The Toronto Blue Jays are no strangers to knuckleballers. In the early days, it was Phil Niekro; most recently, it’s R.A. Dickey who has been the latest iteration of a knuckleball pitcher for the Blue Jays.
But there was a man in between those two eras who also relied upon the knuckler in Toronto. That man was Tom Candiotti, the focus of this week’s Flashback Friday at BJH.
The year was 1991; much like the Blue Jays this year, a struggling 1991 Toronto Blue Jays squad received a shot in the arm at the trade deadline with reinforcements for their starting rotation. It came in the form of a knuckleballer from the Cleveland Indians, Tom Candiotti.
Although Candiotti’s tenure was short with the Blue Jays, he was quite effective as Candiotti made 19 starts for the Blue Jays to the tune of a 2.98 ERA. Combined with his statistics from the Indians, Tom Candiotti finished the 1991 season with a 13-13 record and 2.65 ERA.
In fact, Candiotti was cruising towards an AL ERA title, but his final three starts of the season sunk his chances as he surrendered a combined 14 earned runs. Roger Clemens just narrowly beat Tom Candiotti for the ERA title as Clemens posted a 2.64 ERA in 1991.
So with another division title under their belt, the Blue Jays’ focused turned to the postseason and how the starting rotation would set up against the Minnesota Twins.
There was much debate as to who would start the first game of the series, but Cito Gaston ultimately leaned on Tom Candiotti in Game 1 in the ALCS. Gaston’s rationale was having a knuckleballer on the hill would keep the Minnesota Twins hitter off-balance.
The strategy didn’t quite go as planned as Candiotti got knocked around for five runs on eight hits and he didn’t even escape the third inning of Game One of the ALCS.
The problem was Candiotti seemingly abandoned his signature pitch in Game 1, as he ended up throwing more curveballs than knuckleballs against the Twins. After the game, Cito Gaston was quoted as saying “I thought we traded for a knuckleballer, not a curve ball pitcher.”
Tom Candiotti’s rebuttal was that he didn’t abandon his knuckleball per se, it was that he trusted his curveball more against the Twins. Regardless, that was the beginning of the end of his time in Toronto as Candiotti walked as a free agent at season’s end.
In all honestly, the 1991 Minnesota Twins were the far superior team than the 1991 Toronto Blue Jays and it probably wouldn’t have mattered anyway, but it didn’t stop fans and writers from second-guessing Cito Gaston’s choice to hand the ball to Tom Candiotti in the playoffs.
As far as trade deadline acquisitions go, Tom Candiotti came almost exactly as advertised for the Blue Jays down the stretch in 1991. He helped them clinch a division title, but unfortunately Candiotti faltered in the playoffs.
If anything, the trade for Tom Candiotti set the stage for the Blue Jays to continually be players for big name players at the trade deadline in the early nineties.
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