Sunday Notes: Mark Gubicza Built a Bridge and Had Two Saves

Mark Gubicza was a good starting pitcher. Making all but two of his 384 big-league appearances with the Kansas City Royals, the big right-hander logged 132 wins to go with a 3.96 ERA, 42 complete games, and 16 shutouts. His best season came in 1988 when he went 20-8 with a 2.70 ERA and finished third in A.L. Cy Young balloting.

Gubicza also had two saves, both of them in 1993. That was the year he gained a true appreciation for how challenging it is to protect a late-inning lead for a teammate. How he came work out of the bullpen — something he did sparingly outside of that one season — was a matter of circumstance.

“We didn’t have a bridge to get from our starters to Jeff Montgomery,” explained Gubicza, who now serves as a TV analyst for the Angels. “The year before, my shoulder was a little sketchy, so [manager] Hal McRae asked me if I could be the bridge. At first I was hesitant, because I liked starting. But I was building back my arm strength, so I said, ‘You know what? I’ll do whatever it takes to win games. I’ll be that bridge to get to Jeff Montgomery.”

The transition was initially bumpy. Gubicza’s heart would start racing when the bullpen phone rang, and once he began warming, he would be throwing as hard as he could. Moreover, while adrenaline was telling him that he was ready, his stuff wasn’t ready. Much for those reasons, he took his lumps before figuring out what worked for him in the unfamiliar role.

The first of Gubicza’s two saves was of the three-inning variety. The score was 2-1 when he entered the game, and from there the Royals rolled to an easy 9-4 win. The lack of ninth-inning drama didn’t deter him from savoring the result. As Gubicza put it, “Having a save on my [baseball] card was really cool.”

The feeling that accompanied his second save was different.

“I remember it being the ninth inning and thinking about all those years as a starter where it was, ‘Man, they blew my save,’” said Gubicza. “Now I’m wondering, ‘What is the starting pitcher thinking of me?’ I needed to preserve the win for [Tom Gordon], and that’s a little more stressful. The whole mentality of the game being on your shoulders… you don’t get noticed unless you blow it. If you get a save, it’s just ’You were supposed to do that.’

“It’s like a kicker in football,” continued Gubicza. “If you miss a field goal, everyone is running over to you and asking, ‘How did you miss that?’ It plays in your mind, because kicking field goals is your only job. Same thing for a closer: your only job is to get those last three outs. People act like it’s easy to do, but it’s not. All of the pressure in the world is on you. If you don’t get that save, it’s ‘How did you blow it?’ It was pretty wild being out there in the bullpen.”

Gubicza went 5-4 with a 3.61 ERA over 43 relief appearances and 72-and-a-third innings in 1993. Montgomery had 45 of his franchise-best 304 saves.

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Edgar Martinez went 10 for 26 against Mariano Rivera.

Todd Helton went 13 for 25 against Trevor Hoffman.

Jack Clark went 11 for 27 against Lee Smith.

Hank Blalock went 9 for 21 against Francisco Rodriguez.

Mariano Duncan went 10 for 20 against John Franco.

Miguel Olivo went 8 for 12 against Billy Wagner.

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This past Tuesday’s game at Fenway Park featured a catcher’s interference that wasn’t catcher’s interference. More specifically, it was until it wasn’t. Here is what happened:

With one out and Boston’s Enrique Hernández on first base in the eighth inning, Reese McGuire hit a weak ground ball to the left side, with the home plate umpire immediately signaling catcher’s interference. The slow-roller was fielded and thrown to first, where Minnesota’s Donovan Solano caught the ball, albeit without his foot on the bag. Hernández, seeing that third base wasn’t being covered, proceeded to motor around second and advance another base. The Red Sox had runners on the corners.

Which brings us to the catcher’s interference that wasn’t, and the confusion that accompanied it. Many on hand — from the press box, broadcast booths, and beyond — believed that the uncommon occurrence gave the Red Sox a choice. They could either A: Take the catcher’s interference, giving them runners on first and second, or B: Take the play, putting runners at first and third.

That wasn’t the case. While an A-or-B option does exist on catcher’s interference calls — the Red Sox had chosen A just a few days earlier in a game against the Angels — it didn’t in this scenario. Per a rules expert I checked with, catcher’s interference was negated once the batter reached first base safely, and the runner who’d been on first reached second base safely. That the runner proceeded to take off for third was irrelevant. Safe or out, he was attempting to advance on a play that, by rule, could no longer be deemed catcher’s interference.

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A quiz:

Earlier this week, Clayton Kershaw became the third modern-era pitcher whose last name begins with the letter K to log 200 or more big-league wins. Who are the other two?

The answer can be found below.

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NEWS NOTES

Jeff Dooley is calling his first MLB games this weekend. The play-by-play voice of the Double-A Hartford Yard Goats for the past 25 years (the team was known as the New Britain Rock Cats when he started out), Dooley is filling in on the Colorado Rockies radio broadcast.

Dave Frost, a right-hander who appeared in 99 games from 1977-1982, died earlier this month at age 70. Drafted out of Stanford University by the Chicago White Sox in 1974, the Long Beach native went 16-10 with a 3.57 ERA for the California Angels in 1979.

