Jim Kaat vs. Dick Drago

This is the tenth post in a series detailing the 20 best pitching performances in Twins history based on Bill James’ game scores. The games are posted in chronological order.

Wednesday May 24, 1972
Municipal Stadium
Kansas City, MO

The Sporting News called Jim Kaat’s first couple of months of the 1972 season his “greatest start ever.” The truth is that Kaat had been a better than average starting pitcher for the Twins, but had not been “great” since 1966. The beginning of 1972 was a return to form for Kaat, who started the season 4-1 with a 1.70 ERA. TSN cited three reasons for Kaat’s resurgence: 1. the return of is fastball; 2. better command; and 3. his competitive nature.

For whatever reason, the Jim Kaat of 1966 seemed to be returning, and he had one of his best games in late May against the Kansas City Royals. The Royals, an expansion team in 1969, had put together their first winning season in 1971, though they seemed to be returning back to expansion form at the beginning of ’72, posting a 12-19 record through the first couple of months.

The Royals did have a couple of tough, young hitters, a few of which would stick around for the franchise’s first run at a pennant later in the decade. John Mayberry, Amos Otis, and Freddie Patek all had good seasons at the plate, and all three had a long career ahead of them.

May 24, 1972, however, was not their shining moment. In fact, offense was difficult to come by for both teams. Kaat’s oppnent on the mound was Dick Drago, a 27-year-old who was taken by the Royals in the expansion draft and had served as the team’s ace through his best season, 1971, when he went 17-11 with a 2.98 ERA. Drago was 2-2 with a 2.55 ERA coming into his matchup with the Twins’ lineup.

Both pitchers faced the minimum through three innings. The only blemish for either was a walk issued by Drago to Harmon Killebrew in the second. Killebrew was erased by a ground ball double play one batter later.

Drago finally pitched into some trouble in the fourth, when Rod Carew and Danny Thompson hit back-to-back one out singles. A couple of strikeouts ended the inning with no runs across, the Twins probably unaware that they wouldn’t have another scoring chance as good until the 12th inning.

Kaat allowed a single in his half of the fourth, but the rest of the game was characterized by 1-2-3 innings. There were 14 such innings between the two pitchers, meaning that the side was retired in order more than half the time.

Through 11, Kaat had allowed no runs on five hits with seven strikeouts; Drago’s line was no runs on four hits with 13 strikeouts.

As difficult as runs were to come by, the Twins struck quickly against a tired Drago in the 12th. Thompson’s lead off double was only the second extra-base hit of the game, and quickly turned into the game’s only run when Carew knocked him in with a single. Wayne Granger came in to pitch a perfect ninth inning to lock up the game for the Twins. Kaat’s line:

Minnesota Twins       IP  H  R  ER   BB  SO  HR    ERA
J Kaat, W (5-1)       11  5  0   0    3   7   0   1.31
                      BF  Pit-Str   GB-FB  GmSc  IR-IS
                      40     -       9-13    91    - 

Interestingly, the losing pitcher in this game had a higher Bill James score:

Kansas City Royals     IP  H  R  ER   BB  SO  HR    ERA
D Drago, L (2-3)       12  6  1   1    1  13   0   2.22
                       BF  Pit-Str   GB-FB  GmSc  IR-IS
                       43     -       9-12    98    - 

After his start on July 2, Kaat was 10-2 with a 2.06 ERA. Unfortunately, that is where his final numbers would stand. Kaat sprained his wrist and missed the balance of the 1972 season. Kaat struggled at the start of 1973, and ultimately was claimed on waivers by the Chicago White Sox late in the season.

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