CAL
MIL
L 0-1
9
2
1
1
1
9
1
87
Ed Walsh
10/2/1908
CHW
CLE
L 0-1
8
4
1
0
1
15
0
86
Pete Smith
4/15/1989
ATL
SFG
L 0-1
8
3
1
0
1
13
0
86
Stephen Strasburg
7/24/2013
WSN
PIT
L 2-4
8
2
1
1
0
12
1
86
Justin Verlander
8/21/2019
HOU
DET
L 1-2
9
2
2
2
0
11
2
86
Bill Singer
5/31/1975
CAL
BAL
L 0-1
9
3
1
1
1
10
1
86
Doc White
8/13/1910
CHW
NYY
L 0-1
9
3
1
0
3
10
0
86
Ed Walsh
6/10/1910
CHW
WSH
L 0-1
9
3
1
0
1
8
0
86
Jim Bouton
9/16/1966
NYY
MIN
L 1-2
9
2
2
0
0
7
0
86
Bill Burns
5/25/1908
WSH
DET
L 0-1
9
3
1
0
0
7
0
86
Andy Hassler
9/8/1974
CAL
CHW
L 0-1
9
1
1
0
3
6
0
86
Ed Brandt
9/7/1930
BSN
PHI
L 0-1
9
2
1
0
1
6
0
86
 
Verlander is in an 11-way tie for 15th, but he is also the only one on the list of the top 25 to give up 2 earned runs. So, you could make a claim that Verlander’s pitching effort was the greatest ever posted by a pitcher who got hung with a loss while giving up 2 or more earned runs. Although that is a bit of a mouthful…..
 
And what about the 19-strikeout Carlton game? Well, it’s nowhere to be found on the lists generated by this methodology because Carlton gave up 9 hits and 4 earned runs, so his Game Score was only 70, but it still does hold a distinction as being tied for the most strikeouts by a pitcher in a 9-inning loss, sharing that spot with another all-time great lefty, Randy Johnson, who struck out 19 in a 9-inning losing effort for the Mariners against the A’s in 1997.
 
If I had to choose one "greatest" loss ever? Well, I’m a sentimental type….I gotta stick with Haddix.
 
Hope you enjoyed reading.
 
Dan 
 
 

COMMENTS (5 Comments, most recent shown first)

klamb819
Very funny, Dan & Steve! I guess I'll be the one to reveal what most of us know: that Haddix pitched for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1959. (And also in 1960, when Mazeroski made him the winning pitcher in Game 7 of the World Series.) As always, Dan, you've picked an interesting topic and executed it masterfully.

One other game is worth mentioning, even though the losing pitcher isn't on Dan's list because he pitched 10 innings. The Cubs' Hippo Vaughn and the Reds' Fred Toney held each other's teams hitless for nine innings on May 2, 1917, at Weeghman Park, which would be renamed Wrigley Field 10 years later. Vaughn retired the Reds' first batter in the 10th, but then gave up two hits and a run. Toney completed his no-hitter and 1-0 victory in the bottom of the 10th. Toney's Game Score was 93, but Vaughn had a 94 for his losing effort because he struck out 10 — a stupendous total in 1917, when the NL's 9-inning average was 3.6. And since Vaughn gave up a run and two hits in the 10th, his 9-inning Game Score would have been well above 94.

When I tried unsuccessfully to find the single-game strikeout record in 1917, I did find this: Eight pitchers were charged with losses after pitching at least 20 innings from 1905 through '29. Four others pitched that long without a decision. Well, three actually. We know Joe Oeschger and Leon Cadore each pitched all 26 innings in a 1-1 tie on May 1, 1920. Did anyone else know that Oeschger and Burleigh Grimes each pitched a 20-inning complete game almost exactly one year earlier? The score was 9-9. It was 6-6 for 10 innings after Brooklyn scored in the top of the 9th. The Robins apparently won the game when Hi Myers hit a three-run homer in the top of the 19th, but the Phillies scored once on an error, two hits and a walk, loading the bases for 38-year-old pinch hitter Gavvy Cravath, who was 5 for 6 with a walk and 3 doubles through the Phillies' first five games. Cravath doubled once again. Two runs scored easily, and Irish Meusel rounded third with the Phillies' winning run. It's hard to say what happened to Meusel after that. Maybe he took too wide a turn at third, or maybe he fell down, or maybe Shibe Park's spacious right field forced the Robins into an unusual relay system. Whatever, Meusel was out at home: 9-3-5-2.

