(Updated July 31, 2016)
In 2014, Adam Wainwright had the lowest earned run average before the All-Star Game break for a Cardinals starting pitcher since Steve Carlton in 1969.
Carlton, a left-hander, posted a 1.65 ERA in 142 innings before the all-star break for the 1969 Cardinals.
Wainwright in 2014 was the first big-leaguer to have nine of his first 18 starts of a season be scoreless efforts of seven or more innings, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Carlton had three of his first 18 starts in 1969 be scoreless efforts of seven or more innings.
In five consecutive 1969 starts between June 27 and July 16, Carlton yielded a total of five runs, getting wins in all five games. That stretch boosted Carlton’s record to 12-5, earning him the National League starting pitching assignment for the All-Star Game.
Carlton credited an effective slider for his streak of success in the first half of 1969.
Tested in Japan
After the 1968 season, the Cardinals went on an exhibition tour of Japan. Carlton primarily had been using a fastball and a curve in the National League. He wanted to develop a third pitch and decided to use the games against the Japanese teams to test a slider.
“I needed something to keep the right-handed batters away from the plate,” Carlton said to The Sporting News. “I wasn’t throwing the fastball inside on right-handers enough and sometimes, when I got it inside, it would sail right over the plate _ and that’s a bad pitch.”
Carlton struck out Japanese home run king Sadaharu Oh on a slider. Confident in his ability to throw the pitch, Carlton informed Cardinals pitching coach Billy Muffett at spring training camp in February 1969 that he intended to add the slider to his mix.
“Billy said he wanted to think about it,” Carlton said. “The slider puts more strain on your arm than a fastball or a curve.”
After Carlton lost four of his first six decisions in 1969, Muffett gave approval to use the slider.
“Billy said it was OK to try the slider so long as it didn’t strain my arm and didn’t take anything away from my curve,” Carlton said.
Salute from Sandy
The Sporting News hailed Carlton’s development of the slider to go with “one of the best curveballs in the business.”
Sandy Koufax, the retired Dodgers left-hander who was broadcasting games for NBC, congratulated Carlton after a win. “He said he was very impressed with my slider,” Carlton said.
In explaining why the slider was so effective, Carlton said, “Now a batter can’t come up to the plate knowing he has to guess only curve or fastball. He has to think about the slider. The right-handed batters can’t just sit and wait for the fastball outside. I’ve been throwing the slider about 25 percent of the time. It’s easier to control than a big, sweeping curve.”
Carlton was the winning pitcher in the 1969 All-Star Game, yielding solo home runs to Frank Howard and Bill Freehan in three innings. He finished the 1969 season with a 17-11 record and ranked second in the National League in ERA at 2.17, behind only Juan Marichal of the Giants (2.10) and just ahead of Cardinals teammate Bob Gibson (2.18).
After a 20-win season for the Cardinals in 1971, Carlton was traded to the Phillies. He won the Cy Young Award four times and finished his Hall of Fame career ranked second all-time in wins among left-handers at 329, behind only Warren Spahn (363).
Previously: How Chase Riddle got Steve Carlton for Cardinals