Monday, May 07, 2012

That's Baseball

Sunday I watched a little of the San Francisco Giants baseball game on TV.  Maybe it was the first actual game action I watched this year rather than just highlights but it suddenly became more than this game.  It was every game.  I felt how deep baseball and I go together.  I've seen major league games in several ball parks in several cities.  I've seen minor league and amateur baseball.  I've seen the game from the field, wearing a uniform, on the pitcher's mound.  I've seen some of my best-remembered games in my head, listening to voices on the radio.  My experience with no other sport matches this extent or this depth.

After the San Francisco Giants World Series win, Margaret gave me a 2011 Giants calendar for Christmas--the kind with the pages you tear off.  It had some baseball fact or question on each page, and though the calendar is gone, I happened on a small pile of pages I'd kept because something about the fact on it struck me.

I wrote about one of them before, almost exactly a year ago-- about the guy who hit two grand slams in the same inning, off the same pitcher.  Here's a few more...

One of the characteristics of major league baseball is that it's been around so long, and clearly the game has changed, several times.  So the year that this happened isn't too surprising: Who was the last player to lead a league in home runs without reaching the double-digit mark?  Gavvy Cravath of the Philadelphia Phillies, who hit 8 homers in 1918.   But what about this record--who was the last player to lead a league in RBI without reaching 100?  It was another one of the Phillies, who had 91.  But it was Mike Schmidt in 1981.

The Phillies have another one: In 1971, pitcher Rick Wise not only threw a no-hitter against the Reds, but he hit two home runs and battled in three of his teams four runs.  How did I miss noticing this game?   Or this one--Tony Cloninger was the only pitcher to ever hit two grand slam homers in one game, for the Atlanta Braves in 1966. 

Maybe it's not connected to the number of bizarre records they hold, but the Phillies themselves have the record for the oldest team in any pro sport to be continuously in the same city under the same name.

I got two correct answers on questions about fairly amazing stuff--the last 30 game winner among pitchers (Denny McClain) and the brothers who won all four World Series games for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1934 (Dizzy Dean, and his brother Paul "Daffy" Dean.)

Winning 20 games in a season has long been a benchmark for top pitchers.  But who was the last pitcher to win 20 games on a team that lost 100?  Ned Garver was 20-12 for the 1951 St. Louis Browns (52-102), which means that one pitcher won nearly half their games.  The Browns were an American League team (the Cardinals were and still are in the National) that moved to Baltimore to become the Orioles in 1954.

Here's one that piqued my curiosity: Red Barrett of the Boston Braves holds the record for pitching a complete game with the fewest pitches: 58.  So how did that work out?  It was in 1944, and Barrett got that total and still gave up two hits, but apparently those baserunners were erased.  The key is that he had no strikeouts and no walks.  He faced the minimum 27 batters, and--to keep it from being too bizarre--he won the game, 2-0.

There is a game I well remember that was tragically bizarre, and I'm surprised it didn't make it onto this calendar.  In May 1959 Pittsburgh Pirates left-handed pitcher Harvey Haddix threw twelve perfect innings in one game, something no one had done before or since, and no one will likely ever do.  But in the scoreless game, a fielding error in the 13th ended his perfect game, and he gave up a home run and all he got out of it was a loss.  Especially since it was against the NL champion Milwaukee Braves (with Hank Aaron in the lineup) it is considered the best pitching performance in Major League history.  But Haddix didn't even get credit for the perfect game he pitched for nine innings. (I started to listen to this game on the radio but fell asleep before Bob Prince or Jim Woods noted that a perfect game was underway.  I wonder when they did--even announcers in those days were somewhat superstititious about mentioning a no-hitter or perfect game while it was going on.)

But on the calendar was a story about another perfect game that technically wasn't recorded as such.  And it involves Babe Ruth--in  his early days as a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox.  On June 23, 1917, Babe Ruth walked the first Washington Senator's batter he faced, and became so angry about the call that he was ejected from the game.  So Ernie Shore took the mound--and retired all 26 batters he faced.  He pitched a perfect game, except for that first batter, who was caught stealing anyway.  It wasn't as bad as the Haddix game, but he also didn't even get credit for a no-hitter. 

The calendar also didn't mention the 2010 game in which Armando Galarraga of the Detroit Tigers was robbed of his perfect game on what should have been the last out of the game by a blown call at first base--which even the umpire later admitted.

I guess part of the fascination is trying to figure out how these guys feel, especially after one extraordinary game: the perfect game you lost, or the no-hitter you threw while hitting two home runs?  At least Harvey Haddix had nowhere to go but up, and he did become the winning pitcher of the 1960 World Series 7th game (although only Maz's homer is remembered.)  But Rick Wise?

He had nowhere to go but down  But for awhile it wasn't very far down.  His no-hitter with his 2 homers was on June 23, 1971.  That August, he again hit two home runs in the same game.  And that September, after a rocky start giving up three runs, he retired 32 batters in a row (4 fewer than Haddix did)--and he hit a homer that won the game in the 12th inning.   He also eventually duplicated Haddix in a World Series--he was the relief pitcher of record for the deciding game of a World Series won by a home run, this time by the Red Sox in the 12th inning.  On the other hand, he had two other no-hitters going that he lost in the late innings.

And now, as I check ESPN online, it turns out that Sunday was a bizarre record-setter: for the first time since 1925, teams playing each other had a position player pitching in the final inning, because they'd used up their available pitchers.   Chris Davis, the DH for the Baltimore Orioles, who went 0-8 as a hitter, was the winning pitcher when he struck out Boston Red Sox All-Star Adrian Gonzalez and got the next batter to hit into a double play---in the 17th inning.

Well, that's baseball.

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