The Worst Performance by a Winning Pitcher

Matt CainOn August 20, San Francisco Giants starter Matt Cain, after an excellent seven and two-thirds innings against the Florida Marlins, left the game ahead 5-2. Giants reliever Tyler Walker got the last out in the eighth, and with the score unchanged, closer Brian Wilson came in in the top of the ninth. His job: save Cain’s victory.

But Wilson gave up a lead-off double, retired the next two batters, and then gave up a single and a three-run homer to tie the game.

Brian WilsonThe Giants scored a run in the bottom of the ninth to win 6-5, and by the scoring rules Wilson got the win. What the—?

He pitched a truly lousy one-half inning and gave up three runs, thereby yanking a win out of Cain’s pocket…and although Wilson had nothing at all to do with the winning run, he got the win.

As a kid, I was a baseball rulebook nerd.  I know the rubric for determining winning pitchers:

• Credit the starting pitcher with a game won only if he has pitched at least five complete innings and his team not only is in the lead when he is replaced but remains in the lead the remainder of the game.
• The “must pitch five complete innings” rule in respect to the starting pitcher shall be in effect for all games of six or more innings. In a five-inning game, credit the starting pitcher with a game won if he has pitched at least four complete innings and his team not only is in the lead when he is replaced but remains in the lead the remainder of the game.
• When the starting pitcher cannot be credited with the victory because of the above provisions and more than one relief pitcher is used, the victory shall be awarded on the following basis:
—When, during the tenure of the starting pitcher, the winning team assumes the lead and maintains it to the finish of the game, credit the victory to the relief pitcher judged by the scorer to have been the most effective.
—The winning relief pitcher shall be the one who is the pitcher of record when his team assumes the lead and maintains it to the finish of the game.
—Exception: Do not credit a victory to a relief pitcher who is ineffective in a brief appearance, when a succeeding relief pitcher pitches effectively in helping his team maintain the lead. This pitcher will be credited with a save, the original succeeding relief pitcher with the rules

This was one of those times where the official scorer (a sportswriter “honored” with the authority) should have expanded his “exception” discretion by giving Tyler Walker’s one-batter-faced/one-batter-out the win. Yeah, I know Walker was not a “succeeding” relief pitcher, but come on! There comes a time when even factotums like official scorers must protest.

At least Wilson was tagged with a blown save.

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One Comment on “The Worst Performance by a Winning Pitcher

  1. Bottom line – the scorer scored it correctly according to the quoted rules.

    According to the rules, Cain was not eligible for the win, and neither was Walker. Since Cain only got a no decision, that isn’t really a negative. A closer is never judged by wins, only saves/blown saves, so Wilson gets his penance. Walker never deserved the win. And because offense is out of the pitcher’s hands, most agree that ERA is the only meaningful pitcher stat, and that is okay for Cain in this scenario. So I don’t disagree with the scoring.

    If judgment is introduced in these things, then I give you the following scenario which I think is even more lopsided:

    Cain pitches 3 innings, gives up 1 run, leaves with the bases loaded, no outs in 4th, Walker gets 3 outs, no runs score. Cain is pitcher of record, gave up 1 run. Giants haven’t scored.

    (Mets 1, Giants 0)

    Walker finishes the rest of the game, and gives up 9 runs. Meanwhile Giants also score 9 runs, but never tie or lead the game.

    Final: Mets 10, Giants 9.
    Losing pitcher Cain. 3 ERA.
    Walker gets no decision with 13 ERA.

    Give up 1 run in 3 innings, lose.
    Give up 9 runs in 6 innings, nd.

    The only reason this happens is the timing of the Giants scoring their runs, which is out of the pitchers’ control. Either one concurs with “pitcher of record” mentality or not.

    Note that I’m not disagreeing with your frustration about the apparent injustice.

    Great 2-part column in today’s Chronicle by Bruce Jenkins about the degeneration of pitching:

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