This weekend, Bert Blyleven celebrates his induction into Cooperstown. In honor of that, here’s a look back at his career—some highlights, lowlights, key moments, and random stories about games in which he appeared.
Going team-by-team throughout his lengthy career...
Twins years, first go-around
June 5, 1970: Exactly one year to the day after the Twins drafted him, Bert Blyleven makes his major league debut. The beginning is not the stuff storybooks are made of, with leadoff hitter Lee Maye clubbing a home run off Blyleven. However, Blyleven immediately settles down and doesn’t allow another run, getting his first career win after seven strong inning. Not bad for a 19 year old.
Aug. 26, 1970: Blyleven pitches the first of his 60 career shutouts, beating Boston, 7-0.
Oct. 5, 1970: ALCS Game Three: In the finale of Baltimore’s sweep of the Twins, Blyleven pitches in relief of Jim Kaat. The Twins trail 2-0 with none out and two on in the third inning when Blyleven comes in. He lets the two inherited runners score in a game the Twins lose 6-1.
May 12, 1971: Blyleven guides the Twins to a 1-0 win over the Red Sox. The complete-game shutout victory is the first of 15 different 1-0 wins Blyleven will tally in his career, the most by anyone since Walter Johnson. Blyleven allows seven hits—all singles, each in a different inning. The ninth is his only 1-2-3 inning.
Sept. 15, 1971: Blyleven posts his second career 1-0 complete-game victory, guiding the Twins to a win over the Brewers. The Twins only collect two hits: A first-inning single by Rod Carew with none out and an RBI triple by Steve Braun in the ninth inning for the game’s only score. In the fifth inning, Blyleven puts runners on the corners with nobody out, but he wriggles out of the jam with two strikeouts and a grounder to second.
Sept. 29, 1971: Blyleven picks up his second 1-0 victory of the month and third of the season (and career), with this 1-0 over the Angels. Blyleven’s teammates manage only three hits, but one is a home run. Alternately, he allows 10 hits—nine singles and a double.
It’s incredible this was a shutout, as California blows a number of chances: Runners on second and third with no one out in the first inning, bases loaded with only one out in both the third and fourth innings. After a fifth-inning leadoff single, the Angels have had 10 baserunners versus 12 outs but nothing to show for it. After that, Byleven shuts the Angels down, allowing only a single (by opposing pitcher Clyde Wright) and a ninth-inning walk.
May 3, 1972: Blyeven picks up his 10th consecutive win, a streak that began in August 1971. In this time, Blyleven’s line reads: 13 GS, 9 CG, 108 IP, 93 H, 25 R, 23 ER, 23 BB, 78 K, and a 1.92 ERA.
May 13, 1972: The day before, the Twins tangled with the Brewers in an extra-inning game seemingly without end. In fact, it hit the AL curfew after 21 innings and the game still tied 3-3. So on May 13, the teams went back at it, tabbed to finish off this game first before beginning that day's scheduled contest. Blyleven thus makes one of his seven career relief appearances, and loses, allowing a run off two hits in the 22nd inning. He then pitches nine innings in the regularly-scheduled game, but ends with a no-decision as the Twins win in 15 frames, 5-4.
June 9, 1972: Blyleven surrenders 430 home runs in his career, but only one to another pitcher. Cleveland’s Gaylord Perry goes deep on Blyleven in the fourth inning in a 7-1 Minnesota loss.
July 31, 1972: Blyleven has his strangest pair of home runs allowed in this game, as White Sox star Dick Allen hits two inside-the-park home runs off him. Since then, only one other player has equaled Allen’s feat. Oddly enough, it came in another Twins-White Sox game. Minnesota’s Greg Gagne did it on Oct. 4, 1986.
Sept. 22, 1972: Blyleven notches his fourth career 1-0 complete game win. Aside from a ninth-inning double by Angels starting pitcher Andy Messersmith, no one makes it past first base.
Sept. 27, 1972: Immediately after winning a game 1-0, Blyleven suffers one of his toughest losses, a complete-game, 1-0 loss to the A’s in 11 innings. It’s the second time this year the Twins lost 1-0 in 11 innings in a Blyleven start. In the first game, on July 18, the team pulled Blyleven for a reliever after 10 innings.
