This Date in Pirates History: September 5

Five former Pittsburgh Pirates players were born on this date, including a star pitcher for the 1909 World Series winning team and one that played for the franchise during it’s American Association days. If you missed it from earlier, Pirates all-time great Bill Mazeroski, got his own article on this here, his 76th birthday.  In his Jolly Roger Rewind, John Fredland recaps a big doubleheader from the latter stages of the 1990 season. Before I get to the former Pirates players, we have a current player born on this date. Catcher Rod Barajas turns 37 today. He is in his 14th season in the majors, now playing for his seventh different team. He signed with the Pirates as a free agent this past November, after hitting .230 with 16 homers and 47 RBI’s for the Dodgers during the 2011 season. He currently has a .199 average with nine homers and 24 RBI’s in 89 games.

Lefty Leifield (1883) Pitcher for the Pirates from 1905 until 1912. Before making it to the majors with the Pirates, Albert “Lefty” Leifield was a workhorse pitcher for Des Moines of the Western League. He pitched 616 innings between the 1904-05 seasons, finishing his second year with a 26-9 2.11 record in 39 games. He made his debut with the Pirates on September 3,1905, throwing a three hit shutout in the second game of a doubleheader against the Cubs. Before the season ended, he has compiled a 5-2 2.89 record, giving him 31 wins on the season. He became a regular in the Pirates rotation the next season, a spot he would hold for six straight years. During that 1906 season, Leifield went 18-13 with a 1.87 ERA in 31 starts and six relief appearances. He record that season actually looks like he had some tough luck behind him, as teammate Sam Leever went 22-7 with a 2.42 ERA. On September 26,1906, Lefty threw the first no-hitter in team history, a six-inning contest called due to darkness, during the second game of a doubleheader. He finished the season with eight shutouts.

In 1907, Lefty won twenty games for the only time in his career. He made 33 starts and seven relief appearances, throwing a total of 286 innings. He had a 2.33 ERA and threw six shutouts. Leifield seemed to have tough luck follow him with the Pirates, especially in 1908, when he had a 15-14 record. His ERA was just 2.10 and the Pirates won 98 games that year. Teammate Nick Maddox went 23-8 with a 2.28 ERA, while Sam Leever was 15-7 with an identical 2.10 ERA, yet for a second time in three years, his record looked much better than Lefty at the end of the season. The Pirates won their first World Series title in 1909 and Leifield was again a strong presence in the rotation, going 19-8 2.37 in 26 starts and six relief appearances. Pittsburgh had a ton of pitching depth start season, so they were able to give the better pitchers more rest than in previous years. In the World Series, Lefty started game four and was hit hard in his four innings, allowing five runs and taking the loss It was his only appearance of the seven game series.

After going 15-13 2.64 in 1910, Leifield was asked to step up in the rotation in 1911, setting career highs in starts(37), games pitched(42) and innings pitched(318), all of them team highs that season. The Pirates relied heavily on Babe Adams and Howie Camnitz as well, with the three pitchers accounting for 107 of the team’s 155 starts. Lefty finished the year 16-16 2.63, another season in which he was hurt by run support. Camnitz went 20-15 with a 3.13 ERA that same year. Part of the problem with his win/loss record over the years, was the fact he seemed to match up against the other team’s best pitcher a lot. Included in those match-ups over the years, was 17 starts from 1906-11 against Christy Mathewson, the best NL pitcher of the time and a noted Pirates killer, even during Pittsburgh’s best years.

The extra workload in 1911, seemed to have taken an effect on Leifield, who started off slow during the 1912 season. He was traded to the Chicago Cubs, along with Tommy Leach, on May 30,1912 in exchange for pitcher King Cole and outfielder Solly Hofman. Lefty went 7-2 2.242 in 13 games for Chicago after the deal. In 1913, he started off poorly, then was sold to the minor leagues. He briefly retired instead of reporting to his new team. Leifield would return to baseball a short time later, going on to play two years for San Francisco of the Pacific Coast League, then three years for St Paul of the American Association. In 1918, he returned to the major leagues with the St Louis Browns. He pitched well in limited use during the 1918-19 seasons, then was used just four times during the entire 1920 season. Lefty became a coach in the majors for awhile before retiring from baseball. He finished his career with a 124-97 2.47 record in 296 games, 216 as a starter. With the Pirates, he went 109-84 with a 2.38 ERA in 1578 innings, throwing a total of 28 shutouts. His ERA ranks third in team history, trailing two teammates from those 1907-09 teams, Nick Maddox and Vic Willis. His shutout total ranks fifth in Pirates history.

