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Briles enjoyed big game challenge



Published: Tue, February 15, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The former Pirates pitcher and broadcaster died of an apparent heart attack.

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Big games never worried Nellie Briles.

Briles, who won two World Series titles during a 14-year career as a control pitcher who thrived in important games, died Sunday of an apparent heart attack at age 61. Briles was stricken during a Pittsburgh Pirates alumni golf tournament in Orlando, Fla.

The right-handed Briles took pride in his competitiveness while going 129-112 during a 14-season major league career spent mostly with the Cardinals and Pirates. He played on five pennant- or division-winning teams, going a combined 69-44 with two World Series 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 never-give-in 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 that lasted from 1965-78.

Worked with alumni

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. In that job, he ran the Pirates' alumni association of more than 700 members, gave countless speeches to civic and youth baseball groups and headed a Pirates alumni golf tournament that raised more than $1 million for charity.

"This is such a huge loss. It will take a couple of people to do everything he did," said Sally O'Leary, a retired Pirates publicist who also works with the alumni association. "He was always available to talk to people and was a very positive person, and represented the ball club in so many ways."

Born Aug. 5, 1943, in Dorris, Calif. -- a town he often said no longer exists -- Briles was raised in Chico, Calif., before pitching at Santa Clara University. He made his major league debut at age 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 a Roberto Clemente line drive and beat 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.

No Orioles runner reached second base in the 4-0 Pirates victory -- coincidentally, the last weekday afternoon game played in the World Series.

Images of Briles delivering pitches with such force that both legs often left the ground during his follow-through are captured in the 1971 World Series highlight film.

"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."

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 when Ken Henderson beat out an infield single.

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

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.




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