Oct. 4, 1972: In the last game of the season, Blyleven allows his only pinch-hit homer, by Jay Johnstone of the White Sox. However, the Twins cruise to an easy 14-2 win.
May 24, 1973: Blyleven pitches the first of four career one-hitters. The Twins beat Kansas City, 2-0. Ed Kirkpatrick singles leading off the fifth for KC’s only hit.
May 29, 1973: Blyleven defeats the Brewers, 1-0, for his fifth career complete-game, 1-0 win. For perspective, that’s more than Randy Johnson had. Milwaukee threatens to score in the ninth, putting runners on the corner with no outs, but Blyleven induces a pop up and a game-ending double play.
June 21, 1973: Blyleven records his sixth 1-0 complete game victory, which is equal to the entire career total for Phil Niekro. It’s the second time he does it against Clyde Wright of the Angels. The Angels get a man to third base in the first frame, but never again.
July 24, 1973: Blyleven makes the first of only two All-Star Game appearances. It doesn’t go well, as he allows two runs in one inning, getting the loss for the AL, as the NL triumphs, 7-1.
Sept. 26, 1973: Blyleven defeats the A’s, 4-1, for his 20th win of the year, the only time he reached that milestone. It’s also his second career one-hitter. Angel Mangual provides Oakland with its only hit, which is odd because he’s only 3-for-21 against Blyleven.
July 4, 1974: Blyleven tosses his third one-hitter in barely 13 months. This time a home run by Toby Harrah in the third inning breaks it up. The Twins win, 3-1.
Sept. 25, 1974: For the seventh time, Blyleven—still only 23 years old—wins a 1-0 contest by tossing a complete game. This time the A’s are Blyleven’s victim. Oakland’s best chance to score comes in the sixth inning when pinch runner Herb Washington fails in his attempt to steal home.
July 25, 1975: In the sixth inning, Blyleven has one of his most impressive experiences in clutch pitching. After a trio of singles loads the bases for the Angels with no out, Blyleven fans the next three hitters in a row to get out of the inning without allowing a run. This is the only time he strikes out three in a row with the bases loaded and none out in his career. Minnesota wins, 12-1.
Aug. 27, 1975: Against Milwaukee, Blyleven has the best game of his career. It’s yet another 1-0 win (his eighth such career victory), but this one takes 11 innings to finish. He goes the distance, earning himself a career-high Game Score of 97.
Only once does a Brewer reach second base—Kurt Bevacqua, who singles and steals second with none out in the sixth. Blyleven responds by fanning the next two batters and inducing a routine grounder to short to end the inning. Random note: Blyleven’s teammate Craig Kusick suffers three HBP in the game. The last one comes in the 11th inning, and the pinch runner who replaces Kusiak scores the game’s only run.
April 24, 1976: Normally, Blyleven has very good control. Not today, as he walks a career-high eight batters while also allowing seven hits in 8.2 IP. Improbably, only one run scores. It helps that all the hits were singles. Baltimore strands three runners on third base, another trio on second, and hit into two double plays—one a line-drive double play with a runner on third. The Twins win in 14 innings, 2-1.
April 28, 1976: Something is definitely off with Blyleven. Immediately after walking a career-high eight batters, he posts a career-worst Game Score of seven in a shellacking at the hands of the Indians. Blyleven’s line: 4.2 IP, 11 H, 9 R, 9 ER, 2 BB, 3 K.
May 31, 1976: It’s Blyleven’s last start with the Twins (a fact widely known, as his name was in all the papers as trade bait), and he finishes in storybook manner. Aside from being a tough loss (3-2 to the Angels, in which Blyleven tossed a complete game), it has an ugly ending. In the eighth and ninth innings, a few dozen fans by the Twins dugout mockingly serenade him with, “Goodbye, Bert—we’re glad to see you go!” Blyleven’s response: An obscene gesture as he walked off the field in the ninth.
June 21, 1976: Blyleven records his 100th career win—boy does he ever. It’s a complete-game, 1-0 victory in 10 innings. The opposing A’s manage only one hit in all that time, a Ken McMullen single in the fifth inning.
