Thursday, November 24, 2011

Familiar Faces / Strange Places: Luis Tiant / Pirates

Yesterday was Luis Tiant's birthday. If you have not seen the recent documentary called The Lost Son of Havana, I would strongly recommend you do it. It is a very compelling story about the man they call "El Tiante".

Luis Tiant is the only child of Luis Tiant, Sr. and Isabel Vega. From 1926 through 1948, the senior Tiant was a great left-handed pitcher for the Negro League's New York Cubans during the summer and the Cuban professional league's Cienfuegos in the winter.

He made his big league debut as a Cleveland Indian in July of 1964. He won 21 games for the Indians in 1968, leading the American League with in ERA. His 1.60 ERA was the lowest in the American League since Walter Johnson's 1.49 mark during the dead-ball era in 1919. The next season he lost 20 games while fighting through injuries and was traded to the Twins.

He won his first six games with the 1970 Twins, and then broke his scapula, ending his season and what many believed his career. The Twins cut him during spring training of 1971. The Braves signed him to a minor league contract to play with their Triple-A team in Richmond, where he pitched well enough to catch the eye of the Boston Red Sox, who grabbed him in May. Despite struggling through the rest of 1971 with a 1-7 record and 4.88 ERA things were looking up for Luis.

In 1972 Tiant regained his old form with a 15-6 record and led the league with a 1.91 ERA. He would win 20 games in 1973 and 22 in 1974. However it was in 1975 he became one of the greatest and most beloved pitchers in Red Sox history.

Though hampered by back problems in 1975, he won 18 games for the AL Champions. He excelled in the postseason, beating the three time defending World Champion Oakland A's in a three-hit complete game. He followed that up when he opened the World Series shutting out the Reds 6-0. It was a special night because his father and mother were in the stands time watching him pitch in the US for the first time -- having been allowed to visit from Cuba under a special visa.

Tiant also won Game 4 (throwing 163 pitches in his second complete game of the series) and had a no-decision in the memorable Game 6, which ended with Carlton Fisk’s dramatic game-winning walk-off home run in the 12th inning.

Tiant went 21-12 in 1976, 12-8 in 1977, and 13-8 in 1978. At the end of the 1978 season, Tiant signed as a free agent with the Yankees where he compiled a 21-17 record over two seasons (1979-80)

After the 1980 season, the Yankees released him. He signed with Pittsburgh in 1981, but spent most of the season in Portland where he excelled for the Beavers (13-7, 3.82) including a no-hitter. He got called up, but struggled with the Pirates and was released at the end of the season. He finished up his major league career with six games for the 1982 Angels, with his final win coming against the Red Sox on August 17.

In the end, Tiant won more games in the major leagues than any other Cuban-born pitcher in the 20th Century, having 35 more than Dolf Luque and 44 more than Mike Cuellar. He was third among all Latin American natives, trailing Dennis Martinez (245) and Juan Marichal (243).


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