By Randy Miller
NEW YORK — Once upon a baseball time, Steve Blass was the ace of the late-60s, early-’70s Pittsburgh Pirates.
This righty who used to get great results from a shaky delivery won 15 games in 1971 plus two more in the World Series, Game 3 and Game 7. The next year, Blass won 19 games, finished sixth in the NL with a 2.49 ERA and was an National League All-Star.
And then in ’73, out of nowhere, Blass couldn’t throw strikes. The late, great Roberto Clemente’s good buddy became so wild that he was throwing balls behind hitters.
Blass walked 84 batters over 249 2/3 innings in ’72, then 84 over 88 2/3 innings in going 3-9 with a 9.85 ERA in ’73. In his only ’74 appearance, he walked seven in five innings.
And so, future pitchers who would develop series control issues would be said to have “Steve Blass Disease,” most notably former left-hander Rick Ankiel, who had it so bad that he went from being a St. Louis Cardinals ace in 2000 to the Cardinals’ center fielder in 2007.
Another decade later, Yankees reliever Dellin Betances can’t throw strikes.
Like Blass in his demise, it was sad watching Betances walking the Toronto Blue Jays to a 7-6 win Wednesday afternoon at Yankee Stadium.
Betances entered into a 6-6 game in the eighth, walked three in a row to load the bases, struck out Jose Bautista and then walked Russell Martin to force him the lead run.
That was it for Betances, who threw 18 balls in his 27 pitches, 10 in a row at one point.
This shaky outing was a continuation of wildness issues for Betances, who has faced 22 batters over his last five outings and walked 11 of them while hitting another.
He’ll be in Miami next Tuesday for the All-Star Game because he’d been so great before these meltdowns … as he’s been for most of his four full seasons, all of them All-Star seasons for the 6-foot-8 righty.
Betances won’t be the next Steve Blass, but he does need to go back to the drawing board and fix major issues with his mechanics.
“I just know that I feel like my body is leaking a little bit, my arm is not in the right slot and that’s causing me to fly open,” Betances said after his Wednesday debacle. “I’ll keep looking at stuff to help me.”
Yankees fans have loved and appreciated Betances’ brilliance over the years, but they were on him pretty good Wednesday, probably because they’re frustrated that their team is on a 6-16 slide. After being four games up in the AL East, the Yankees are now four games behind Boston.
Figuratively and literally, Betances got some dreaded Bronx cheers Wednesday when his streak of 10 balls in a row ended with a 1-0 called strike to Bautista with the bases full and nobody out.
“Obviously, you hear it when you’re in a tough spot like that,” Betances said. “You try to block them out, but they’re (sarcastically) ecstatic because I threw strikes here and there. Obviously you don’t want to be in that position. I put myself in a tough spot and I put my team in a bad spot.”
When Blass never figured out how to throw strikes consistently again, he found a new career as a Pirates broadcaster, his work for the last 32 years.
Betances is sure that he’ll figure it out soon and again become one of baseball’s dominate relievers.
“I need to look at some stuff so I can be consistent,” Betances said. “Right now I’m in between two different deliveries. It’s not helping when I’m out there.”