Willie Blair had a pretty solid career.
Over the course 12 years Blair pitched for 8 teams and shifted back and forth from the bullpen and rotation. Coming off a career year in 1997 with the Tigers, he brought a 16-8 record (12-4 in his last 17 starts) with a 4.17 ERA to the #2 spot in the inaugural Diamondbacks rotation. Blair came to Arizona as a free agent, signing a 3 year, $11.5 million deal. This made Willie Blair the 5th highest paid player on the team.
Interestingly, Diamondbacks GM Joe Garagiola Jr signed Blair after their original target, Darryl Kile, the Rockies Opening Day starter who dominated the D-Backs the day prior to Blair’s debut, signed a 3 year, $24 million deal with Colorado¹.
The Diamondbacks 2nd game went a lot like Opening Day. The Rockies lineup feasted, the D-Backs lineup didn’t.
We’ll learn over the course of this project that the Willie Blair signing did not pan out. Granted, even for 1998 it was a modest deal that I would compare to a 2 year, $16 million deal today. Blair goes on to post some pitching stat lines in 1998 that are fascinating, and that started right away.
Going 7 innings, Blair allowed 15 base runners via hits and walks and recorded ZERO strikeouts. What’s wild about Willie Blair is in this 1998 season which started out with 7 strikeout-less innings, he went on to throw a career high 92 strikeouts. In 7 of 12 seasons Blair pitched over 110 innings including 6 of which he threw over 130 innings. Blair had a 4.6 K/9 the year prior in Detroit and a 4.7 K/9 in 1998. Yes, this was a different era and we’re going to a lot of weird stat lines in comparison to 2019 baseball, but Blair was as “pitch to contact” as they came. As you can imagine, Bank One Ballpark and the steroid era was a bad formula for Blair.
While 32 year old Willie Blair grinned through 7 innings, the offense did him zero favors. The greatest Diamondback of all time (at the moment) Travis Lee got a hit and a stolen base, the other two hits came from the battery, Jorge Fabregas and Willie Blair. Matt Williams and Jay Bell stayed hit-less through 2 games.
TURNING POINT OF THE GAME
Small ball enthusiasts should skip this part. In the 3rd inning, Rockies pitcher John Thomson (yes, that’s right, there was no “P” in John Thomson), singled off Blair, who received his own sweet revenge the next inning with a lead off single too. Mike Lansing’s bunt attempt did nothing as Blair got the force out at 2nd. Lansing was then caught stealing and the D-backs had two outs. Ellis Burks singled to CF and the 3/4 duo of Larry Walker and Bo Bichette’s dad gave the Rockies a 2-0 lead. With the Diamondbacks failing to score, this has to be the turning point of the game. Look, if you pull out of your driveway, turn onto the road and go straight while never turning again until you reach your destination, you have 1 turning point.
PLAYERS OF THE GAME
1st: Travis Lee, 1-4, SB
2nd: Jorge Fabregas, 1-3, 2-2 throwing out dudes trying to steal (Lansing and Castillo)
3rd: Gregg Olson, IP, 2K, 0ER
RANDOM FACT OF THE GAME
The Diamondbacks attendance of 43,758 was the highest attended MLB game of the day. Yankees vs Angels in Anaheim came in a close 2nd at 43,311 and Twins vs Blue Jays in Toronto came in 3rd at 41,387.
FINAL WRAP UP
Game 3 will feature Diamondbacks’ Brian Anderson vs Pedro Astacio as Arizona looks to avoid getting swept in their first ever series.
By Todd Williams (@goldyhappens)
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