December 13, 2013
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Sunday, July 14, 2013
Forty years ago today Steve Carlton had about as dominating a game as a pitcher could have. It was the sort of day that scarcely required any help from his teammates. Carlton threw a complete game shutout and hit a home run, guiding the Phillies to a win seemingly single-handedly.
On July 14, 1973, the Phillies hosted the visiting Houston Astros in Veterans Stadium. The day looked like it would make a nice match-up of former Cardinals left-handers; Carlton faced is fellow former St. Louis hurler Jerry Reuss.
A fine pitcher in his own right, Reuss was enjoying his first really nice season. He began the day with an 11-6 record and an ERA just over 3.00. Carlton was an already established star, having won 27 games for a last-place Phillies team in 1972 with an ERA under 2.00. He was off to a rough start in 1973, though, with an ERA over 4.00 and a record just over .500.
It looked like anything but a pitchers duel early on, as Carlton walked two of the first three batters he faced in the top of the first. However, he got a double play and a strikeout to get out of the inning. Reuss wasn’t as lucky in the bottom of the first; he let two runs score, including one on a balk.
The same pattern held in the second. Carlton let two guys on base early but getting the outs he needed. Reuss then allowed a pair of runs—and this time they scored in a way even more humbling than via a balk. After a one-out single by No. 8 hitter Larry Bowa, Carlton strode to the plate, and made solid contact with a Reuss offering. Gone—home run.
After that, it was all Carlton. In the next four innings, the Astros had just one batter reach base, and he was wiped out by ground ball double play. Meanwhile, Reuss didn’t get another out. After the third began with three straight singles, aging Astros manager Leo Durocher yanked him from the game.
The closest the Astros came to threatening Carlton the rest of the way came in the eighth, when they staged a two-out mini-rally, with a single followed by a walk. Two outs is a tough time to start a rally, especially against a pitcher dialed in like Carlton. He got the next batter out to retire the side, and then had a 1-2-3 ninth for the win.
That gave Carlton a record of 9-9 on the season. But instead of that being the start of something good for Carlton, he soon fell apart. He lost his next two decisions, then won a game, before losing three more, giving him a record of 10-14. Soon a five-game losing streak pushed him back to 11-19 and he ended the year 13-20.
But while the season would be a disappointment, the day was great for Carlton. It was the third time in his career Steve Carlton homered in a shutout. He’d do it once more, several years later. He needed his teammates to play the field for him as he fanned only five batters, but Carlton drove in more runs than he allowed. It was a great day for Carlton—and it was 40 years ago today.
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