When I think of great Padres pitchers, there are a few guys who come to mind as some of the best. Randy Jones comes to mind first as one of the better pitchers during the 70s, utilizing control to his advantage with lower velocity. Jake Peavy had a heck of a run as the Padres' ace during the mid-2000s, defining that era of great pitchers. Even Trevor Hoffman was one of the best closers of all-time, trotting in to Hells Bells nearly every night in SoCal. However, none of these guys own the longest scoreless innings streak in San Diego Padres history.
The owner of that streak would be Cla Meredith.
Who is Cla Meredith, you ask? Well, for starters, his name is not pronounced CLAH, it's CLAY. Anyway, Cla Meredith was a submarine relief pitcher for the Red Sox, Padres and Orioles from 2005-2010, most notably with the Padres. A quick look at his career stats and you'll see a solid, but not noteworthy line, pitching to a 3.62 ERA, 3.89 FIP and 2.0 fWAR in six seasons.
You must be new to this series if you're wondering what the point of this article is. Buried within those career stats is a rookie season so great that it requires a deeper dive.
BEFORE THE GREATNESS
Cla Meredith came up in 2005 with the Boston Red Sox and struggled mightily in his three-game cup of coffee. In his first game on May 8, 2005, against Seattle, Meredith walked the first two batters he faced before allowing a grand slam to Richie Sexson. He wouldn't fare much better in his next two outings, allowing two runs in each of his next two appearances, one against Oakland and one against Seattle again and returning to the minors.
Almost a year later, a trade that seemed unimportant at the time led to one of the best seasons by a rookie reliever. Meredith and catcher Josh Bard departed Boston for catcher Doug Mirabelli, who returned to the Red Sox after a season in San Diego and would eventually win his second World Series with the team. However, the Padres got more from Meredith in that deal than they thought they would.
Meredith made his Padres debut two weeks after the trade, tossing a scoreless inning against the Cubs on 5/13/06 and striking out Henry Blanco. Mike Piazza hit a home run to put the Padres in the lead, and in his first Padres appearance, Cla Meredith recorded his first MLB win. He got sent down after that and was recalled again ahead of the team's series in San Francisco on July 2.
Through his first seven appearances of the season, Meredith had a sparkling line -- allowing just one run, he had a 1.29 ERA with five strikeouts and no walks as the Padres seemed to have found a diamond in the rough in Meredith.
On July 17, Meredith had his worst outing as a Padre, but this game would just be the beginning. After allowing two runs against Philadelphia, Meredith hunkered down -- and I mean REALLY hunkered down.
Meredith would pitch 28 consecutive games without allowing a run. Beginning with a scoreless seventh inning against the Phillies on July 18, Meredith did not allow a run for 33.2 more innings, ending with a Russell Martin home run on September 17 against the Dodgers.
While these surface-level stats are incredible, I am going to go even deeper to figure out just how good he was during this stretch.
TEAMS FACED DURING THESE 28 GAMES
Philadelphia Phillies (85-77)
San Francisco Giants (76-85)
Los Angeles Dodgers (88-74, Postseason)
Colorado Rockies (76-86)
Houston Astros (82-80)
Washington Nationals (71-91)
New York Mets (97-65, Postseason)
Arizona Diamondbacks (76-86)
Cincinnati Reds (80-82)
The teams he faced are very important, as his games he pitched in were mostly all against divisional opponents. The importance of this is that Padres were embroiled in a division race with the Dodgers all season long and it was important to grab as many tiebreakers as possible, especially since both teams finished with 88 wins.
With scoreless outings and three holds in four wins against the Dodgers, and a 13-5 record against the Dodgers overall, Meredith was a big part in helping earn the Padres their second consecutive NL West crown and earn a tiebreaker for the division lead -- rolling the 83-win Cardinals in the postseason instead of having to face the powerhouse 97-win Mets, a team they had a 2-5 record against as opposed to a 4-2 record against St. Louis. While the matchup looked better on paper, it didn't matter as the St. Louis Cardinals went on to win the World Series.
In these 33.2 innings, Meredith allowed just 15 hits and four walks. He held opponents to a .132 batting average, even having six consecutive perfect appearances. If you add the game he allowed a run to the Dodgers in, he has a 0.26 ERA.
The 33.2 scoreless innings set multiple records -- the longest scoreless streak in Padres history (breaking a streak of 30 set by Randy Jones) and the then-longest rookie relief scoreless streak (broken by Brad Ziegler in 2008), the former of which still stands today. Bottom line, Meredith was absolutely lights-out bridging the gap in the seventh or eighth inning to Trevor Hoffman. Hoffman gets all the respect, but I will take 2006 Cla Meredith as my set-up man any day of the week. Lost in the shuffle is the fact that Meredith entered 22/45 times with runners on and finished with the stats that he did.
The rookie season of Cla Meredith has great numbers -- 1.07 ERA, 382 ERA+, .170 opponent's batting average, 1.1 fWAR and 16 reliever holds. The ERA and opponent's batting average were league leads. That season, he entered just seven games with an ERA over two and allowed zero hits in 22/45 appearances. Even his FIP was 2.93 and xFIP was 2.74 (he allowed just three home runs), a solid season any way you slice it.
I have no explanation as to why Meredith was nails during this season. Maybe hitters were confused by his submarine delivery, but he went out and pitched incredibly every time. Minus a season-altering home run allowed to Albert Pujols late down the stretch, this season was ridiculous.
He had two scoreless appearances in the postseason as well, but Meredith never replicated his rookie success, relied upon heavily in the next three seasons in San Diego and having two more years in Baltimore before hanging up the cleats for good.
That's how reliever careers go sometimes. They have it all going for them for a few seasons before pitching into mediocrity for the rest of their career, fading into relative obscurity after that.
Luckily for Cla Meredith, he put it all together at the perfect time for San Diego -- pitching lights-out for a team with postseason aspirations and keeping runners off the board several times, leading to snagging a tiebreaker, and he probably would have been forgotten if not for this deep statistical dive.