Pirates’ Jim Leyland used a reliever as a starter long before Clint Hurdle
When Clint Hurdle called on relief pitcher Montana DuRapau to start for the Pittsburgh Pirates on Saturday night, Hurdle, a baseball lifer, displayed his willingness to — in words he likes to use — adapt, improvise and overcome.
But he wasn’t breaking new ground as a Pirates manager.
Jim Leyland did the same thing — for a different reason — but it wasn’t in an random game in May that ended after midnight on the East Coast. He handed the ball to right-handed reliever Ted Power to start Game 6 of the 1990 National League Championship Series against the Cincinnati Reds. It was an elimination game with the Pirates down 3-2. So it mattered a bit more than the Pirates’ 7-2 victory in San Diego on Saturday.
Zane Smith, a left-hander who had been acquired in a trade with the Montreal Expos in August, was in line to start. But Leyland was trying to outfox Reds manager Lou Piniella.
Leyland’s plan was to entice Piniella into assembling a lefty-heavy lineup so he could counter with Smith after a few innings. But Piniella started all right-handed hitters, with the exception of Paul O’Neill.
“It almost worked,” Power told the Dayton Daily News last year when he was the Reds’ bullpen coach. The quote came from a discussion reporter Hal McCoy was having about the Tampa Bay Rays starting reliever Sergio Romo in two consecutive games.
“Been there, done that,” Power said.
The problem for the Pirates in Game 6 was they managed only one hit — an RBI double by first baseman Carmelo Martinez — and ended up losing the game 2-1 and the series to the Reds. Cincinnati walked Barry Bonds three times. The Reds then swept the Oakland A’s in four games in the World Series.
Martinez almost tied it in the ninth, but right fielder Glenn Braggs, a late-inning defensive replacement, robbed him of a home run.
It was the Pirates’ first playoff appearance since the 1979 World Series.
Power, who appeared in 564 career games with only 85 starts, recorded a save in Game 1 of the NLCS and hadn’t started a game all season (although he did so 34 times for the Reds in 1987). He did not pitch badly in Game 6, allowing only three hits and one run in 2 1/3 innings before he was replaced by Smith.
Hurdle’s chief aim in starting DuRapau and following up with five other relievers was to fill a hole in the rotation created by injuries to Jameson Taillon and Trevor Williams.
Three decades earlier, Leyland’s aim was different: He was trying to get to the World Series.
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .