Thursday, September 18, 2014

September 18, 1968 - Washburn Returns the No-Hit Favor to Giants

Wednesday, September 18, 1968 - At Candlestick Park (Ray Washburn - Starting Pitcher) - Opponent:  San Francisco Giants (Bobby Bolin - Starting Pitcher) - Attendance:  4,703

One day after San Francisco Giants pitcher Gaylord Perry no-hit the newly-crowned and possibly-hung-over-National League champion St Louis Cardinals, by a final score of 1-0 - Ray Washburn made baseball history when he returned the no-hit favor.  Fortunately, his team was able to score a couple of runs late in this game, to win it by a score of 2-0.

It was the first (and only) time opposing pitchers had ever thrown back-to-back no-hitters - but it really came as no big surprise.  After all, this was The Year of The Pitcher.  Even the game's best pitcher in '68 - Bob Gibson - knew he'd have to throw at least a nine-inning shutout to stand a reasonably good chance of winning on any given day.  As fate would have it, Gibson happened to be the starter on the same day Perry utilized his petroleum jelly skills to maximum efficiency against a bleary-eyed St Louis lineup in Tuesday's series opener at the Stick.

The lone run Gibby allowed in that one - came via a first-inning home run off the bat of Ron Home Run Hunt - who managed to go yard twice that season.

This time, it was Giants starter Bobby Bolin who pitched a fine game (8 IP - 7 H - 2 R - 2 BB - 6 SO) but got no help from a lineup whose offensive production amounted to five scattered walks - then going 0 for 2 with runners in scoring position.

The game was still scoreless after six innings - which meant the Cardinals had been scoreless for fifteen consecutive innings in San Francisco - when Mike Shannon snapped the streak with a double that scored Orlando Cepeda from second base, to give Washburn the necessary run support to achieve personal victory.

Then for good measure, the Redbirds tacked on an insurance run in the eighth - when Curt Flood singled home Dick Schofield from third - who had doubled leading-off the inning.

As Washburn went back to the mound to begin his final inning of work, the partisan Giants gathering seemed to appreciate the historical implications of what was taking place.  The first batter - Ron Hunt - who won yesterday's game with a first-inning home run off Gibson - grounded out to second, as Gibson glared in his direction from the visitor's dugout - no doubt reflecting back to the absurdity of his accomplishment on Tuesday.

The next batter - Willie Mays - created a stir whenever he stepped into the batter's box.  But he too, was retired on a ground ball to an infielder - third baseman Mike Shannon - today's hitting hero - avoided becoming the goat by handling this chance cleanly for out number two.

With a two-run lead, the presence of the final hitter - Willie McCovey - was maybe a bit less nerve-wracking than usual, since nobody was on base.  However, with a two-team back-to-back no-hitter on the line, the nail-biting index was still at record levels.  When McCovey's lazy fly ball to Flood in center became the final out of the game - Washburn (13-7) had notched the only no-hitter the Cardinals' pitching staff compiled in 1968.

Of course, it was also one of a franchise-record thirty shutouts registered by the staff that season.  Certainly, Cardinal pitchers did their part in helping major league baseball decide to lower the mound for the '69 season.  Not surprisingly, no other team has blanked opponents as many as thirty times in a season since The Year of The Pitcher.

In 2014, after Adam Wainwright's latest shutout, St Louis now has twenty-one of 'em - and this season may have a few more to add to that list.  Currently, Wainwright & Company have tied the 1943 Cards with those twenty-one shutouts - for the third highest total in franchise history.  The second highest total was compiled the very next season - 1944 - when they tossed twenty-six shutouts.  The 1985 Cardinals had twenty shutouts, for sole possession of fifth-place.  In sixth-place, with eighteen shutouts:  The '42 edition,

Those five previous teams had something in common:  They made a World Series appearance each time - winning the championship twice - in '42 and '44 - when they beat the Yankees and then the St Louis Browns.

Seventy years later, maybe a rematch of the '44 World Series is in order?  The St Louis Cardinals vs the Baltimore Orioles would be interesting.  Of course, Cards vs Angels would be even more interesting.

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