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After two minor league seasons with Auburn and Holyoke (National Association), Welch joined the National League's Troy Haymakers in 1880, going 34-30 and throwing 574 innings. Diminutive but durable, he pitched two complete-game victories over Buffalo in one day (July 4, 1881), and completed his first 105 major league starts. The Troy franchise moved to New York in 1883, and Welch hurled the first game at the original Polo Grounds. He played 38 games in the outfield that season. In 1884 he completed 62 of 65 starts, winning 39, and had a career-high 345 strikeouts. He established a still-standing ML record that August 28 by striking out the first nine batters he faced.
Welch won 17 consecutive games in 1885, threw seven shutouts, and teamed with Tim Keefe (the major leagues' second 300-game winner) to win 76 games. Welch won 44 of them while losing only 11, leading the NL with an .800 winning percentage. Keefe's 1.58 ERA was the league's best; Welch's 1.66 was second. In 1886 Welch went 33-22, yet led NL pitchers in bases on balls for the third consecutive season.
Welch and Keefe accounted for 61 of the team's 84 victories in 1888 as they pitched the Giants to their first pennant. In a postseason series against the St. Louis Browns of the American Association, the Giants won six of ten games, with Welch splitting his two decisions. The Giants repeated as league champions in 1889 as Welch went 27-12. After winning just six games in 1891, he was sent to the Giants' Troy farm club, and he retired after posting a 17-14 record.
Welch remains among baseball's leaders in complete games and innings pitched. He recorded 40 career shutouts, winning 10 by a 1-0 score. He had 492 career base hits - 92 of them doubles - and did not bat lower than .200 in his first eight seasons. He was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Committee on Baseball Veterans in 1973. (JLE)