This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History: April 6th, Bert Blyleven

One game of note and three former Pittsburgh Pirates born on this date. We start with a Hall of Famer.

Bert Blyleven, pitcher for the 1978-80 Pirates. He began his Major League career in 1970 as a 19-year-old by going 10-9, 3.18 in 164 innings for the Minnesota Twins. Blyleven was drafted out of Santiago HS in California exactly one year before his big league debut, and it took him just 123 innings in the minors to work his way to the majors. At age 20 he won 16 games for the Twins and posted a 2.81 ERA. He threw 17 complete games and pitched a total of 278.1 innings. His 224 strikeouts ranked fourth in the American League. He went 17-17, 2.73 in 287.1 innings in 1972, and once again finished fourth in strikeouts. It was a strong season, especially for a 21-year-old, but he had an incredible season the next year. Blyleven made 40 starts in 1973, finished 25 of them, and nine of those games were shutouts. He pitched a total of 325 innings, while winning 20 games for the only time in his career. His 258 strikeouts ranked second in the AL and it set a single-season high for his career that he wouldn’t top.

Blyleven had a 2.66 ERA in 281 innings in  1974 for a team that finished with an 82-80 record, but somehow he managed just a 17-17 record. His teammate Ray Corbin had a winning record while putting up a 5.29 ERA. Blyleven finished second in the league again with 249 strikeouts. In 1975, he had his third straight second place finish in strikeouts (233), while going 15-10, 3.00 in 275.2 innings. In June of 1976. Blyleven was traded to the Texas Rangers. He combined to go 13-16, 2.87 in 297.2 innings. On December 8, 1977 the Pirates acquired him in a four-team trade involving 11 players, including John Milner joining the Pirates from the New York Mets, while Al Oliver and Nelson Norman were sent to the Rangers.

After going 14-12, 2.72 in 30 starts during the 1977 season, Blyleven went 14-10, 3.03 in 34 starts during his first season with the Pirates in 1978. He pitched 243.2 innings that year and struck out 182 batters for the second straight season. In 1979 he posted his highest ERA up to that point, but for once he didn’t have to be perfect to get wins. He had pitched for some poor teams during his career, resulting in many .500 W/L seasons, despite always posting strong stats. In 1979 the Pirates won the World Series, and Blyleven went 12-5, 3.60 during the season and 2-0, 1.50 in three playoff games. In 1980 his ERA rose, his record dropped to 8-13 and he was unhappy in Pittsburgh. Blyleven was dealt to the Cleveland Indians, along with Manny Sanguillen, on December 9, 1980. He went on to pitch another 11 seasons in the majors, while the trade return from the Indians provided the Pirates with almost nothing. He had a strong first year in Cleveland during the strike-shortened 1981 season, going 11-7, 2.88 in 159.1 innings. His 1982 was a lost one after needing elbow surgery early in the year. He made just four starts before the surgery, then he was limited to 24 starts in 1983, when he posted a 3.91 ERA and had multiple trips to the disabled list. It appeared that his career could be on the downside, but Blyleven bounced back in a big way in 1984 by going 19-7, 2.87 in 245 innings.

Blyleven split the 1985 season between the Indians and Minnesota Twins, going 17-16, 3.16 in 293.2 innings. He led the league in innings, starts (37), complete games (24) and shutouts (five), while also winning his lone strikeout title with 206 on the season. It was his seventh season with 200+ strikeouts, but he wasn’t done. In 1986, Blyleven went 17-14, 4.01 in 271.2 innings, with 215 strikeouts. He once again led the league in innings pitched. He served up 50 homers that year, which stands as an all-time record for a single season. His 1987 season was extremely similar. He once again posted a 4.01 ERA, and he finished three games over .500 again (15-12), with 196 strikeouts in 267 innings. He gave up 46 homers, which is tied for the third most in a season. Blyleven had a rough final season with the Twins in 1988, going 10-17, 5.43 in 207.1 innings. He led the league in losses, earned runs allowed and hit batters. He was traded to the California Angels in the off-season and had a second resurgence during the 1988 season. He went 17-5, 2.77 in 241 innings and led the league with five shutouts. A shoulder injury limited his effectiveness over his final three years, including a lost 1991 season in which he didn’t pitch at all. Blyleven signed with the Twins in 1993, but he retired after not making the team in Spring Training.

Blyleven finished his 22-year career with a 287-250, 3.31 record in 4,970 innings, with 242 complete games, 60 shutouts and 3,701 strikeouts. With the Pirates, he went 34-28, 3.47 in 697.2 innings. He ranks fifth all-time in strikeouts, ninth all-time in shutouts, 11th in starts (685) and 14th in innings pitched. He had just two All-Star appearances in his career, making it in 1973 and 1985. Blyleven had two third place finishes in the Cy Young voting during the 1984-85 seasons. He also finished fourth in 1989 and seventh in 1973. He led the entire AL in WAR during the 1973 season and he led all AL pitchers in WAR in 1981 when he failed to get a single Cy Young vote. He was voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2011 during his 14th year on the ballot.