Don Leppert, a catcher who played for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1961-1962, and for the Washington Senators in 1963-1964, died earlier this month at age 91. The first of Leppert’s 15 round-trippers came in his first big-league plate appearance.

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The answer to the quiz is Jim Kaat with 283 wins, and Jerry Koosman with 222 wins. If you guessed Jimmy Key or Sandy Koufax, they had 186 and 165 wins respectively.

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When teams acquire a player via trade— particularly a younger player — it isn’t uncommon for them to have had interest in him at the time he was drafted. For a variety of reasons, they either went in another direction or another club took the player before they had an opportunity do so in whatever round. To Kyle Bradish’s knowledge, that wasn’t the case when Baltimore didn’t call his name in 2018.

“I didn’t really hear anything from them,” said the 26-year-old right-hander, whom the Angels took in the fourth round that year and subsequently swapped to the Orioles the following December as part of the Dylan Bundy deal. “I hadn’t really even talked to the Angels. It was more the Cubs, and the Yankees a little bit. There were a few phone calls here and there on draft day.”

A flurry of calls last April are even more memorable. On the road with Triple-A Norfolk, Bradish was in a Gwinnett, Georgia hotel room on a Thursday morning when he heard from Orioles pitching coach Chris Holt. The words he heard were music to his ears: ”Are you ready to pitch on Friday against the Red Sox?

Bradish proceeded to call his wife, his parents, his wife’s parents, and his sisters to share the news. The following day, he took the mound at Camden Yards and allowed three runs in six innings as the Orioles fell to their A.L. East rivals 3-1. Result aside, it was “a really good day.”

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Sonny Gray began his big-league career with the Oakland Athletics in 2013. Two years earlier, he’d been drafted 18th-overall out of Vanderbilt University.

“I was expecting to go before that, to be honest with you,” admitted Gray, who spent four-plus seasons in Oakland and now takes the mound for the Minnesota Twins. “The Diamondbacks picked at three and seven, and there was big talk of them wanting college arms. And then the Brewers picked at [12 and 15]. I was thinking it was probably going to be one of those two. After that, I really didn’t have a clue. I never really talked to the A’s.”

The D-Backs took Trevor Bauer and Archie Bradley with their first two picks that year. The Brewers tabbed Taylor Jungmann and Jed Bradley.

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FOREIGN AFFAIRS

Roki Sasaki continues to be NPB’s most dominant pitcher. The 21-year-old Chiba Lotte Marines wunderkind has thrown 20 scoreless innings over three starts, with 30 strikeouts, three walks, and five hits allowed.

Shoki Murakami has thrown 17 scoreless innings while allowing just three hits, with no walks and 16 strikeouts for NPB’s Hanshin Tigers. The 24-year-old rookie right-hander was lifted for a pinch-hitter after throwing 84 pitches over seven perfect innings against the Yomiuri Giants on April 12.

Sheldon Neuse is slashing .304/.355/.420 with two home runs in 76 plate appearances for Hanshin. The 28-year-old infielder played in 89 games with the Oakland Athletics last year.

Cy Sneed is 3-0 with a 1.02 ERA for the Tokyo Yakult Swallows. The 30-year-old former Houston Astros hurler is in his third NPB season.

Shaun Anderson is 1-2 with a 3.46 ERA for the KBO’s Kia Tigers. The 28-year-old right-hander pitched for five MLB teams from 2019-2022, most recently the Toronto Blue Jays.

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I was in Cubs camp this spring when a Chicago scribe asked Tucker Barnhart about the promising young arms coming up through the team’s farm system. The veteran backstop said that he’s been impressed by a number of them, including “a couple of lefties that are throwing bowling-ball sinkers at 95-plus.” He’s also bullish on a 23-year-old right-hander whom the Cubs acquired from the Phillies at last year’s trade deadline in exchange for David Robertson.

Ben Brown come to mind,” said Barnhart. “Big, tall lanky guy that has super good extension. The ball gets on you. He’s 97 [mph] and has a curveball that he can really spin.”

Brown has made three starts for the Double-A Tennessee Smokies this month and has allowed seven hits and one run in 15 innings. He’s walked six and fanned 22.

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FARM NOTES

Wade Meckler is 22-for-45 with six doubles, six walks, and six strikeouts with the High-A Eugene Emeralds. The 23-year-old (as of Friday) outfielder slashed .367/.500/.544 in 100 plate appearances between the ACL and Low-A San Jose after being drafted in the eighth round last year by the San Francisco Giants out of Oregon State University.

Junior Caminero is slashing .404/.462/.702 with four home runs in 52 plate appearances with the High-A Bowling Green Hot Rods. The 19-year-old infielder is No. 5 on our Tampa Bay Rays Top Prospects list.

Ronan Kopp has 17 strikeouts and has allowed just six hits and one earned run in 10 innings for the High-A Great Lakes Loons. The 20-year-old left-hander is No. 32 on our Los Angeles Dodgers Top Prospects list.