Andy Barkett (1974) First baseman/outfielder for the 2001 Pirates. He had an 11 season career in the pros, that began in 1995 in the Rangers organization. Barkett would make it to the majors with the 2001 Pirates for 17 games, from late May until late June, his only big league experience. Pittsburgh signed him as a minor league free agent in January of 2001, after he had a real down year at AAA. In 1998, he hit .314 in 80 games at AAA, then hit .308 with 76 RBI’s the next season, but Texas never called him to the show. After a slow start in 2000, he was released, signing with the Atlanta Braves the next day. He never got going for Atlanta’s AAA team in Richmond that year, finishing the season with a .233 average and a .638 OPS. The Pirates assigned him to Nashville to start 2001, where his stats weren’t much better, but when they designated reliever Don Wengert for assignment on May 28th, the called up Barkett for his big league debut. In his first AB, he line a double to deep center field off Marlins pitcher Chuck Smith. Two weeks later, he went 3-for-4, hitting his only career homer off Twins pitcher Joe Mays. Andy was sent down in late June when the Pirates recalled reliever Mike Lincoln. He would never return to the majors, finishing with a .304 average in 51 plate appearances. After he retired in 2005, he took up managing in the minors. He just finished his second season of managing Jacksonville, AA for the Marlins, after spending three years at the helm of Lakeland in the Tigers system.

Chris Green (1960) Lefty pitcher for the 1984 Pirates. He was drafted in the fourth round of the 1979 amateur draft by the Pirates. By 1981, Green looked like a prospect, going 15-7 3.08 in 27 starts for Greenwood of the South Atlantic League. The next year he split the season between High-A and AA, and looked even better. Chris went a combined 16-6 2.91 in 27 starts, striking out 166 batters in 185.2 innings. He did have control troubles each season, walking 171 batters between the two solid years. His stats really slipped off the next season, opening the year in AAA, before being sent down to AA, where he was used as a closer. Green went 0-9 5.24 in his first season of AAA in 1983, making 12 starts and one relief appearance before being sent down. He was used strictly in relief in 1984, making 13 AAA appearances, with a 5.94 ERA in 16.2 innings pitched. Before he pitched a AAA game though, he was called up to the Pirates to replace an injured Rod Scurry. Chris spent just over a month on the Pirates roster, yet he appeared in just three games, throwing a total of 2.1 innings. He was recalled in early August and this time he got into just one game over the rest of the season. He was not with the Pirates in September, getting sent down just prior to the rosters expanding. Green spent one more season at AAA for the Pirates, before moving on to the Angels system in 1986, then the Orioles organization the next year. He never played in the majors again, ending with four appearances and two runs allowed in three innings.

Jimmy Knowles (1856) First baseman for the 1884 Pittsburgh Alleghenys. He wasn’t the Opening Day first baseman for the Alleghenys on May 1,1884, but one day later he would take over the position for 46 games, before moving on to the Brooklyn Atlantics to finish the season. Knowles hit .231 for Pittsburgh in 189 plate appearances, scoring 19 runs, while drawing just five walks, leaving him with a .259 OBP. He had 12 extra base hits, which included seven triples and five doubles. With Brooklyn to finish the year, his stats were very similar over 41 games, hitting .235 with 19 runs scored and just three walks. On August 20th, he took part in a triple play, the ninth in AA history. The 1884 season was watered down as far as talent went. The Union Association was formed that year, giving baseball three major leagues at the time, while the American Association expanded to 12 teams from eight the previous year. Basically, major league baseball went from 16 teams(eight NL, eight AA) to 28 over the off-season, so it made room for a lot of players that weren’t major league ready. It was just a one year experiment though, and things returned to normal the next season.

Knowles was one of those players that returned to the minors in 1885, playing the year for the Washington Nationals of the Eastern League, where he hit .302 in 95 games. The next season the Nationals joined the National League and Jimmy remained with the team. The team was greatly over-matched all season, finishing with one of the worst records ever at 28-92, getting outscored by nearly 350 runs. Knowles hit .212 in 115 games, finishing with the sixth highest strikeout total in the league and he committed the most errors among all positions. He seemed to get jobs in the big leagues due more to needs of teams, rather than his own ability. In 1887 he played for New York of the AA, a team that went 44-89 on the season.

Then after two years in the minors, Jimmy reappeared in the majors in 1890 playing for Rochester of the AA. The 1890 season was much like the 1884 season, three major leagues with the formation of the Player’s League, and the AA was the worst of the leagues. Proof of that is evident when looking at Knowles’ stats for the season. He played 123 games, hitting .281 with 84 RBI’s and 83 runs scored, adding 55 stolen bases and 59 walks. It was far and away his best season, yet when the PL folded after one year, he was back to the minors in 1891 playing for Buffalo of the Eastern League, where he scored 115 runs in 125 games. Jimmy played 16 more major league games in 1892, playing third base for the New York Giants. He hit .153 and made ten errors during his late season trial. It ended up being his last season in the majors, leaving him with a .241 average and .618 OPS in 357 major league games. He played in the minors until 1897, serving part of that time as a player/manager for the Atlanta Crackers of the Southern Association.