Sonny Senerchia, third baseman for the 1952 Pirates. The Pirates signed him as an amateur free agent right out of Montclair State University in 1952. He had previously played minor league ball in 1949 at age 18, prior to beginning his college career. That year he hit .255 in 73 games, with 27 extra-base hits. After signing with the Pirates, Senerchia played 62 games in the Carolina League, where he hit .296 with seven homers. He joined the Pirates in late August, and played 29 games over the final six weeks of the season. He was called up the day after the Pirates traded infielder George Strickland and lost second baseman Jack Merson to a hand injury (hit-by-pitch) for the rest of the season. Senerchia pinch-hit in his first game on August 19th, then started 24 straight games at third base from August 20th to September 13th. Over the next 13 days, he played just two games off of the bench, then started at third base during the final two games of the season. He hit .220 with three homers and 11 RBIs for a team that finished with a 42-112 record. Senerchia spent the entire 1953 season in the minors, playing for three different Pirates affiliates. He hit a combined .260 with 16 homers in 127 games. Following the season, the Pirates lost him to the St Louis Cardinals in the December 1953 Rule 5 draft. He played five more seasons without making it back to the majors before he retired. His next to last hit in the majors was a home run off of Hall of Fame pitcher Hoyt Wilhelm at the Polo Grounds. He was a pitcher during his last four seasons in pro ball. Senerchia did well during his first season as a pitcher, putting up a 2.75 ERA in 131 innings for Allentown of the Eastern League. He moved on to the South Atlantic League in 1956, which was considered to be the same level of play as the Eastern League that year. He had a 3.53 ERA in 120 innings, but in a brief trial with Louisville of the American Association (a higher level of play), he gave up a total of 11 earned runs over three innings in three appearances. He pitched briefly for Louisville in 1957, then threw 186 innings during his final season of pro ball, spending the year with Souix City of the Western League, where he was 9-12, 5.13 with 154 strikeouts. His first name was Emanuel, and he went by Manny in college, but the Sonny nickname was used often during his big league time.

Alex McRae, pitcher for the 2018-19 Pirates. He was a tenth round pick of the Pirates in 2014 out of Jacksonville University. McRae went right from college to a starting role with Jamestown of the New York-Penn League after signing with the Pirates. In 15 starts, he went 3-6, 6.21 in 66.2 innings. That was after he threw 87.2 innings during the college season. McRae went to Low-A West Virginia in 2015, where he went 8-9, 4.98 in 137.1 innings. He split the next season between High-A and Double-A, pitching strong in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League (High-A) by posting a 2.69 ERA in 12 starts, but he cooled off in Altoona, putting up a 4.79 ERA in 88.1 innings. After pitching in relief during the Arizona Fall League, McRae began the 2017 season back in Double-A. He spent the entire year there, going 10-5, 3.61 in 149.2 innings. He started and ended the 2018 season in Triple-A Indianapolis, going 3-10, 4.77 in 117 innings spread over 19 starts and seven relief appearances. McRae made it to the majors in 2018 for two games in early August and he allowed four runs in 6.1 innings. He was designated for assignment after the season, but he remained with the club after clearing waivers. He made 11 appearances with the Pirates in 2019, including two starts, as they struggled to find healthy pitchers during the season. He posted an 8.78 ERA in 26.2 innings. He didn’t do much better back in Triple-A that year, posting a 5.20 ERA in 114.1 innings. He was designated for assignment for the second time after the season and opted for free agency. McRae signed a minor league deal with the Chicago White Sox over the 2019-20 off-season and pitched twice in relief in the majors during the shortened season, throwing a total of three shutout innings. He became a free agent after the season, then eventually re-signed with the White Sox in February of 2021.

The Game

On this date in 1971 the Pirates opened their regular season with a 4-2 win over the Philadelphia Phillies. Dock Ellis pitched a complete game, allowing eight hits, two walks, a hit batter and he struck out eight. He also drove in a run and dropped down three sacrifice bunts. Richie Hebner had two hits, a walk and an RBI. The lineup had three Hall of Famers for the Pirates. Bill Mazeroski went 1-for-3, with an RBI. Roberto Clemente had an 0-for-4 game. Willie Stargell was 1-for-4, with a run scored.

The lineup that day was as follows:

2B Mazeroski

3B Hebner

RF Clemente

C  Sanguillen

1B Robertson

LF Stargell

CF Oliver

SS Hernandez

P  Ellis

Here’s the boxscore courtesy of Baseball-Reference.