Legendary broadcaster Curt Gowdy once said of Luis Tiant: “He comes everywhere except between his legs.” That was perhaps the most colorful way to describe the Cuban-born right-hander’s delivery style, in which he twisted away from the plate during his motion, his left knee nearly hitting him in the chin, before uncorking his pitch to the batter.
Tiant came to Boston in 1971 and went just 1-7; however, knowing of his success earlier in his career, the organization was willing to give him the opportunity to prove himself. Tiant did just that the following season, going 15-6 with a 1.91 ERA and nearly pitching Boston into playoff contention, enough to earn him Comeback Player of the Year honors from the Sporting News.
It only got better from there for “El Tiante” and Boston as he won 20 games in 1973 and 22 games in 1974. Red Sox fans grew to love him; on the mound, he showed only focus and determination on the mound – one player said that he pitched with “bulldog competitiveness” – but in the clubhouse, he was often photographed smoking a fat cigar while sporting a generous grin, often pulling pranks on unsuspecting teammates.
In 1975, at the age of 34, he helped Boston return to the World Series, posting an 18-14 record. In the American League Championship Series against the defending champion Oakland Athletics, he opened the series with a complete game, three-hit effort, allowing just an unearned run as Boston easily swept in three. In the World Series against Cincinnati, he pitched two more complete games, winning Games One and Four; thanks in part to rain delays, he also started the historic Game Six but was gone from the game well before Carlton Fisk‘s dramatic extra-inning, walk-off home run for the Red Sox.
Tiant would pitch three more seasons in Boston and finish with 122 wins in a Red Sox uniform before the fan favorite was released as a free against following the 1978 season. He would play four more seasons, including the first two with rival New York, before hanging up his cap with 229 wins and a 3.30 career ERA.