Blyleven’s Game Score of 94 is tied for the second-best of his career. It’s also his ninth career 1-0 complete game win, as many as Bob Gibson, Don Sutton, Jim Palmer, and Don Drysdale each have in their careers. It’s also Blyleven’s first win as a Ranger after three straight losses. His career record is 100-93.
June 26, 1976: For the second game in a row, Blyleven posts a complete-game, 1-0 shutout victory, giving him 10 of them in his career. That’s equal to Warren Spahn. For the second straight time, it’s an extra-inning contest, as it takes Texas 10 frames to score against the White Sox. Blyleven allows 10 singles, two walks, and a hit batsman, but Chicago can’t capitalize. Twice Blyleven loads the bases with only one out, and both times he induces a double play.
July 2, 1976: For the third straight time, a Blyleven start results in a complete-game, 1-0 decision. This time, however, Blyelven loses, as the White Sox get revenge on him for the June 26 game. It’s Blyleven’s fourth complete game 1-0 loss (plus in a fifth game he lasted 10 innings in an 11-inning, 1-0 game). He’ll have another complete game 1-0 on Sept. 20 of this year.
July 26, 1976: Blyleven returns to Minnesota to face his original team for the first time since his May 31 obscene gesture. Pitching like a man with something to prove, Blyleven tosses a two-hit shutout and faces only 28 batters all day. The Rangers win, 3-0.
Aug. 5, 1976: Blyleven notches his 11th career 1-0, complete-game win. That’s as many as Nolan Ryan and Greg Maddux have. The victim is again the Angels, who manage just six singles.
Sept. 25, 1976. Blyleven does it again: A complete game 1-0 win, this time over the Royals. This is No. 12 (including four in barely over three months), tying him with Gaylord Perry and Steve Carlton. In this particular game, Blyleven allows three base runners in the first and another trio in the ninth, but only one the rest of the day. Blyleven escapes both bookend jams, including with a game-ending, double-play grounder in the ninth.
Aug. 27, 1977: Blyleven receives some neat offensive support when Texas’ Toby Harrah and Bump Wills hit back-to-back inside-the-park home runs in the seventh inning. Blyleven goes the distance for an 8-2 win over the Yankees.
Sept. 6, 1977: It’s a low point for Blyleven. In the fourth inning against the Twins, he allows two singles, hits a batter, walks in a run, and then walks in another run. He only walks in 12 runs in his career, but two come right here. The team takes him out after the second RBI walk, and he doesn’t pitch again for 16 days.
Sept. 22, 1977: Whatever caused Blyleven’s absence sure was worth it. In his first appearance since walking in two runs in one inning, Blyleven pitches his only career no-hitter, blanking the Angels, 6-0. It would’ve been a perfect game except for a shortstop error in the third inning and a walk to pinch hitter Carlos May with two outs in the ninth. This is the last game Blyleven pitches for the Rangers, as they trade him to Pittsburgh in the offseason.
April 26, 1978: Blyleven notches his first NL victory in a manner familiar to him: A 1-0, complete-game win. It’s his 13th one, tying him for the all-time lead by any pitcher since Walter Johnson. The man he’s tied with? Dean Chance. Yeah, I never would have guessed that one either. Anyhow, this is not just any 1-0 win: This Pirates-Mets game goes 11 innings. Blyleven goes the distance, as New York strands a runner on third five times, including in each of the two final frames. This is Blyleven’s only 1-0 CG win in Pittsburgh.
July 4, 1978: In the first game of a doubleheader against the Expos, Blyleven does it all in a 3-1 win. Not only does he stifle Montreal's bats, but he also connects for a bases-loaded double in the second inning to drive in all three of Pittsburgh’s runs.
Sept. 17, 1978: With Blyleven guiding the Pirates to a 5-3 victory over the Expos on the mound, one of baseball’s stranger stories plays out in the Pittsburgh bullpen. Reliever Will McEnaney wants to watch some football games that day and doesn’t think manager Chuck Tanner will call on him to pitch. So he talks his identical twin brother to sit in his place, allowing Will to sit in the clubhouse and enjoy himself. Blyleven lasts seven innings and neither McEnaney pitches.