Oeschger was traded twice in the 1919 season, from the Phillies to the Giants to the Boston Braves, for whom he pitched his second marathon game, both against the Brooklyn Robins. I learned this at this fascinating Retrosheet page of single-game records and consecutive-game streaks: https://www.retrosheet.org/boxesetc/MISC/XOP.htm.
Did you know that Gaylord Perry had two scoreless-inning streaks of exactly 40 innings? In 1967 and '70, both late in the season — after he had already pitched 215 innings in '67 and 269 in 1970.
.... Or that the single-game record for balks is FIVE? By the Braves' Bob Shaw against the Cubs on May 4, 1963, pitching 4-1/3 innings. Shaw had 1 balk in 970 innings before that season, but he already had 3 in his first 25 innings in 1963. He had particular trouble on his record-setting day with Billy Williams, who finished the '63 season with 7 steals in 13 attempts. But Shaw balked him to second in the 1st inning, and his three balks in the 3rd moved Williams from first to home. The umpires looked like a World Series crew. Al Barlick, behind the plate, had actually umpired in two of the past five World Series, and Doug Harvey at second base was nicknamed "God." Ed Vargo at first base and 6-foot-6-inch Lee Weyer at third were just beginning careers that each would include four World Series. These guys weren't Angel Hernandez or Bob Davidson, looking for attention. Shaw apparently had developed some sort of illegal tic in his stretch delivery, and five in one game forced him to correct it. Shaw pitched 130 more innings that year without another balk.
4:53 AM Sep 4th
 
DMBBHF
All,

Thanks for the comments.

Steve,

Where were you when I was proofreading? Thanks a bunch..... :)

Thanks,
Dan
7:58 PM Sep 3rd
 
steve161
Excellent article, Dan, one of your best.

But I'm afraid you flunk Journalism 101 by failing to mention for whom Harvey Haddix was pitching when he lost to the Braves.
6:02 PM Sep 3rd
 
mikeclaw
Whenever I see a list like this one, I go back and look up Randy Johnson in June of 1999 when he had the following pitching lines in five straight starts:

9 5 1 1 2 14
8 7 2 2 0 17
8 4 1 1 1 12
7 3 2 1 4 11
8 6 0 0 2 8

The first four games were losses and the fifth was a no-decision. That's 40 innings, 6 runs (1 unearned), 25 hits, 9 walks and 62 strikeouts, and an 0-4 record. The first loss was Jose Jimenez's no-hitter, and the third loss was 1-0 to Jimenez again.

He finally just gave up and threw a shutout in the sixth game (9 8 0 0 0 10) and got the win.
11:24 AM Sep 3rd
 
MarisFan61
Love it, and not mainly because of that mention (which I don't mind) :-) but because I love the subject, which was why I did that thread -- and this is a real nice job.

I'm not surprised that Carlton doesn't make the list, because of the 4 runs given up.
When I did that thread, I misread his line for that game, and thought he gave up just 4 hits rather than 9 -- but even if it were just 4, he'd still be well short. (Looks to me like his game score would still have been 'only' 80.)

I'm glad you talked about some of those extra-inning games even though you weren't going to let them 'count.' I likewise consider the Haddix game my favorite -- and the best. Among other things, it was a helluva lineup he was facing.

Other pretty good extra inning performances from our kidhood:
Spahn, 15 1/3 inning complete game loss vs. Marichal, game score 93
Pierce, 16 innings, non-complete game, wound up tied, game score 100

Biggest surprise to me on this page: the Bouton game that makes the list.
It was in the midst of a season that I wouldn't have thought had any high note -- and in fact, despite the good ERA+ (123, in 120 innings), many more of his games were bad than good, but he did have several very good games, including this incredibly tough loss. He was perfect through 7, also against a helluva lineup ('66 Twins); lost it in the 9th on 2 unearned runs (he did get knocked around a bit there).
I don't recall that he mentioned this game in any of his books.
1:32 AM Sep 3rd
 
 
©2019 Be Jolly, Inc. All Rights Reserved.|Web site design and development by Americaneagle.com|Terms & Conditions|Privacy Policy