Ranking the Top 5 left-handed starting pitchers in Red Sox history
It has traditionally taken a special breed of left-hander to succeed in Fenway Park. The Green Monster leaves many southpaws hesitant to pitch inside to right-hander hitters, but the ones who conquer those fears become linchpins.
The turn of the century brought a couple of championship left-handers in Dutch Leonard and the Bambino himself, Babe Ruth. The '30s gave us Lefty Grove, the '40s and '50s Mel Parnell, and then a long fallow period that ended with the arrival of Bill Lee in 1969.
The Red Sox began developing better lefties in the 1970s and '80s, from John Tudor to Bobby Ojeda to Bruce Hurst, before a recent deluge of draftees, free agents and trade acquisitions like Jon Lester, Chris Sale, David Price, and Eduardo Rodriguez.
The days of the Red Sox shying away from left-handed starters have long passed. Now they're integral to the team's success. Read on for the top five southpaws in Sox history.
5. Bruce Hurst
A case can be made for Leonard, who in 1914 posted the lowest starting ERA in baseball history (0.96). But I'm skeptical of the turn-of-the-century types, so we're going with Hurst, one of the best pitchers of the 1980s and a surefire World Series MVP until fate intervened in 1986.
The perfect complement to fire-breathing Roger Clemens, Hurst was cerebral, low-key and calm on the mound, traits he credited to his Mormon upbringing. He made an All-Star team in 1987, finished fifth in the Cy Young voting in 1988, and was a monster in the postseason, posting a 2.29 ERA in seven starts.
Twenty-five years before they let Lester get away, the Red Sox watched Hurst walk in free agency. He joined the Padres in 1989, and though the narrative is that his career was never the same, that's not really true. He won 55 games over four years in San Diego, posting a 3.27 ERA and leading the league in complete games (10; 1989) and shutouts (4; 1990).
4. Mel Parnell
The only pitcher on this list to spend his entire career in Boston, Parnell still holds left-handed franchise records for most wins (123) and most wins at Fenway Park (71). A native of New Orleans, Parnell joined the Red Sox in 1947 and became a mainstay of the rotation a year later.
Nicknamed "Dusty" for his ability to keep the ball practically in the dirt, Parnell mastered the art of pitching around hard contact, content to walk batters rather than give them something that they could knock over the Monster. In his breakout 1949 season, when he went 25-7 with a league-leading 2.77 ERA, he actually walked more batters than he struck out.
Parnell's best years came between 1948 and 1953, when he averaged 18 wins with a 3.22 ERA. He's also the answer to one of the franchise's great what-ifs: What if he had started the 1948 one-game playoff against the Indians instead of Denny Galehouse, who took the 8-3 loss?
3. Babe Ruth
Whenever the question of baseball's greatest player arises, the discussion should end immediately because of Ruth's success on the mound. The legendary slugger was on a Hall of Fame path as a pitcher before his bat made him a full-time outfielder.
In six years as a Red Sox starter, he not only went 89-46 with a 2.19 ERA, but he also won a pair of World Series titles by tossing 29.2 consecutive scoreless innings, a record that would last nearly 45 years until Whitey Ford of the Yankees broke it in 1961. His greatest success came in 1916, when he went 23-12 with a league-leading 1.75 ERA and nine shutouts, an American League record for left-handers that still stands.
Ruth dominated the best batters of his era, holding Ty Cobb hitless and limiting Tris Speaker to a .154 average. His bat could not be silenced, however, and after smashing an AL-record 29 homers in 1919, he was sold to the Yankees, where he went on to true fame.
2. Jon Lester
There are few better stories in Red Sox lore, save for the ending. The big left-hander hailed from Oregon, but he spoke with a Texas twang that evoked memories of a young Roger Clemens. Lester arrived in 2002 as interim general manager Mike Port's parting gift to the franchise and immediately challenged the belief that the Red Sox couldn't develop homegrown pitching.
He reached the big leagues in 2006 and went 7-2, but tragedy struck in September when he was diagnosed with lymphoma. A year later, he won the clinching Game 4 of the World Series vs. the Rockies, and from 2008 through 2013, he made at least 31 starts a season. He made three All-Star teams and twice finished fourth in the Cy Young voting.
The Red Sox controversially traded their horse at the 2014 deadline, hoping to re-sign him in free agency, but he joined the Cubs and helped end Chicago's World Series drought. On the list of ones that got away, Lester ranks right near the top.
1. Lefty Grove
It's in the name, right? The Hall of Famer had already won an MVP and nearly 200 games with the A's when he joined the Red Sox in 1934 at age 34 with a reputation for being combustible and irascible. All he did thereafter was make five straight All-Star teams, lead the league in ERA four times, and anchor a Red Sox pitching staff that hadn't featured a real ace since the Bambino himself.
Over eight years in Boston, Grove won 105 games, including the 300th of his career at age 41. Blessed with one of the best fastballs of the era -- he led the league in strikeouts in each of his first seven seasons -- he became a complete pitcher with the Red Sox, featuring a curveball and off-speed offering. He even mellowed, serving as a veteran presence when a young outfielder from San Diego named Ted Williams arrived in 1941.
He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1947, wearing a Red Sox hat.