Unlikely no-run starts in pennant races

The Cubs have had some highly unexpected pitching performances during their long history.

Fans of a certain age still fondly remember when Ryan O'Malley was summoned to Houston to make an emergency start in 2006 and shut out the Astros for 8 innings, despite allowing 5 hits and walking 6.

That earned him another start, 6 days later, in which he lasted 4.2 innings and gave up 3 runs on 5 hits and a walk.

He never pitched another big league game.


Better-known pitchers with high earned run averages many times have suddenly held opposing teams scoreless in a particular game.

That's what happened Friday, when Jameson Taillon had an ERA of 5.27 before taking the mound against the Rockies. It was 5.05 after he threw 6 shutout innings, in which he allowed 4 hits, walked 4 and struck out 7.


Taillon's start was the 1,533rd since 1901 in which a Cubs starter exited after at least 6 innings without yielding a run.

251 different pitchers have done it, 75 of them exactly once.

315 of those starts have come in September (287) or October (18)

But Taillon's turnaround was unusual, in that it came with the Cubs in contention for a Wild Card berth.

I looked at every season in which the Cubs won at least 90 games, or finished first or second with a lesser total.

I found only 6 previous no-run starts by unlikely pitchers in the closing months of those seasons, and just 2 in the last 85 years.

Following, in chronological order, is a look at each of those surprising performances.




The Cubs (71-48) were 1 game behind the co-leader Giants and Pirates when Manager Frank Chance called upon Charles Carlton "Chick" Fraser on a Wednesday afternoon at the West Side Grounds.

The Cardinals (43-74) were in last place, but had shocked the Cubs the previous day by scoring 3 runs in the ninth to tie the game, then tallying another in the 10th to win, 5-4.

Fraser, a native of Chicago, was a right hander. He had turned 35 a week earlier.

He had not started a game since July 6. His record was 10-8 and he had allowed 4.08 runs per game; earned runs were not officially recorded until 1920.

"Fraser was stingier than a carload of misers," I. E. Sanborn wrote in the next day's Chicago Tribune, "letting the Cardinals down with three hits, only two of which passed the infield.

"This performance was sufficient to blank the foe without a run, although a couple of passes figured with a square muff by J. [Johnny] Evers to produce a fine opening for St. Louis in one round, and the juxtaposition of two of the three hits off 'Chick' at the start of another inning promised to eventuate in at least one run.

"But both of these near-run episodes came off toward the finish, after Chicago had grabbed a lead of eight.

"For six innings Fraser had the enemy so groggy it was helpless. In that time only the necessary eighteen batsmen -- three to an inning -- faced him."

Fraser faced 33 batters in all. He struck out 5.


He started again 5 days later, in the morning game of a Labor Day doubleheader at home.

"The a.m. doings in which Mr. Fraser officiated are almost unfit for publication in a great family journal," Charles Dryden declared in the Tribune. "In five rounds the Reds compiled four runs without the semblance of a swat.

"Bases on balls and the blighting faux pas [i.e., errors] were the potent factors. Charles Cooper [sic] Fraser finally got so bad they unhitched him and hooked up Mr. [Rube] Kroh, who is said to be a bird when he gets started."

Fraser walked 6 before exiting the game, which the Cubs lost, 6-0.

He made only one subsequent appearance before the season ended, pitching the final 4 innings of a 16-2 romp over the Reds at Cincinnati on Oct. 3.

The next day, the Cubs beat the Pirates, 5-2, to eliminate Pittsburgh from the pennant chase. Then the Cubs journeyed to New York on Oct. 8 and defeated the Giants, 4-2, in the replay of the "Merkle's Boner" tie, to claim the title.


Fraser pitched just once in 1909, giving up a run on 2 hits and 4 walks in 3 innings of relief at home against the Pirates.

It was his 434th and last career game, including 388 starts, of which he completed 342, 22 of them shutouts.

His final record was 175-212. In 3 years as a Cub, he was 19-14.

Fraser sat out 1910, then appeared in 26 games the next 2 years for minor league teams in New Orleans and Decatur, Ill., before retiring at age 38.

He was 66 when he died in 1940.




The notes accompanying Sanborn's account of Fraser's shutout ended with this:

"President [Charles] Murphy announced yesterday the purchase of Pitcher [Andy] Coakley from the Cincinnati club. . . . Coakley is the Holy Cross college graduate who was a member of the Philadelphia Athletics staff until two years ago, when he was released and signed by Cincinnati, where he has pitched well considering his surroundings. This year Coakley's record with a second division team is eleven victories and eighteen defeats. He is expected to join the Cubs at once."

Indeed, 4 days after that item appeared in print, the 26-year-old right hander started against the Reds, in Game 2 of the Labor Day doubleheader.


"Visibly refreshed by midday eats and drinks, the folks came back for the matinee, which was much better," wrote Dryden.

"Coakley was master of the job throughout and the Cubs stood by him in all the trying situations."

The Cubs took a 1-0 lead into the fourth.

