The Mets had been up on the Phils by seven games on September 12th, with 17 games to play. Going into the final game, they’d improbably blown 11 of 16 games and went into the final game in a dead tie.
The Mets sent future Hall of Famer Tom Glavine to the mound that day to face off against a 70-91 Florida Marlins team playing for little more than pride at the end of a disappointing season.
What happened, of course, is part of baseball lore: Glavine gave up seven earned runs on five hits and two walks while retiring only one batter, the Mets’ season was over, and a Philadelphia dynasty was born.
In the biggest game of the year, needing one victory for a chance at the playoffs, Tom Glavine got Turbo Tanked.
What Does It Mean To Get Turbo Tanked?
Everyone knows what it means when a pitcher gets “tanked”—it means he gave up lots of runs. It is a subjective standard, but generally speaking we’re talking about enough runs to lose the game, and usually enough runs to keep him from going five innings. Give up five runs in six innings of play, and you had a bad outing; give up six runs in three innings, and you got tanked.
But a Turbo Tanking has a far more specific definition.
A Turbo Tanking occurs any time a pitcher pitches so poorly that he can’t even get out of the first inning. Whenever you see a number less than one in the innings pitched column and a big number in the runs column, it means the pitcher got Turbo Tanked.
We can only imagine what went through Dave Bush’s head when he took the mound against the Minnesota Twins on May 21st. Perhaps he was feeling good. Perhaps he was thinking he needed to pitch the whole game because Trevor Hoffman has been as reliable as the Postal Service. I’d be willing to bet he was not thinking that he would be leaving the mound before his team even got a chance to bat, but that is exactly what happened.
Bush got Turbo Tanked.
How Bad Can a Turbo Tanking Get?
Glavine’s Turbo Tanking may have been one of the highest profile Turbo Tankings of all time, but it was certainly not the worst. The title of "Worst Turbo Tanking of All Time" probably belongs to the Florida Marlins, in what was actually a team effort.
On June 27, 2003, the Marlins were in Boston for an interleague matchup featuring Carl Pavano and Byung-Hyun Kim. Pavano had pitched well the game before against Tampa Bay, and by the time Pavano took the mound the Marlins had already staked him to a 1-0 lead.
The lead did not last.
Pavano faced six batters and got absolutely tagged—the Sox went double-single-double-home run-double-single and chased Pavano from the game after scoring five runs. They brought Michael Tejera to the mound for the Marlins to pitch in relief of Pavano. Except, Tejera came in and the Red Sox promptly went single-walk-single-triple-single off of him, tacking on five more runs and chasing him from the game.
The Marlins had used two pitchers and hadn’t recorded an out.
It wasn’t until Allen Levrault came into the game that the Marlins finally recorded their first out, and then a mere four runs later the inning was over, but not before Johnny Damon had come the plate for the third time.
At the end of the day, Pavano and Tejera had combined for the incredibly rare "Two-Man Turbo Tanking." And, because neither Pavano and Tejera had not recorded a single out, it was also what we call a "Pure" Turbo Tanking.
Famous Turbo Tankings
The nice thing about a Turbo Tanking is that there is always the next game. But that isn’t always a good thing. We all know about Johnny Vander Meer’s consecutive no-hitters in 1938, but in 1933 Sad Sam Jones had back-to-back Turbo Tankings against the Washington Senators and Philadelphia Athletics.
And for some Turbo Tankers, there is no tomorrow; the saddest Turbo Tanking is the Turbo Tanking that ends a player’s career. There are none more famous than Nolan Ryan.
Ryan took the mound for the final time on September 22, 1993, against the Seattle Mariners. Pitching to Ivan Rodriguez, Ryan gave up a leadoff single to Omar Vizquel, walked Rich Amaral and Ken Griffey, Jr., and then walked Jay Buhner to bring in the first run of the game. The next batter hit a 1-2 pitch for a grand slam and Nolan Ryan left his final game without recording an out.
Charlie Hough would end his career in similar fashion the following year for the Marlins against the Phillies, giving up an HBP, three singles, a double, and a walk before being pulled from the game for the final time.
Nolan Ryan’s old teammate with the 1969 Mets, Jerry Koosman, also failed to finish the first inning in his final start on August 21, 1985.
How Does Knowing about Turbo Tankings Help Us?
We call it “taking one for the team,” when a pitcher stays in a game to give up tons of runs in a clearly lost game, thereby preserving the arms of the relief pitchers for another day.
But for a starting pitcher, taking a Turbo Tanking might also be considered “taking one for the team” in the sense that, if a manager can yank a struggling pitcher early enough it gives the pitcher’s team a chance to get back into the game.
This doesn’t happen as often as one might think, but just last season it happened to the Detroit Tigers; Armando Galarraga got Turbo Tanked, giving up five earned runs on four hits and three walks, but Jim Leyland got him out of there and the Tigers managed an 11-7 come-from-behind win.
Sometimes a Turbo Tanking can save a championship. In Game Seven of the 1925 World Series, the Pittsburgh Pirates gave Vic Aldridge a quick yank after he gave up four runs on two hits and three walks, and ended up winning the game, 9-7, and the Series against none other than Walter Johnson himself.
So What’s the Point of all This?
Baseball is all about happenings. We love it when a pitcher has a no-hitter going, when a batter is hitting for the cycle, when a fielder has an errorless streak, or when Bobby Cox is about to get tossed again to extend his Major League record.
Rarely is the average baseball fan aware, however, that when the starting pitcher fails to get out of the first inning, that too is a happening.
So, next time you are reminiscing about the Dawn of the Phillies Dynasty, you don’t have to say:
“Remember that time the Mets sent Glavine to the mound with the season on the line and he gave up some many hits, walks, and runs that they had to take him out of the game before he could finish the first inning?”
Instead, you can say:
"Hey, remember Glavine’s Turbo Tanking?"
We’ll all know what you mean.
Truly, it was one of the great moments in Phillies’ history.
Asher B. Chancey lives in Philadelphia and is a co-founder of BaseballEvolution.com.