December 11, 2013
Get It Now!Hardball Times Annual is now available. It's got 300 pages of articles, commentary and even a crossword puzzle. You can buy the Annual at Amazon, for your Kindle or on our own page (which helps us the most financially). However you buy it, enjoy!
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Friday, February 08, 2013
20,000 days ago saw one of the greatest, and most unlikely, ninth inning comebacks in baseball history. It happened in the top of the ninth, so lacked the fitting climax of a walk-off win—and meant the crowd was actually appalled by the sudden turnaround in the game—but it’s still one of the most amazing ninth-inning revivals ever.
It was May 8, 1958 in Wrigley Field. (Naturally, it would be the Cubs that blew the lead. Naturally). The Cubs hosted the visiting Cincinnati Reds (actually, they were the Redlegs that year) before just under 6,000 spectators.
The Reds got off to a good start, plating a pair of runs in the top of the first, but the game turned into all-Cubs for the next eight innings. The Cubs tied it in the second inning and blew it wide open with a five-run fifth. Heading into the ninth, Chicago was on cruise control with an 8-2 advantage. It looked like the ninth would be nothing special.
On the mound for the Cubs was reliever Don Elston. He’d pitched an inning and third of scoreless ball so far, but it was hardly flawless. In the eighth he surrendered a walk and hit to begin the frame, before the bottom of Cincinnati’s order bailed him out.
Leading off was outfielder Pete Whisenant, who had entered the game midway through as part of a double switch. Whisenant walked, to the indifference of the crowd. Next up, former Cubs first baseman Dee Fondy came to the plate as a pinch hitter, and reached base on an error by Cubs second baseman Tony Taylor. Whisenant advanced to second.
Well, that’s nice but seemingly meaningless. Up next came another pinch-hitter, Jerry Lynch standing in for pitcher Joe Nuxhall. (Due to an earlier double switch, the pitcher's slot was near the top of the batting order). Lynch singled in a run, making it 8-3. Yawn.
But now the fun part of the Reds order came up. The dangerous 22-year-old Frank Robinson rapped out another RBI single for the Reds, and now it was 8-4. Four up, four on. Even with the error, Elston didn’t have it, and so the Cubs yanked him.
Enter 28-year-old rookie reliever Dolan Nichols. He wasn’t much of a pitcher, but immediately looked better than Elston. The first batter he faced, first baseman George Crowed, hit an easy grounder that forced Robinson at second. No double play, though, just one out and runners on the corners.
However, that would be Nichols’ one moment of glory, or at least competence. The next three batters—Don Hoak, Ed Bailey and Gus Bell—all belted out singles. Now the game was 8-7 with runners on first and second. Since the guy on second was the potential tying run, Cincinnati put pitcher Harvey Haddix in as a pinch runner there.
So long, Mr. Nichols. Enter Freddy Rodriguez, a 34-year-old Cuban making the sixth appearance of his big league career. Facing him was former and future All-Star catcher Smoky Burgess pinch-hitting for the Reds’ weak-hitting second baseman. The veteran catcher gave Rodriguez a rather rude introduction, swatting an offering over the fence for a three-run homer.
And just like that, the once-imposing six-run Cubs lead was no more. Now the Reds were up, 10-8. And there was still just one out.
Well, the Cubs did better in their second time through the Reds order, retiring two of the next three batters to end the inning without further damage, but more than enough had already been done.
Still, the Cubs had one thing going for them. By using three pinch hitters and a pinch runner in a game where he’d already used a double switch and gone through part of his bench, Reds manager Birdie Tebbetts was unable to fill the defensive positions competently.
Exactly half of the position players found themselves in places they’d never fielded before. Three of them were in the infield—outfielders Whisenant and Robinson were at second and third respectively, while third baseman Don Hoak shifted to short. Meanwhile, veteran first baseman Dee Fondy stationed himself in left. Only two players were in the same places on the diamond from before the rally—first baseman George Crowe and center fielder Gus Bell.
So maybe the Cubs could take advantage of the defensive confusion. Or not. The first batter hit it to Bell—wouldn’t you know it, one of the only guys who was familiar with his position. The next guy struck out. The last batter tapped one to Frank Robinson at third, but he fielded it cleanly, and the Reds had done it, overcome a six-run ninth inning deficit to defeat the Cubs—and they did it 20,000 days ago today.
Aside from that, many other baseball events celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” today. Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d rather just skim.
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