August 28 – Happy Birthday Mike Torrez
If you’ve watched televised Yankee broadcasts over the years you’ve probably heard Kenny Singleton and Michael Kay talk about “the worst trade in Montreal Expo history.” It took place a few weeks before Christmas in 1974 with the Baltimore Orioles. The Expos received Baltimore’s veteran starting pitcher, Dave McNally and the Birds’ outfielder Rich Coggins in exchange for Singleton, who was then a young up and coming outfielder and today’s Pinstripe Birthday celebrant. Mike Torrez was a nibbler, a big young right-hander who tried to keep the ball away from the middle of the plate. As a result, he typically threw lots of pitches and walked lots of hitters when he was on the mound but he also won more games than he lost.
Neither McNally or Coggins was still playing for Montreal by the second half of the 1975 season. Singleton became one of the great outfielders in Baltimore franchise history. Torrez became the ace of Baltimore’s staff in ’75 going 20-9. He then got traded again but only because Oakland A’s owner Charley Finley had decided to unload his superstar free-agent-to-be, Reggie Jackson before Mr. October walked away on his own. Baltimore thought Reggie could get them back to the World Series so they were willing to sacrifice Torrez to get him.
The native of Topeka, Kansas continued his winning ways in Oakland, going 16-12 in 1976. He then won three of his first four starts the following season but like Reggie a year earlier, Torrez was in the final year of his contract and any good player in his option year playing for a Charley Finley owned team automatically received a new nickname; Trade Bait!
That’s how the Yankees were able to secure Torrez’ services at the end of April in 1977. Finley accepted Doc Ellis, Larry Murray and Marty Perez in exchange for big Mike. With Catfish Hunter’s shoulder ailing at the time, Torrez immediately became a key ingredient to the Yankees’ drive to their 1977 World Championship. He won 14 games that year, joining Ron Guidry (16) Ed Fiqueroa (16) and Don Gullett (14) as double digit winners. Then after losing Game 3 in the ’77 ALCS to Kansas City, Torrez won both Game 3 and the Series-clinching Game 6 for New York in the World Series. It was without a doubt, his finest moment in pinstripes but not his most important moment in franchise history.
That happened less than a year later, after the Yankees let Torrez sign as a free agent with the Red Sox and after he won 16 games for Boston and helped them tie New York for the 1978 AL East Division title. More specifically, it took place on October 2, 1978 in the late afternoon in Boston’s Fenway Park, with two outs in the seventh inning of the playoff game between the Red Sox and the Yankees to determine who would advance to the ALCS against the Royals that year. Torrez had shutout the Yankees thus far that afternoon and was ahead 2-0 when Bucky Dent walked to the plate with Chris Chambliss and Roy White on base. Torrez third pitch to the light-hitting shortstop was inside and Dent pulled it just high enough to clear the top of the Green Monster.
Torrez went on to pitch four more seasons for the Red Sox and a total of six more in his big league career. When he retired in 1984, he had won 185 regular-season games and lost 160.