Wednesday, May 14, 2014

May 6, 1968 - May 7, 1965 - May 8, 1967 - 2 Classic Gibson Gems & A Wild Extra-Inning Nail Biter

May 6, 1968 - A Monday night game between the St Louis Cardinals and New York Mets drew a scant crowd of 12,741 at Busch Stadium II to witness a classic pitching match-up between the young phenom, Tom Seaver and the two-time World Series MVP, Bob Gibson.  This one would take 11 innings to settle, as both pitchers - naturally - went the distance.

Seaver was dominant from the outset, but a second-inning fielding miscue by first baseman Ed Kranepool ultimately cost Tom Terrific a chance to win this game in regulation.  The inning started with Tim McCarver stroking a single to right field.  Kranepool then booted Mike Shannon's potential double-play grounder which quickly had Seaver in a two-on-no-out jam.  McCarver then scored from second base on Julian Javier's single to right field, as Shannon moved up to third.  Still nobody out.

With the infield playing in, Dick Schofield hit a sharp grounder to third, forcing Shannon to stay put.  The throw to second base forced Javier, but the relay to first was too late to retire Schofield.  The next hitter, Bob Gibson was unable to catch up to Seaver's fastball and went down on strikes.  Gibson, who was 0 for 4 in the game struck out three times; however, he one-upped the youngster by taking care of Seaver (also 0 for 4) with four strikeouts of his own.  After Lou Brock was retired on a fly ball to center field, the damage was limited to one unearned run.

The Mets tied the game in the fourth-inning with three straight singles by Harrelson, Boswell and Shamsky - the only hits Gibson would allow in the entire game.  With Ron Swoboda at bat, McCarver couldn't handle a Gibson slider, allowing the runners to move up to second and third on the passed ball.  Still nobody out.

The key defensive play of the game occurred when Swoboda's fly to medium center field was flagged down by Curt Flood, who then turned it into a double play, as Boswell tagged up from third but couldn't beat the perfect throw to McCarver at the plate.  The next hitter, Ed Kranepool tried to atone for his second-inning error which allowed St Louis to score their lone run; but Cards' first baseman Orlando Cepeda was able to handle a tough hop, then flipped to Gibson, who was covering first, for the out.  The game was tied, but Gibson, like Seaver, had escaped a major threat to put more runs on the board.  Runs were certainly at a premium in this game - and the entire '68 season, for that matter.

Both pitchers kept putting zeros on the scoreboard, until Seaver finally faltered in the eleventh-inning, yielding a lead-off triple to Lou Brock - one of a league-leading 14 three-baggers Lou would hit that year.  With Brock now perched just 90 feet away from scoring the winning run, intentional passes to Flood and Maris loaded the bases with nobody out; hoping for a miracle pitcher-to-catcher-to first double play; or something along those lines.  Orlando Cepeda quickly foiled that strategy with a base hit to right field to give St Louis a 2-1 win.

The pitching lines tell the (complete game) story:

Seaver (L 1-2) 10 IP - 6 H - 2 R - 1 ER - 3 BB - 6 SO (His ERA for the season dropped to 1.56)

Gibson (W 3-1) 11 IP - 3 H - 1 R - 1 ER - 1 BB - 11 SO (His ERA for the season dropped to 1.31 - it would drop even further - down to 1.12 by season's end)

This was a game for the ages, masterfully performed by two future first-ballot Hall of Famers - who had a burning passion to not only win, but complete each game they started, no matter how long; no matter how many pitches they threw.  Pitch counts?  Bah!  In 1968, in only his second MLB season, Seaver completed 14 out of 35 games started - an unheard of feat nowadays, when starting pitchers are programmed to go seven or eight innings, max.

Gibson was even more dominant, completing 28 out of 34 starts, featuring a league-leading 13 shutouts, 268 strikeouts and the aforementioned 1.12 ERA.  By comparison, the Detroit Tigers' reigning AL Cy Young Award winner - Max Scherzer - has never thrown a complete game shutout in his entire career.  Gibson did it 56 times.

May 7, 1965 - Bob Gibson was on the mound for the Cardinals as they traveled to Philadelphia to take on the Phillies at decrepit Connie Mack Stadium, with a paid crowd of 14,499 mostly disgruntled fans on hand to jeer their Phillies on to defeat.

On the bump for Philadelphia was southpaw Chris Short; in his prime and in the middle of a six season stretch ('63 - '68) when he posted an ERA under 3 five times.  Strangely enough, the only season he was able to win 20 games ('66) happened to coincide with his highest ERA (3.54) over that six year stretch.  Go figure.

In this game, Short pitched well enough to win (8 IP - 8 H - 2 R - 4 BB - 4 S0), but it was too much Lou Brock (4 for 5 - 1 R - 1 RBI - 1 SB) who was the catalyst of a two-run sixth-inning for St Louis; and it was way too much Bob Gibson, who pitched a one-hit shutout (3 BB - 8 SO) to earn his fifth win without a loss.  At the time, those five wins represented 50% of the total for the entire staff (10 wins - 10 losses); not a good sign for the defending World Champions.  Gibson would go on to win 20 games for the first time in his career, but nobody else managed more than 11 wins on a team that seemed to age overnight.

May 8, 1967 - With a sparse gathering of 5,388 at venerable Forbes Field, the Cardinals had a see-saw battle with the Pittsburgh Pirates, as the Redbirds barely hung on to win in ten-innings, 6-5.

Ray Washburn started this one for the Cardinals (6.2 IP - 8 H - 3 R - 0 BB - 3 SO); then over the next 3.1 innings a total of five St Louis relievers were used to finally nail this one down.  The Pirates used five different pitchers in this game - Pizarro, Face, Short, McBean and Law (who took the loss with that one really bad inning).  Ron Willis got the win for St Louis, although he only worked one inning and was charged with two runs (he walked two).

Here's how the scoring went:  The Pirates scored 2 runs in the 4th - The Cardinals tied it with 2 runs in the 6th - The Pirates grabbed a 3-2 lead in the 7th - The Cardinals tied it again with a run in the 9th - The Cardinals seemingly put the game out of reach with 3 runs in the 11th - The Pirates scored 2 in the 11th, so in fact, the game was out of reach.  Had 'em all the way.

Mike Shannon and Tim McCarver each had two RBI; Curt Flood and Orlando Cepeda each chipped in with one apiece, as the St Louis lineup had twelve hits and six walks in the contest.

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