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Perrotto: Skenes Rekindles Memories of Jose DeLeon’s Fast Start with Pirates

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Pittsburgh Pirates, Jose DeLeon, Paul Skenes

Paul Skenes is striking out batters at a rate rarely seen so early in a major-league pitcher’s career.

The Pittsburgh Pirates rookie right-hander has 61 Ks in eight starts since making his debut on May 11. That is seventh-most by an MLB pitcher in his first eight starts behind Herb Score (77), Jose DeLeon (73), Kerry Wood (72), Stephen Strasburg (68), Masahiro Tanaka (68) and Nolan Ryan (66).

The second name on that list – DeLeon — has been forgotten over the years. Sadly, he died on Feb. 25 at 63 from cancer.

Yet Pirates fans of a certain age remember DeLeon. The best way to put it is that he was Paul Skenes before there was Paul Skenes.

DeLeon did not arrive in the big leagues to nearly the fanfare of Skenes when he debuted on July 23, 1983, against the visiting San Francisco Giants at Three Rivers Stadium. DeLeon was outstanding as he pitched eight innings for the win, allowing two runs or four hits with nine strikeouts and two walks.

Pitching on three days of rest – imagine if the Pirates tried that with Skenes? – DeLeon was even better in his second start. He pitched a complete-game four-hitter against the visiting San Diego Padres, allowing one run, striking out seven and walking two.

DeLeon took a no-hitter in the seventh inning before Alan Wiggins broke up the bid with a one-out single.

Once again pitching on three days of rest, DeLeon was even better on July 31 when he faced the Mets in New York. He carried a no-no into the ninth before Hubie Brooks hit a one-out single.

Yet DeLeon did not factor in the decision as the Mets won 1-0 in 12 innings.

DeLeon lost his next two starts, allowing a combined eight runs in 13 innings to the Montreal Expos and Philadelphia Phillies. However, DeLeon bounced back with four outstanding outings to finish August.

DeLeon pitched 8.1 innings to beat the Mets then threw a two-hit shutout against the Cincinnati Reds in which he struck out 13. DeLeon held the Reds hitless into the seventh before surrendering a two-out double to Dan Driessen.

After striking out 11 in 8.2 innings to beat the Houston Astors, DeLeon again flirted with a no-hitter in a no-decision against the Reds. Gary Redus broke up that bid with a one-out single in the sixth and DeLeon wound up with a no-decision.

DeLeon was 5-2 through his first nine starts with a 2.03 ERA. However, DeLeon tailed off in September, going 1-1 with a 4.38 in his final six starts of the season.

DeLeon did throw another shutout, though, and it was rather amazing as he allowed nine hits and five walks in beating the Montreal Expos on Sept. 16. DeLeon made pitches when it counted, though, as Les Expos were hitless in 15 at-bats with runners in scoring position and left 12 runners on base.

DeLeon never recaptured the magic of his first nine starts in the major leagues. He went 7-13 with a 3.74 ERA in 1984 and led the National League in losses a year later with his 2-19 record and 4.70 ERA.

By 1986, the Pirates had a new regime led by general manager Syd Thrift and manager Jim Leyland. When DeLeon started the season by going 1-3 with an 8.27 ERA, he was traded to the White Sox for promising young slugger Bobby Bonilla.

The Pirates had lost Bonilla to the White Sox in the Rule 5 Draft at the previous Winter Meetings. However, Thrift corrected his mistake, and it turned out to be a great trade for the Pirates as Bonilla was selected to four straight All-Star Games from 1988-91.

DeLeon went on to play in the major leagues for five teams over 13 seasons. He has his moments, including having an NL-leading 201 strikeouts for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1989, but finished with a career record of 86-119.

However, 41 years ago, DeLeon had an amazing six weeks. It might not have had the hype of Skenesmania but it was something to remember.

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Russell Hardiman

Thanks for that memory, John The Pirates made a late push that year for the Division championship, but were unable to catch the Phillies. DeLeon’s insertion into the starting rotation among other factors resulted in the Pirates erasing a 13 ga.me deficit in the standings that year and getting it down to 3 games out of first by September.

I also recall a game where the Pirates Parrot almost ran over DeLeon with his golf cart buggy

JPW

Great memories John! I seem to recall more than once DeLeon pitching a no hitter thru 6+ but losing 1-0 because of walks and a saf fly or grounder that resulted in a run. Skenes seems to have better control which should keep him continuing to excel.

Gary Conti

I saw his gem at Shea Stadium July 31st. Its too bad that Pirate team had all the drug issues and had the Phils and their average age of 103 over take them. It was also too bad of the bad luck Jose had in the big leagues. The other thing I remember about Jose was when told of his call up from their AAA Hawaii team he asked for driving directions!

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