"In that round [Bob] Bescher breezed [i.e., struck out] in his artless Dayton, O., way, but [Dick] Hoblitzell spanked a triple to center.

"[Mike] Mowrey walked and stole and A.J. Coakley seemed to be up against it. The bugs waited anxiously to see what Andy would do, and he showed them.

"He put [John] Kane down on three strike and [Admiral] Schiel boosted a fly that would have tied the count had Kane hit it. But was where Andy's system came in."

The Cubs added 2 runs in their half, making the score 3-0.


"In the sixth, Coakley again displayed his system," Dryden said.

"[Hans] Lobert led with a hit. Evers made a gorgeous one hand stop of Bescher's drive near the bag and forced the F. T. A.

"Hoblitzell whaled a safety to right and both runners advanced on the return. Mowrey walked, filling the bases.

"Kane popped a foul to [third baseman Harry] Steinfeldt, and Schiel lined to [shortstop Joe]Tinker. Loud Labor Day huzzas lasting some minutes.

"That was the final hole Andy was obliged to crawl out. The Reds had given him two opportunities to display his class and nerve and Andy was satisfied if they were."


Coakley gave up 4 hits in his shutout. He walked 4 and struck out 6.

The victory kept the Cubs 2 games behind the first-place Giants, who also split a holiday doubleheader.

The Pirates won twice, to close to within half a game of the lead.


Coakley lasted just 1.1 inning at St. Louis 5 days later, allowing 2 runs on 4 hits and a walk.

On Sept. 21, at Philadelphia, he went the distance in a 2-run, 5-hit, 1-walk victory.

A scoreless inning in relief at New York 3 days after that proved to be his final appearance of the season.

In 1909, he started on May 3 at home against the Pirates and surrendered 7 runs on 7 hits and 3 walks in 2 innings.

That was his final game as a Cub.


Coakley did not pitch in 1910. He joined the Yankees in 1911, and in 2 games, during 11.2 innings, gave up 13 runs on 20 hits and 2 walks.

He appeared in 39 games in 1913 and 1914 for teams in Jersey City and Bloomfield-Long Branch/Asbury Park, N.J., then retired. He was 31.

In 9 big league seasons, Coakley was 58-59, including 2-1 in his 5 games over 2 seasons with the Cubs.

He died in 1963, at age 80.


SEPT 9, 1928: GUY BUSH


"The Mississippi Mudcat," a 27-year-old righty, had started only 3 games sine July 29. In the most recent, Aug. 25 against Boston, he has lasted just 3.2 innings, giving up 2 runs on 4 hits and 5 walks.

He had blown a save at Pittsburgh 4 days earlier by yielding 3 runs, 1 earned, on 4 hits in 1.1 innings.

The Cubs went into the Sunday game at Wrigley Field with a record of 79-57, good for second place, 3.5 games behind the Cardinals (81-52).

As a throng estimated at 41,000 looked on, Bush held the Reds to 2 singles and 2 walks. Only 2 runners advanced as far as second base.

When the first do so, after 1-out a single and groundout in the second inning, Bush got the next batter to bounce back to the mound.

The second came in the ninth, following a leadoff walk, a forceout and a grounder to the first baseman. A third-to-first groundout then ended the game.


"Guy Bush, for two months a bullpen derelict, returned yesterday to the ranks of the winning men," Irving Vaughan wrote in the Tribune. "And in his return he and the other Cubs walked over the Reds with a two-hit, 2 to 0 triumph that will go into the books as the best battle pitched by the bronzed Mississippian in his few years of big league service."


Bush made 3 more starts in 1928.

The first was a 1-run, 4-hit complete game.

In the next 2, he gave up 6 and 5 runs, on 10 and 14 hits, in 8 and 8.1 innings, but won them both, to end the season 15-6, with a 3.88 ERA.

The Cubs wound up third, at 91-63, trailing the Cardinals by 4 games and the Giants by 2.


Bush became a mainstay of the Cubs' rotation through the next 6 years, going 106-58 with a 3.96 ERA in 256 games, 168 of them starts. He completed 93 of them, including 9 shutouts.

He pitched less effectively for the Pirates, Braves and Cardinals, in 1935-38, then badly (8.31 ERA) in 4 games with the Reds in 1945, at age 43.

His final record was 176-136, with a 3.86 ERA. As a Cub, he was 152-101, 3.81.

Bush was 83 when he died in 1985.




The Cubs were 89-60 and in second place, 4 games behind the Giants, when the 25-year-old righty made his first start in 2 weeks and just his third since the third week of August.

The game was played in front of 612 spectators and lasted all of 1 hour and 35 minutes.


"Bryant's performance was replete with class," Vaughan said in the Tribune, "even though the Reds acted suspiciously like fellows who want to get it away from it all.

"Bryant, who will some day attain the heights if he learns to master control, surrendered three [actually 2] hits, but one of the trio was erased by errant base running.

"Just to avoid being termed miserly, he tossed in four passes. Only one of those walks was mixed with a hit, thus giving the Reds one inning in which they had more than one man on base"

The only runs of the game came in the fifth. After a 1-out single and bunt, Bryant tripled, then came home on an infield hit.