Sept. 29, 1978: For the first time, Blyleven pitches in a clutch pennant race game late in the season. It’s the first of a four-game, season-ending series against the Phillies, who lead the Pirates by 3.5 games in the NL East. If the Pirates sweep, they take the division. Franlky, Blyleven doesn’t pitch very well, allowing four runs in seven innings, but the Pirates win it in the ninth, 5-4, and also take the next game. That’s as far as it goes, though, as the Phillies win the next-to-last game to clinch the division.
July 27, 1979: Blyleven has his worst ever day at the plate, going 0-for-5 with a strikeout in every at-bat. That said, the Pirates beat Montreal, 9-1.
Sept. 29, 1979: For the second straight year, Blyleven pitches a late-season contest in a pennant race. Entering the day, the Pirates lead the Expos by two games with two days of baseball left. Blyleven can thus clinch the division by beating the Cubs in this one. Instead, he allows five runs in 5.2 innings, and the Pirates lose in 13 innings, 7-6. For Blyleven, this is no-decision No. 20 on the year, the all-time single-season record. Eight of his last 12 starts were no-decisions. The Pirates clinch the division the next day.
Oct. 5, 1979: NLCS Game Three: Blyleven makes his first postseason start and defeats the Reds 7-1 in a complete game to finish off a Pittsburgh sweep and clinch the pennant. He allows at least one person reach base in each of the first seven innings but ends the game by retiring the final nine batters.
Oct. 11, 1979: World Series Game Two: Blyleven starts, and the Pirates beat the Orioles, 3-2. Blyleven gets the no-decision, as the winning run doesn’t score until the ninth inning, and he was pulled for a pinch hitter after pitching six innings.
Oct. 14, 1979: World Series Game Five: This might be the biggest game of Blyleven’s career. The Pirates call on him to pitch in relief despite having only two days' rest. They’re desperate, as the Orioles already have a three-games-to-one lead in the Series and are up 1-0 after five innings. The Pirates just used a pinch hitter for their starting pitcher, and Blyleven is their best arm for the rest of the game. As he pitches four scorless innings, the Pirates rally to win the game, 7-1. From there, they win the next two games to clinch Pittsburgh’s last world championship.
April 29, 1980: When Pirate manager Chuck Tanner removes Blyleven in the sixth inning, he’s so upset he flatly quits the team the next day. Blyleven flies to his home in California, demanding a trade. He blames Tanner’s quick hook (Blyleven had a career-low four CG in 1979) for his numerous no-decisions and few wins. Blyleven had 12 wins in 37 starts in 1979 and is 0-2 in five starts so far in 1980. Eventually, he agrees to rejoin the club and pitches again on May 13.
June 16, 1980: At the age of 29 years, two months, and 10 days, Blyleven notches his 150th career win. That makes him the ninth-youngest pitcher in the liveball era to reach the 150-win marker, behind only Hal Newhouser, Catfish Hunter, Robin Roberts, Bob Feller, Wes Feller, Don Drysdale, Waite Hoyt, and Dwight Gooden.
July 6, 1980: Blyleven lasts 10 innings in a game that goes twice as long: Pirates 5, Cubs 4 (20). He allows a run to score in the eighth, and another in the ninth to tie the game, and thus sets up one of the greatest bullpen performances in history. Chicago’s relievers do a historically great job, as six of them combine to throw 12 straight innings of no-hit ball, including five by Bill Caudill alone. Then Dennis Lamp enters for Chicago and allows three hits and the game-losing run.
Aug. 16, 1980: According to Game Score, Blyleven pitches the best nine-inning game of his career in this 5-0 win over the Expos. He allows two hits and a walk while fanning 12 in the complete-game shutout for a 94 Game Score. It’s a perfect game until Rowland Office laces a two-out single in the seventh.
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May 17, 1981: Blyleven pitches 10 innings in a complete-game, 2-1 win over Toronto. It’s his 18th time recording 28 or more outs in a game, but he’ll never do it again in his remaining 299 career appearances.
