It took Darius Dutton “Dave” Hillman part of eight seasons in the majors to equal the number of wins he posted for the 1956 Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League – 21. But behind his career won-loss record of 21-37 is an earned run average of 3.87 for the 624 innings he pitched in the big leagues. “He was a good pitcher on a bad team,” columnist Vince Staten writes in the Kingsport Times-News.
The long-time Kingsport, Tennessee, resident had the misfortune of pitching for dismal Chicago Cub teams from 1955-59 and the underachieving Boston Red Sox of 1960-61. “That team was full of cliques,” Hillman says.
In 1962 he started with the Cincinnati Redlegs, appearing in two games, and finished by pitching in 13 games for the New York Mets. “The Mets went on to lose 120 games that season, still a record,” Staten notes.
Henry Aaron, a future Hall of Famer, tagged Hillman for three of his 755 home runs but Dave had the number of another superstar, Willie Mays: “He was a first ball guess hitter. I would just throw the first pitch under his chin. Never had any trouble with him.”
Hillman was at his best in 1959, posting an 8-11 record and 3.58 ERA, completing four games and pitching seven or more innings in nine others. He tossed a two-hit shutout against the Pirates; struck out eleven in seven innings of relief to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers; and in the next-to-last game of the season stopped the Dodgers in their bid to wrap up the National League pennant. The Dodgers were one game ahead of the Milwaukee Braves with two to play. A win over the Cubs and Hillman clinched a tie.
“I went out there, honey, and I’ll never forget the control that I had,” Dave recalls in The Bilko Athletic Club, a book about the 1956 Angels. “I could thread a damn needle with that ball. I was just sitting back and sh-o-o-o-m-m-m…throwing that thing in there.”
Dave had a 12-0 cushion going into the sixth when the Dodgers scored twice, bringing Cubs manager Bob Scheffing to the mound. “What’s wrong, Dave?”
“It ain’t nothing. For five innings, they took the first pitch. Now they’re starting to hit it. I’ve got to go to work.”
Dave blanked the Dodgers the rest of the way, scattering nine hits and striking out seven for a 12-2 Cubs win. “That’s the easiest game I’ve had all year,” Dave said after the game. “All the way through my idea was to make them hit the breaking pitches. I used fastballs and slip pitches mostly in the early part of the game and switched to curveballs later.”
The Bilko Athletic Club is a book published by Rowman & Littlefield about the 1956 Los Angeles Angels, a team of castoffs and kids built around a bulky, beer-loving basher of home runs named Steve Bilko. The book features a delightful foreword by John Schulian, former sports columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and Philadelphia Daily News and longtime contributor to Sports Illustrated and GQ. The book can now be ordered by clicking on any of the website links below:
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