With Chris Tillman scheduled to make his first start in the majors, I thought it would be interesting to go back in time and see how some of the great pitchers in Baltimore Orioles history fared in their first appearance and first career start for the Birds.
In almost all cases, the results were pretty impressive and signs of future greatness to come.
Dave McNally – Career Debut: September 26, 1962
It is tough to do much better in a major league debut than left-hander Dave McNally.
In the final days of the 1962 season, the 19-year old McNally joined the big-league squad for one start against the Kansas City Athletics.
Displaying the form that would help him post four 20+ victory seasons and win 181 games in 13 seasons with the Orioles, McNally allowed only two hits with three walks and four shutouts. Baltimore won the game 3-0 for McNally’s first career win.
The performance helped McNally secure a spot on the team for 1963 and he posted a 7-8 record with 20 starts and 29 appearances.
Jim Palmer – First Start: May 9, 1965
After seeing action in five games as a reliever, 19-year old Jim Palmer made his first career start for the Orioles on May 9, 1965 against Detroit.
Palmer pitched seven strong innings, but left with the game tied 4-4. Baltimore went on to win 5-4 in the 12th inning.
After making six starts, Palmer went back to the bullpen for the rest of the season and finished with a 5-4 record. The next season he claimed a spot in the rotation and went 15-10 as the O’s won the World Series.
Palmer went on to register eight seasons of 20+ wins and is in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Mike Flanagan – First Start: September 28, 1975
After pitching 1.2 innings of relief on September 5, 1975, Mike Flanagan waited more than three weeks before finally getting to pitch again on September 28 against the New York Yankees.
For eight innings, the lefty was nearly as impressive as McNally had been 13 years earlier. He allowed only three hits and no runs through eight innings.
However, in the ninth he allowed two singles and a walk to the first three hitters and was replaced by Dyar Miller. Miller was unable to hold the lead as the Yankees scored three runs in the inning to win 3-2.
Ironically, the winning run was scored when Miller made an errant pickoff through to third base. The error allowed then-Yankee and future-Oriole catcher Rick Dempsey to score the winning run.
Flanagan pitched primarily in relief in 1976 before entering the starting rotation in 1977. He went 15-10 in his first season as a starter and in 1979 won the Cy Young award while winning 23 games. He won 141 games in 15 seasons with the Orioles.
Scott McGregor – First Start: September 29, 1976
After being acquired by the Orioles earlier in the season, Scott McGregor recorded two outs in his major league debut on September 19, 1976. He made his first start 10 days later against the Milwaukee Brewers.
McGregor allowed two runs in the second inning, but steadied himself and allowed only one more run entering the eighth inning. However, he couldn’t get through the eighth and allowed two additional runs in a 6-3 loss.
After seeing action primarily as a reliever in 1977, McGregor moved into the starting rotation in 1978 and went 15-13. He went on to win 138 games in 13 seasons with the Orioles.
Mike Boddicker – Career Debut: October 4, 1980
On the final weekend of the 1980 season, 23-year old Mike Boddicker was called up to make his major league debut against the Cleveland Indians.
Baltimore jumped out to a 3-0 lead, but the rookie couldn’t hold it as he allowed single runs in the third and fourth and two runs in the fifth inning. He left the game in the eighth inning after allowing two more runs. Cleveland won the game 6-4 as Boddicker suffered the loss.
After spending most of the next two seasons in the minors, Boddicker enjoyed a strong rookie campaign in 1983 as he went 16-8 with a 2.77 ERA to help lead Baltimore to the World Series title.
He went on to post a 79-73 record in nine seasons with the Orioles.
Storm Davis – First Start: July 3, 1982
After registering a 1.27 ERA in eight relief appearances, Storm Davis made his first career start on July 3, 1982 against the Detroit Tigers.
Davis earned his first career victory as he allowed only three runs and seven hits while pitching into the seventh inning.
He went on to pitch in 29 games with eight starts as the Orioles fought to the end against the Milwaukee Brewers. In fact, the 20-year old Davis registered his first complete game in a 7-1 victory over Milwaukee on the next final weekend of the season to help keep the Orioles alive in the playoff hunt.
He went on to post a 61-43 record in six seasons with the Orioles.
Mike Mussina – Career Debut: August 4, 1991
Heralded prospect Mike Mussina made his major league debut on August 4, 1991 against the Chicago White Sox.
The 22-year old Mussina allowed only four hits (three by Frank Thomas) and one run in seven and two third innings, but suffered the loss, as the Orioles were shutout by knuckle ball thrower Charlie Hough. The only run of the game was a sixth inning home run by Thomas.
Mussina went 4-5 with a 2.87 ERA in 12 starts in 1991. He went 18-5 in 1982 and went 147-81 in 10 seasons with the Orioles.
Brad Bergesen – Career Debut: April 21, 2009
Orioles faithful are certainly hoping that Chris Tillman’s initial major league appearance will be similar to the successful debut of his teammate, Brad Bergesen earlier this year.
Facing the Chicago White Sox, Bergesen earned a victory after allowing only one earned run in 5.2 innings as the Orioles posted a 10-3 win.
Bergesen has been impressive through his first 18 starts posting a 6-5 record and 3.56 ERA. He has pitched at least six innings in 14 of 18 starts.