Caden Dana has fanned 18 batters while allowing just six hits and two runs in 15 innings fo the Low-A Inland Empire 66ers. The 19-year-old right-hander was drafted by the Los Angeles Angels in the 11th round last year out of Ramsey, New Jersey’s Don Bosco Preparatory High School.

Frank Mozzicato has thrown 11 scoreless innings with four hits allowed and 20 strikeouts for the Low-A Columbia Fireflies. The 19-year-old southpaw was drafted seventh overall in 2021 by the Kansas City Royals out of Manchester, Connecticut’s East Catholic High School.

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When the Red Sox beat the Angels 2-1 last Sunday, the game was played in a crisp 1:57 — the shortest amount of time to complete a nine-inning game at Fenway Park since a 5-1 Boston win over the Milwaukee Brewers on October 1, 1989 took just 1:50. Being a baseball history buff, I perused the boxscore from that three-plus-decades-ago contest.

The game was the final one of the season for both teams, and from all appearances, the respective hitting approaches were, “Go up there swinging and let’s get this over with.” A pair of Brewers pitchers combined to throw 80 pitches, while two Red Sox pitchers combined to throw 90 pitches. All told, there were eight strikeouts and just one walk.

Robin Yount accounted for Milwaukee’s lone run with his 21st long-ball of the season. Luis Rivera hit a two-run shot for the home team and later added a run-scoring single. Terry Francona DH’d for the Brewers and grounded out 4-3 in all three of his plate appearances. Gary Sheffield committed an error playing third base. Paul Molitor swiped a bag. John Dopson got the win, Jaime Navarro the loss, and Dennis Lamp the save.

All in all, it was an unremarkable game — one that was short in duration.

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

Kim Yu-seong, a highly-regarded 21-year-old right-hander whose path to the KBO had been stalled by bullying charges, is now poised to debut with the Doosan Bears. Jee-ho Yoo has the story at Yonhap News Agency.

Munetaka Murakami is off to a slow start with NPB’s Tokyo Yakult Swallows, and Yuri Karasawa explored his struggles at JapanBall.

At The Pioneer Press, Betsy Helfand wrote about how Carlos Correa’s never-ending quest for self-improvement has him turning to books.

Purple Row’s Renee Dechert attempted to measure the apathy of Colorado Rockies fans.

A 30-year-old castoff named Luis Tiant lost a frigid home opener for the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings on April 22, 1971. Kurt Blumenau wrote about the contest for SABR’s Games Project.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

The Boston Red Sox have won exactly 1,000 games against the Minnesota Twins franchise. They have won 999 games against the Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Guardians franchises.

Dan Osborn went 3-0 with the White Sox in 1975, his only big-league season. Despite the righty’s unblemished record, the Southsiders lost 19 of the 24 games he appeared in.

Nick Lodolo was drafted 41st overall out of high school by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2016, but opted attended Texas Christian University rather than sign a professional contract. The Cincinnati Reds subsequently drafted and signed the southpaw three years later.

Ichiro Suzuki logged 262 hits when he captured the American League batting crown with a .372 average in 2004. Ernie Lombardi logged 102 hits when he captured the National League batting crown with a .330 average in 1942.

Babe Ruth holds the modern-era single-season record for runs scored with 177 in 1921. Ruth had a career high 168 RBIs that year.

Henry Aaron hit the first of his 755 home runs on today’s date in 1954. The eighth-inning blast off of Vic Raschi helped lift the Milwaukee Braves to a 7-5, 14-inning win over the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium.

On today’s date in 1959, Frank Robinson hit a ninth-inning sacrifice fly to give the Cincinnati Reds a 10-9 walk-off win against the Milwaukee Braves. Cincinnati reliever Willard Schmidt reached base twice in a six-run third inning, each time via a HBP.

Lou Brock hit a 10th-inning walk-off home run to give the St. Louis Cardinals a 4-2 win over the Cincinnati Reds on today’s date in 1968. The pennant-winning home team had plated a pair of runs in the ninth to knot the score at 2-2.

Players born on today’s date include Rheal Cormier, a native of Moncton, New Brunswick who pitched for five teams over a career that spanned the 1991-2007 seasons. A member of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, the southpaw made 683 appearances and was credited with 71 wins and two saves.

Also born on today’s date was Elam Vangilder, a right-hander from Cape Girardea, Iowa who pitched for the St. Louis Browns from 1919-1927, and for the Detroit Tigers in 1928-1929. Vangilder’s best season came with the Browns in 1922 when he went 19-13 with five saves and a 3.42 ERA, and slashed .344/.396/.559 in 110 plate appearances.





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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sadtrombonemember
11 months ago

I blame Roger Clemens giving all of his kids names that start with “K” for ruining my ability to answer this trivia question.

“Who won more than 200 games and had a last name that started with K?”

Oh, that’s easy, Roger Clemens. I mean, Kody Clemens. I mean, Koby Clemens. I give up.

MikeSmember
11 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

I got the answer because I was thinking more about longevity than excellence, but I admit my knee jerk answer was Roger Klemens.