February 15, 2005

Former Santa Clara Baseball Player Dies at 61

Feb. 15, 2005

PITTSBURGH, Pa. -

Associated Press

Big games never worried Nellie Briles.

Briles, who won two World Series titles during a 14-year career as a control pitcher and played for Santa Clara in 1963, died Sunday of an apparent heart attack at 61, the Pittsburgh Pirates said. Briles was stricken during a Pirates alumni golf tournament in Orlando, Fla.

Briles went 129-112 during a career spent mostly with the Cardinals and Pirates. He played on five pennant- or division-winning teams, going a combined 69-44 with two postseason victories during those seasons.

"I always felt that if it was a tough game, my teammates wanted me on the mound," Briles once said.

Briles, who was influenced by Hall of Famer Bob Gibson's fierce attitude after joining the Cardinals in 1965, went 61-54 with the Cardinals from 1965-70, including a 19-11 record in 1968.

He was traded to the Pirates, where he was 36-28 over the next three seasons before later pitching for Kansas City, Texas and Baltimore in career lasting from 1965-78.

Briles was a broadcaster with the Pirates, Mariners and USA Network's major league game of the week from 1979-85 before being hired as the Pirates' director of corporate projects in 1986.

"Nellie was a valuable member of the Pirates organization for many years," Pirates owner Kevin McClatchy said.

Raised in Chico, Calif., Briles pitched at Santa Clara University and made his major league debut at 22 in September 1965, losing a 1-0 decision to the Dodgers' Sandy Koufax.

Briles was 14-5 with a 2.43 ERA in 1967. He won nine consecutive starts after Gibson's leg was broken by Roberto Clemente's line drive, before beating Boston 5-2 in Game 3 of the World Series.

Briles also played a key role in Pittsburgh's 1971 title run by pitching a two-hit shutout in World Series Game 5 against Baltimore. Briles allowed only two singles and no Orioles runner reached second base in a 4-0 victory -- the last weekday afternoon game played in the World Series.

"A lot of people in baseball told me it was the best game ever pitched in the World Series, except for Don Larsen's perfect game," said Briles, who was 2-1 with a 2.59 ERA in three career World Series starts. "I faced only 29 batters. It was the best game I ever pitched."

Orioles manager Earl Weaver later called Game 5 the pivotal game of the series, though the Pirates needed Steve Blass' four-hitter to win Game 7 in Baltimore, 2-1.

Briles' best regular-season start came a year later, a one-hit shutout to beat Hall of Famer Juan Marichal and the Giants 1-0. Briles lost a perfect game on Ken Henderson's infield single.

Briles retired at 34, four years after a knee injury sustained with the Royals hurt his pitching for the rest of his career. The following season, he was a TV broadcaster for the 1979 World Series champion Pirates.

Briles is survived by his wife, Ginger, four children and several grandchildren.