Jolly Roger Rewind: September 5, 1990

Ever since the Mets paved their path to the 1986 Commissioner’s Trophy with seventeen wins in eighteen games against Jim Leyland’s first Pirate team, the Bucs seemed intent on overthrowing New York’s reign as king of the National League East playground. In 1987, three hard-fought Bucco victories in September helped to derail the Mets’ bid for a repeat crown. A year later, the Pirates went mano-a-mano with New York for divisional supremacy for most of the summer, but a stretch of ten Mets’ wins in twelve head-to-head encounters between late June and early August ultimately swung matters in favor of the men in blue and orange.

Their rivalry cooled in 1989, when a series of injuries short-circuited the Pirates and a surprising Cubs team took the division. With the advent of the new decade, however, the old foes were back: the Bucs parlayed an 18-4 spurt between mid-April and mid-May into possession of either first or second place in the NL East every day from April 20 onward, and the Mets overcame a slow start to hold first or second on every day after June 28.

The two front-runners skirmished a handful of times in the first half of the 1990 season, but from mid-June to early September they built their respective reputations and resumes through parallel campaigns of conquest. As the calendar passed Labor Day, however, the schedule eliminated any need to extrapolate or fantasize: the Mets, trailing the Pirates by a half game, arrived at Three Rivers Stadium for a three-game showdown, beginning with a twi-night doubleheader.

And the Buccos proved up to the challenge in the twinbill, suffocating New York’s potent offense with a steady dose of left-handed pitching and emerging with 1-0 and 3-1 victories.

Zane Smith, acquired from the Expos four weeks earlier for the handsome price of Moises Alou and Willie Greene, handcuffed the Mets in the opener. Before many in the enthusiastic crowd of 49,793 had settled into their seats, New York leadoff hitter Keith Miller lined Smith’s fifth pitch of the game into centerfield for a single. Those not seated at that time missed the entirety of the Mets’ safe hitting against Smith. He issued a walk to Miller two innings later, and then proceeded to retire the final nineteen batters to face him. Smith zipped through nine innings on 92 pitches, striking out seven along the way.

The Mets countered with a tough lefty of their own: Frank Viola, three seasons removed from World Series MVP and two seasons removed from the American League Cy Young Award. Viola turned in a gritty eight innings, stranding twelve runners on base and keeping the Pirates scoreless. Seeking an infusion of offense, however, Mets’ manager Bud Harrelson pinch-hit for Viola in the top of ninth, and brought bullpen ace John Franco into the game in the bottom of the frame.

Franco immediately fell into trouble when Gary Redus singled to center and catcher Charlie O’Brien threw Jay Bell’s bunt past shortstop Howard Johnson, putting runners on first and second with none out. With Andy Van Slyke batting, Leyland called for a sacrifice, and the Bucco center fielder moved the runners up. Harrelson walked Bobby Bonilla to load the bases and drew the outfield in.

Bonds had just one hit in fifteen career at-bats against the left-handed Franco, and quickly fell behind in the count 0-2. He took two balls to even the count. Franco then threw Bonds a change-up-the same pitch that had resulted in a swinging strike on the second pitch of the at-bat-but Bonds connected with the outside offering and drove the ball over left fielder Kevin McReynolds’ head for the game-winning single.

In the nightcap, the Pirates turned the scoreboard considerably earlier. Jeff King put the Bucs ahead in the top of the first with a two-out solo shot off New York starter Bob Ojeda. Two innings later, the Pirates’ second baseman and 1986 first-overall draft choice completed his first career multi-homer game with a two-run blast off Ojeda.

King’s slugging would be all of the offense that the combined forces of Neal Heaton, Bob Kipper and Ted Power would need. In the fourth inning, Darryl Strawberry briefly transcended the fans’ mocking chorus of “Darryl . . . Darryl” with a solo home run off Heaton, producing the only run that the Mets would manage in eighteen innings that night. After Heaton’s five-inning outing, Kipper allowed Mets’ baserunners in the sixth, seventh and eighth frames, but pitched out of the first two jams on his own and turned the ball over to Power to get out of the third.

When Power retired former Bucco Mackey Sasser on a ground out to end New York’s ninth, the Pirates had a two and a half game lead in the divisional race with twenty-six games remaining. The Bucs’ magic number-a phrase missing from Pittsburgh’s September baseball discourse for the previous eleven years-stood at twenty-four.

“I think the key is to enjoy this-two excellent baseball games-and go on from there,” Leyland told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette afterwards. “It was a good night for us. Sweeping the New York Mets is a pretty good feat, but we can’t get carried away. There’s no significance here about the rest of the season. It was a good night for Pittsburgh. It was two excellent clubs going at each other. We were fortunate to win both games. But tomorrow is a new day.”

Leyland’s attempt to contain expectations notwithstanding, the Pirates’ quest to overtake the Mets appeared, at long last, on the verge of success.

Game One box score and play-by-play

Game Two box score and play-by-play

The Pittsburgh Press game story

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