Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Pitcher Bob Welch Dies at 57

Imagine being 21 years old, a rookie pitcher playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers, and you're in the World Series against the New York Yankees.

That was the situation in which Bob Welch found himself on the night of Wednesday, Oct. 11, 1978, when he came in to close out a 4–3 victory for Los Angeles. Starter Burt Hooton had gone six innings and staked the Dodgers to a one–run lead when he left; then reliever Terry Forster pitched 2⅓ solid innings but left after serving up a single and a walk in the ninth.

In came Welch.

In front of more than 55,000 fans in Dodger Stadium — and millions more watching on TV — Welch nailed down the save. He got Thurman Munson to fly out to right, then won an epic showdown with future Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson. Jackson had driven in all of the Yankees' runs that night, and he came to the plate with two outs and runners at first and second.

This was at the time, it should be noted, that Jackson was gaining his reputation as "Mister October." A year earlier, he hit three consecutive home runs to lift the Yankees to their World Series–clinching triumph over those same Dodgers and won the series MVP in the process.

He could have evened the game with a well–hit ball, but the young Welch gunned him down. Jackson struck out swinging, and Welch had preserved the victory for the Dodgers.

Los Angeles would lose the next four games — and the Series — to the Yankees.

The Dodgers ended up trading Welch to Oakland following the 1987 season. The A's faced the Dodgers in the World Series in 1988, and Welch pitched in the only game Oakland won. He didn't get the win — another ex–Dodger, Rick Honeycutt, got the win in relief after Mark McGwire hit a one–out home run in the eighth.

A couple of years later, Welch won the Cy Young Award. He won 27 games that year and remains the last pitcher to win 25 games or more in a single season.

Welch died yesterday at the age of 57. At this point, his cause of death remains undisclosed.

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