May 27, 1981: This marks one of Blyleven’s low points. Upset that home plate umpire Greg Kosc isn’t calling his curveball for a strike, Blyleven responses in the fourth inning by just throwing batting practice. He puts it right over the plate, but with nothing on it. Result: Single, single, double, home run, single, single, single. After those seven straight hits, the Indians yank him.
May 1, 1982: Something is wrong with Blyleven. The wheels completely come off in the second inning: Single, double, walk, fly out, single, walk, walk. Blyleven then leaves and won’t pitch again the rest of the year.
The pitchers who throw the most innings in their 20s tend to break down. What makes Blyleven interesting is that he’ll eventually come back and pitch another 10 years, often as a highly effective pitcher, giving him impressive counting stats for his career. He’ll be hampered by problems until June, 1984. Blyleven hardly pitches in the second half of 1983 and is shelved for nearly a month in early 1984. Then he’ll survive from his arm troubles and gain his second wind. But no one knew that in May, 1982.
July 13, 1984: Blyleven tosses his fourth career one-hitter, allowing only a Larry Parrish single in the fourth inning. The Indians beat the Rangers, 5-0. It’s his fourth straight win, and after a miserable, injury-plagued two-plus years, it looks like Blyleven has found himself again.
Sept. 26, 1984: For the first time in over six years, Blyleven wins a complete game shutout by a score of 1-0, his 14th such victory. The vanquished Mariners have their chances, as they reach third base three times , but they can never make it the last 90 feet. This game is also Blyelven’s eighth consecutive game in which he either tosses a complete game or lasts nine innings in a game that goes into extra innings.
April 28, 1985: In Baltimore, it’s another low point for Blyleven. As he leaves the field upon being lifted during in the bottom of the eighth inning, Blyleven gives the finger to the fans. He escapes with a no-decision after allowing six runs in seven innings.
June 14, 1985: Bert Blyleven achieves a career milestone as he collects his 200th career win, defeating the A’s, 6-1. He’s now 200-173.
July 16, 1985: For the second time Blyleven pitches in an All-Star Game. Like the first time, it doesn’t go well, as he allows two runs in two innings and the NL wins, 6-1.
July 19, 1985: In the 20th century, there are only three games in which the following occurs: 1) two Hall of Fame pitchers square off, 2) the final is 1-0, 3) the run scores on a homer hit by a Hall of Famer.
One of these three contests was the famous 16-inning Juan Marichal-Warren Spahn duel (with a Willie Mays homer). Another was a Jim Bunning-Warren Spahn duel where Bunning himself went deep. And this is the third one: Bert Blyleven loses to Tom Seaver of the White Sox because Carlton Fisk homered for Chicago in the second inning. It’s the first time in nine years Blyleven pitches a complete game but loses 1-0.
July 24, 1985: Blyleven completes his 10th consecutive start, a career high. Five days later, he’ll last 8.2 innings while allowing eight runs to the Yankees—and that will be Byleven’s last game with Cleveland.
Twins years, second time around
Aug. 3, 1985: In his first game back with the Twins, Blyleven allows the only walk-off home run of his career, a two-run shot by California’s Doug DeCinces with one out in the ninth for a 5-4 Angels victory.
June 23, 1986: Blyleven ties his personal worst with a Game Score of seven as the White Sox torch the Twins, 11-2. Blyleven’s line: 1.2 IP, 7 H, 8 R, 8 ER, 2 BB, 0 K. He’s clearly going through some sort of dead arm phase, as combined with his previous two starts he’s allowed 25 hits (including six homers) in 12.1 IP with 22 runs (19 earned), four walks, and four strikeouts for an ERA of 13.86. It’s a bad stretch, but he’ll recover.
Aug. 1, 1986: Blyleven joins the 3,000 K club, and he does it in style! He fans 15 batters, his personal best. Only four batters reach base against him (two singles, a walk, and an error), and three of them do it in the fifth inning. That same inning sees strikeout No. 3,000, Mike Davis, as Blyleven survives the frame without allowing a run. Later, an eighth-inning solo shot provides Oakland’s only run in a 10-1 trouncing.
