Be a Belieber! Bieber’s Latest Performance Unseen Since Tiant in 1968
Vince Guerrieri | On 22, May 2019
But Shane Bieber makes it all right for a little while. In a little over a year since his debut (pressed into service in a doubleheader against the Blue Jays), he’s done just about everything that could be asked of him.
He became the first pitcher to strike out at least six batters in his first three starts since Luis Tiant in 1964, and after his last outing Sunday afternoon, the comparisons came again to El Tiante. Bieber went the distance in a win over the Orioles, who despite their best efforts to the contrary, remain a major league team. Bieber struck out fifteen and didn’t give up a walk, becoming the first Indians pitcher to do that since … Luis Tiant, who struck out 19 in a 10-inning win over the Twins at Cleveland Stadium in 1968.
That year’s Twins, like the Orioles, were going nowhere fast (although the Orioles appear to be striving for nearly historic ineptitude). But while Bieber was staked to an early lead Sunday on the way to a 10-0 rout, Tiant needed every out he could get, as the Indians were only able to scratch out two hits in nine innings.
After nine innings, Tiant had a total of 16 strikeouts – one off the team record for a nine-inning game, set by Bob Feller in 1938 (and later tied by Corey Kluber in 2015). Feller set the mark in the first game of a doubleheader on the last day of the season – and ended up losing the game, walking seven as the Indians could muster only one run. And it seemed like Tiant was doomed to the same fate, giving up a leadoff double in the top of the 10th to Rich Reese. A sacrifice bunt by Frank Quilici moved Reese to third, but there he stayed, as Tiant struck out the next three batters, catcher John Roseboro, pinch-hitter Rich Rollins and pitcher Jim Merritt, to end the inning.
In the bottom of the 10th, Lou Johnson beat out an infield hit to Cesar Tovar, who had moved from shortstop to third base after Rollins pinch hit for shortstop Jackie Hernandez in the top of the 10th. Tovar threw the ball away, allowing Johnson to take second.
It seemed like a perfect situation for a sacrifice bunt by Joe Azcue, and the Twins’ corner infielders were pinching in, expecting just that. But Alvin Dark (nicknamed the Swamp Fox as much for his risk-taking as his Louisiana background) gave Azcue the sign to swing away. Azcue hit a chopper past first baseman Ron Clark and Johnson came home with the winning run, sending 21,000 fans home for the night.
Tiant fired up a cigar postgame and said, “I know I strike out many, but I’m not sure how many.” It was 19. Even more remarkable, he’d done it with 101 strikes out of 135 total pitches – and still wasn’t satisfied. “I don’t have good control like I usually have.”
“That’s the best game he’s pitched in his major league career,” Azcue said.
In his previous start, Tiant had 13 strikeouts. His 32 in two consecutive starts were an American League record, as were the 41 in three straight starts – both marks previously held by his teammate Sam McDowell, who’d attained them earlier that season, in what has become known as the Year of the Pitcher.