In Bryant's final start of the year, 5 days later, he held the Cardinals to 1 run on 5 hits in 4 innings. He got no decision to end the season 9-3, with a 4.20 ERA.

Bryant helped the Cubs win the pennant in 1938 by going 19-11, with a 3.10 ERA. In 270.1 innings, he walked 125 and struck out 135, to lead the league in both categories.

But he was just 2-1, 5.74, in 4 games in 1939 and 0-1, 4.78, in 8 games in 1940, his last season.

He pitched 22 times in 1941-42 for farm clubs of the Cubs, then in 2 games in 1946 for a Class D affiliate of the Dodgers.

He was 34 when he called it quits, with a big league record of 32-20 and an ERA of 3.73 in 129 games. He completed 23 of 44 starts, with 7 shutouts.

Bryant died in 1999, at age 87.




This was undoubtedly the most surprising of the late-season surprises.

Estes, a 30-year-old lefty, had enjoyed success as a Giant in 1995-2001, going 64-50, including 19-5 in 1997 and 15-6 in 2000.

But he had gone 5-12, with a 5.10 ERA, while splitting 2002 between the Mets and Reds.


His struggles had continued in his first season as a Cub, beginning with his debut, in which he surrendered 8 runs (4 earned) on 8 hits, including 2 homers, and 4 walks.

He lowered his ERA to 3.50 after allowing 1 run on 5 hits and a walk in his third start, on April 15.

It rose to 5.14 following his next outing: 3 innings, 7 runs (5 earned) on 7 hits and walks.

It was never lower than 4.88 after that, and was 6.06 after he yielded 5 runs, all earned, on 9 hits and 3 walks in 5 innings on Sept. 4.

The Cubs rallied to win that game, 7-6, making them 73-67, half a game behind the Astros in the Central Division.


Estes did not pitch again for 15 days, until Sept. 19, in relief at Pittsburgh. He got 2 outs and gave up a run on 1 hit and 2 walks.

But with the Cubs tied for first place and 5 games left in the season, he was Dusty Baker's choice to start at Great American Ball Park.


Estes issued a 1-out walk in the first, then coaxed an around-the-horn double play.

Given a 1-0 lead in the top of the second, he shrugged off a 1-out walk in the bottom.

The Cubs then erupted for 6 runs in the third, on a leadoff homer by Sammy Sosa, a bases-loaded 3-run double by Paul Bako and a 2-run double by Mark Grudzielanek.

Estes set down 7 in a row before yielding back-to-back singles in the fifth. A lineout and a called third strike kept the shutout intact.

He retired the next 9, too. The Reds opened the ninth with a single and a 4-pitch walk before he got a fly ball, a groundout and another fly ball to wrap up his 4-hit, 2-walk, 5-strikeout masterpiece.


"Estes credited Baker for ignoring the critics and giving him one more chance to prove himself," Paul Sullivan wrote in the Tribune.

" 'That's one of the major reasons I came here, because I knew Dusty would be in my corner,' Estes said. 'I know it hasn't always been a popular decision, but hopefully this will do some things and put some people to rest.' "


Estes rested the rest of the season, as the Cubs lost the series finale at Cincinnati on Thursday, were rained out at home on Friday, then beat the Pirates twice on Saturday to clinch the division title.

He finished the year 8-11, with a 5.73 ERA.

He did not pitch in the playoffs, then signed with Colorado as a free agent.

He went 15-8, 5.84, for the Rockies in 2004, followed by 7-8, 4.80, for the Diamondbacks in 2005 and 2-4, 4.71, for the Padres in 2006 and 2008.

His final record was 101-93, 4.71.


SEPT. 13, 2020: ALEC MILLS


Mills, a 29-year-old righty, took a 4-3 record and 4.74 ERA into the game at Milwaukee.

His ERA had been 5.50 before his previous start, 6 shutout innings at home against the Royals, in which he gave up 4 hits and walked 3 while throwing 102 pitches.

He walked 3 Brewers, too -- but no-hit them, on 114 pitches.

The victory, combined with a loss by the Cardinals, put the Cubs in front in the division by 4 games with 12 to go. They won it by 3 over the Cards and Reds.


Mills lost both of his subsequent starts, giving up 4 runs and walking 1 in each. He permitted 6 hits, 2 of them homers, in 6 innings, then 8 hits, including 3 homers in 3.2 innings.

He finished the season 5-5, with a 4.48 ERA.

He started 2021 as a reliever before starting again beginning in mid-June. He wound up 6-7, 5.07.

Last year, slowed by injuries, Mills relieved 5 times in June, then gave up 5 runs on 6 hits, 3 of them homers, in 2.2 innings in his first start.

In his second, he departed after 2 batters with a strained back. He went on the Injury List and did not pitch for the Cubs again.

Mills appeared in 1 game for the Reds this season, on July 1. In 1 inning, he surrendered 5 runs (2 earned) on 4 hits, 1 a homer, and 1 walk.

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