Friday, May 30, 2008

"Cocoa" Was Hot In Cleveland In '70

The Tigers' starting shortstop on June 21, 1970 was in a slump. Big time. After a hot start, he was mired in a 15-for-99 funk, and that included a 2-for-3 performance in his last game.

Not that hitting was ever part of Cesar Gutierrez's make-up. This was still the era of the good field, no hit shortstop -- when almost every team's lineup (pre-DH) ended like this:

8. SS
9. P

That's just the way it was. The next season, in '71, the Tigers would have a new SS -- Eddie Brinkman, acquired in the Denny McLain trade. And Eddie was about as good field, no hit as you could get. The shortstop's job back then was to prevent runs, not to help score them.

So Gutierrez started in Game 2 of the Tigers' double-header in Cleveland that June Sunday, scuffling along at .218 and just happy to be in the lineup, most likely. He was penciled in by manager Mayo Smith in the #2 hole, behind Mickey Stanley. Ironic, since it was Stanley's move to SS in the '68 World Series that is now legendary. But on 6-21-70, another shortstop would upstage Stanley and everyone else.

The Indians started a pitcher named Rick Austin -- about as big of a name as it sounds, which is not at all. It was Austin's first big league start, and he would have only seven more.

Ahh, seven. A lucky number.

Don't bother trying to explain Gutierrez's day; it's impossible

Gutierrez singled in the first inning, then scored. He singled in the third, then scored on Al Kaline's home run. He singled in the fifth. He doubled in the seventh, and scored on Willie Horton's homer. Another single in the eighth. The game went into extra-innings, and Gutierrez kept hitting. Another single, this one in the tenth. One more at-bat, in the twelfth, and again Gutierrez singled. The Tigers won, 9-8, on Stanley's homer in that 12th frame.

Cesar Gutierrez, he of the 15-for-99 slump, had gone 7-for-7. His average jumped from .218 to .249 in one day.

Gutierrez became the first player to record seven hits in one game in the modern era. No player had done it since 1892. Pittsburgh's Rennie Stennett also went 7-for-7 in 1975.

Gutierrrez, nicknamed Cocoa, was about as unlikely a candidate for seven hits in one game as anyone who's ever played the game. Which is why baseball is such a great game; even the non-descript can have his moment of glory. Just take a look at the list of pitchers who've tossed no-hitters, and the ones who haven't, and you'll see what I mean. Don Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series is a classic example of the "every dog has his day" theory. Larsen wasn't even a front line starter, let alone a star. Just three days before his gem, Larsen was knocked out in the second inning after surrendering four walks. So go figure.

Gutierrez is one of several Latin American ballplayers who played for the Tigers who died too young. Cocoa passed away in 2005, just days before his 62nd birthday. He joined Aurelios Rodriguez and Lopez as those taken from us too soon.

But Cocoa had his day on June 21, 1970. Did he ever.

(note: game details and some other facts researched thru and


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