Don Sutton shuts out Pirates 42 years ago today

The myth that Don Sutton was a postseason pitcher started 42 years ago when he shut out the mighty Pirates in the first game of the NLCS 3 – 0. The Dodgers in 1974 were a very young positional team but with a veteran rotation.

Andy Messersmith was the Dodgers best pitcher in 1974 but Walter Alston choose to go with future HOF Don Sutton and it proved to be a brilliant decision. Don would not only shut out the Pirates in game one, he would also win the decisive game four giving up only one run. He would end his first NLCS with 17 innings of one-run ball and two victories. That is how myth building starts.

This game was tight all the way to the 9th inning. Future Dodger standout Jerry Ruess started for the Pirates and made only one mistake. With two outs and two on in the second inning, Jerry Ruess walked Don Sutton loading the bases. Davey Lopes would hit a single to drive in the first run of the postseason but it was the walk to Don Sutton that proved his undoing. Ruess would shut out the Dodgers the rest of his innings, finishing with 7 IP, and that one earned run which cost him dearly.

Don Sutton would figure prominently in the scoring in the 9th when the Dodgers tacked on two more runs. Sutton hit a single. was forced by Lopes at second. Lopes would then score on a double by Jimmy Wynn. Wynn would score on a single by Joe Ferguson and the Dodgers would take a 3 – 0 lead into the bottom of the 9th.  Don Sutton closed out his own game and the Dodgers had won their first postseason game since Sandy Koufax had defeated the Twins in Game 7 in 1965.

What is notable was that Walter Alston did not pinch hit for Don Sutton in the 9th inning. The score was only 1 – 0, it was the 9th inning, and he had the best closer in baseball sitting in his bullpen but he let Sutton hit, and it all worked out. In 2016, I’m very sure that will not happen 99.9% of the time. No one trusts their starting pitcher more than their closer anymore.  Not in a one-run game.

Sutton however,  had gained the confidence of Alston by throwing five shutouts that season.  It wasn’t like Alston didn’t like using Mike Marshall, he had, after all,  made a record 106 appearances.

When it comes to best pitching performances by a LAD in the postseason, using game score this game ranked as the 5th best ever by a LAD pitcher with an 84.


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