In the first week of his first season as Cardinals manager, Tony La Russa was facing a pitching problem. After just five games, his bullpen already was overworked because of extra-inning and high-scoring contests. Entering the finale of a season-opening six-game road trip, La Russa needed his No. 5 starter, rookie Mike Busby, to pitch as long as possible in his big-league debut against the Braves in Atlanta.
On April 7, 1996, Busby absorbed a beating by the Braves, who scored 13 runs in four innings before Busby was relieved. The Braves scored twice in the first inning, five times in the second, four times in the third and twice in the fourth.
La Russa left Busby in longer than the manager normally would because he and pitching coach Dave Duncan had hoped the starter could pitch at least five innings.
Twenty years later, another pitcher, Mike Mayers, had a shorter _ though otherwise similar _ rough outing in his big-league debut for the Cardinals. On July 24, 2016, Mayers yielded nine runs in 1.1 innings versus the Dodgers at St. Louis. Boxscore
The nine runs allowed by Mayers were the most by a Cardinals starter in his debut since Busby gave up 13 against the Braves.
Climbing the ladder
Busby had been selected by the Cardinals in the 14th round of the 1991 amateur draft. His best performance in their minor-league system was in 1993 when Busby was 12-2 with a 2.44 ERA in 23 games for Class A Savannah.
In 1996, Busby opened the season in the big leagues for the first time as the No. 5 starter for the Cardinals behind Andy Benes, Todd Stottlemyre, Alan Benes and Tom Urbani.
After splitting the first two games of the season with the Mets, the Cardinals gave up 10 runs in a Game 3 loss to New York and then won a pair against the Braves in 12 innings and in 10 innings. The Cardinals used a lot of relievers in those latter three games.
La Russa and Duncan hoped to avoid using the bullpen much in the finale of the series in Atlanta.
The Braves, though, hammered Busby for nine hits, including seven for extra bases. Busby yielded four home runs _ a grand slam by Marquis Grissom, two-run shots by Chipper Jones and Eddie Perez, and a solo home run by Ryan Klesko. Busby also issued four walks and hit a batter.
Duncan told Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that Busby likely was tipping his pitches because of how he held his glove.
“The way they were swinging the bats, nothing was surprising them,” Duncan observed.
Said Busby: “You can’t make mistakes to those big hitters. Down in the minor leagues, you can get away with those mistakes. Here, they jump all over them.”
Guts, no glory
The Braves won, 13-3. Tony Fossas and Cory Bailey each pitched two innings of scoreless relief for St. Louis.
La Russa held a closed-door clubhouse meeting after the game.
“I made it a point to commend Mike in front of everybody,” La Russa said. “He was in a tough situation, but he never once embarrassed himself or embarrassed the team. He’s got special insides. He’ll be fine.”
Said Busby: “I don’t want any sympathy.” Boxscore
The next day, the Cardinals sent Busby to Class AAA Louisville and called up pitcher Brian Barber to replace him. Busby spent the remainder of the season in the minors. He was 2-5 with a 6.38 ERA for Louisville.
Busby appeared again with the Cardinals in each of the next three seasons. He was 0-2 with an 8.79 ERA in three games for St. Louis in 1997, 5-2 (4.50 ERA) in 26 games in 1998 and 0-1 (7.13 ERA) in 1999.
Granted free agency after the 199 season, Busby signed with the Brewers but never pitched in the big leagues again. His career totals with the Cardinals: 5-6, 6.48 ERA in 45 games.
Previously: The story of Bob Gibson and his worst start