Sept. 29, 1986: Just 16 days after allowing a career-worst five homers in one start, Bert Blyleven surrenders three homer runs in this game, numbers 47-49 on the year, breaking Robin Roberts’ old single-season record of 46. Blyleven will allow one more gopher ball for the still-standing record of 50 in one season.
Sept. 27, 1987: For the first time since his days in Pittsburgh, Blyleven gets to start a game in the thick of a pennant race. The Twins lead the Royals by five games with seven left to play when the two squads face off. Blyleven walks the first batter he faces—something he last did 216 starts ago on April 29, 1980—but soon settles down. He goes the distance in an 8-1 win to help Minnesota clinch no worse than a tie for the division.
Oct. 8, 1987: ALCS Game Two: Blyleven allows three runs in 7.1 innings for the win as Minnesota defeats Detroit 6-3 to go up two games to none.
Oct. 12, 1987: ALCS Game Five: The Twins clinch the AL pennant as Blyleven allows three runs in six innings while Tiger starter Doyle Alexander doesn’t get out of the second inning.
Oct. 18, 1987: World Series Game Two: Bert Blyleven allows two runs in seven innings as Minnesota defeats St. Louis for the second straight time.
Oct. 22, 1987: World Series Game Five: In his final postseason appearance, Blyleven records his first loss, as the Cardinals beat the Twins 4-2. The home team wins every game in this Fall Classic.
April 22, 1988: In a career first, Blyleven hits the first batter of the game, Cleveland’s Julio Franco. It’s not intentional, he just doesn’t have any control, as the Indians score six runs that inning. By the time Blyleven leaves, he’s hit four batters.
July 29, 1988: Every pitcher has that one batter they have trouble with and, for some reason, for Blyleven that batter is Ron Kittle. In this game, Kittle blasts his ninth career homer off Blyleven, far more than any other hitter has against him.
July 18, 1989: For only the second time in 11 years, but for the 15th and final time in his career, Bert Blyleven wins 1-0 while tossing a complete-game shutout. Blyleven allows five singles, and only one man makes it to second base as he defeats the Blue Jays.
Aug. 2, 1989: In a 7-0, complete-game shutout over the Mariners, Blyleven first faces a young 22-year-old shortstop named Omar Vizquel. Now a member of the White Sox, Vizquel is the only active player who once faced Blyleven.
Aug. 24, 1989: Blyleven matches a personal best by winning his 10th straight decision. He is now 14-2 for the Angels, and will end the year 17-5 in what will turn out to be his last quality season.
July 14, 1990: Blyleven has to leave after five innings despite allowing just one run, but picks up the win thanks to an odd bit of run support. Three different Angels—Dave Winfield, Dante Bichette, and Brian Downing—all hit a pair of homers.
Aug. 10, 1990: Something is wrong with Blyleven. It’s been ten days since his last start, and the Angels take him out after six innings after allowing just one run. He won’t pitch in the majors again until 1992.
May 21, 1992: Just two days after his first game in 21 months, Blyleven finds himself in the midst of a grizzly off-field incident. While driving on the New Jersey Turnpike, the Angels team bus swerves into some trees, putting four Angels in the hospital. The most seriously hurt is manager Buck Rogers, who suffers a broken knee, elbow, and busted ribs.
July 4, 1992: Nothing especially important, but still worth noting given this weekend’s festivities. On the day, Blyleven faces his fellow Class of 2011 inductee Roberto Alomar for the only time. Blyleven gets Alomar out the first time up, but after that the young infielder gets the better of the old curveballer with a triple and a walk. Baseball-Reference’s play-by-play lists it as a triple to shortstop. Wait, what? There’s one you don’t see too often.
Oct. 4, 1992: The last game of the season is the last game of Blyleven’s career. Against the Rangers, he allows 12 hits and six runs in 4.2 innings to pick up the loss. Gino Petralli, the 20,491st and final batter Blyleven faces, hits a two-RBI double.
History instructor by day, statnerd by night, Chris Jaffe leads one of the most exciting double lives imaginable; with the exception of every other double life possible to imagine. Despite his lack of comic-book-hero-worthiness, Chris enjoys farting around with this stuff. His new book, Evaluating Baseball's Managers is available for order. Chris welcomes responses to his articles via e-mail.
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