20,000 days since a nightmarish loss for the KC A’s

20,000 days ago, the A’s lost a game in heart-breaking fashion. It was a walk-off error game that even by the standards of walk-off error losses was mind-numbingly awful. The only positive for the A’s was that it didn’t mean anything to them, as they were already well out of any pennant race. In the entire futile history of the Kansas City A’s, it might have been their most futile play.

It was June 30, 1958, and the Kansas City A’s were on the road in Detroit facing off against the Tigers. The game got off to a rollicking start, with both teams scoring in the first and second innings. After taking the third inning off, the offenses returned in the fourth, and before the fifth inning began, the game was tied up, 4-4.

The first half may have been a back-and-forth slugging match, but as the game went on, the A’s began to inch away. A Harry Simpson solo homer in the sixth game the A’s a 5-4 edge, and that’s where the game stood until the ninth inning,when a Bob Cerv dinger gave the A’s an insurance run.

Heading into the bottom of the ninth, the A’s had a nice, 6-4 lead. It was small enough to be overcome but obviously you’d rather be the team up by two heading into the bottom of the ninth. WPA would give the A’s a 91 percent chance of winning the game.

Kansas City reliever Tom Gorman entered to work his fourth inning of the game. He’d allowed a runner into scoring position every inning so far, but hadn’t let any score, so things seemed fairly safe.

Tito Francona led off the inning for Detroit with a pinch hit single. Okay nothing to worry about for KC. Just a minor thing. Next up was another pinch hitter, dangerous slugger Gus Zernial. Or not so dangerous— he flew out for the first out. Now Detroit was really running out of lives.

Fortunately for the Tigers, Gorman had run out of steam. Frank Bolling cracked a sharp single to center, advancing Francona to third. Then Ozzie Virgil, who had recently become the first black player in Tigers history, laced another single to load the bases.

Now things were getting a little worrisome for the A’s. The tying run was in scoring position, the winning run on base—and there was still just that one damn out. And next up was Harvey Kuenn, who routinely hit .300. Sure enough, he swung and did what he specialized in—made contact.

Fortunately for the A’s, Kuenn didn’t hit a seeing-eye grounder. He’d hit one right to shortstop Joe DeMaestri. This was an excellent chance to win the game with a double play.

That’s when things went completely to hell for the A’s. I guess DeMaestri was a little too eager to get the double play. He threw it to fellow middle infielder Hector Lopez. Rather, he intended to throw it to Lopez. Instead it went into right field.

Francona came around to score easily, making it 6-5. Bolling tore around third and went for home as well, with Virgil headed for third. Now the game might be tied with the winning run just a flyball away from home. In right, a young Roger Maris saw a chance to save the play and the day and threw it to home.

Well, he meant to throw it to home. Instead Maris, like DeMaestri before him, threw it off the mark. It bounced away from its intended target, allowing Bolling to tie it up, 6-6. Virgil also kept on chugging and the A’s never had a chance. Detroit had won it 7-6.

Plenty of games have walk-off errors. But typically they’re tie games, or maybe when a team is down by one. Three runs scoring on a walk-off error? That happens less than once a decade. But it happened here—and with two errors at once, no less—and it happened 20,000 days ago.

Aside from that, many other baseball events today celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary.” Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d rather just skim.

Day-versaries

1,000 days since Adam Dunn smashes three home runs in one game for the Nationals.

1,000 days since the Cardinals retire No. 24 for Whitey Herzog.

3,000 days since Atlanta signs free agent slugger Raul Mondesi for the last year of his career.

3,000 days since Milwaukee signs free agent pitcher and former 20-game winner Rick Helling.

5,000 days since the Marlins trade young pitcher Livan Hernandez to the Giants.

5,000 days since Albert Belle hits three homers in one game for the third time in his career.

6,000 days since the Tigers trade Ruben Sierra to the Reds for a pair of prospects.

8,000 days since Howard Spira pleads guilty to attempting to extort money from George Steinbrenner.

9,000 days since Mark McGwire belts the first of 14 career grand slams.

9,000 days since Gary Carter launches his 300th home run.

10,000 days since former Cubs outfielder Riggs Stephenson dies.

20,000 days since the Tigers sign amateur pitcher Mickey Lolich to his first professional contract.

40,000 days since Chief Zimmer, 19th century catcher, dies.

40,000 days since infielder Tom Daly dies.

Anniversaries

1856 Tommy Bond, the best pitchers of the 1870s, is born.

1869 Hughie Jennings, maybe the best player in baseball during his prime in the 1890s, is born.

1874 The National Association officially adopts the batter’s box.

1907 Luke Appling, Hall of Fame shortstop, is born.

1908 The Mills Commission falsely declares that Abner Doubleday invents baseball. This is why the Hall of Fame is in Cooperstown.

1925 The Phillies select George Burns off waivers from the Reds for the last season of his career.

1927 Billy Pierce, great White Sox pitcher, is born.

1931 In an exhibition game in Chattanooga, Tenn., a 17-year girl named Jackie Mitchell fans Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth.

1932 John Morrill, 1880s manager, dies.

1937 Dick Radatz, great reliever in his prime, is born.

1945 Don Sutton, 300-game winner, is born.

1945 Reggie Smith, star outfielder, is born.

1952 Monte Irvin breaks his ankle sliding into third base in an exhibition game.

1959 Detroit returns minor league prospect Maury Wills to the Dodgers as part of a conditional deal.

1962 Cleveland trades Vic Power and Dick Stigman to Minnesota for Pedro Ramos.

1963 Washington purchases Minnie Minoso.

1970 Jon Lieber, pitcher, is born.

1972 The White Sox release Joe Horlen.

1972 Gil Hodges, Boys of Summer first baseman turned Miracle Mets manager, dies. He was still Mets manager at the time of his death.

1973 The Royals trade Greg Minton to the Giants.

1975 Pittsburgh signs what’s left of Sudden Sam McDowell.

1976 The Orioles and A’s stage a true blockbuster trade. Baltimore trades Don Baylor, Mike Torrez and Paul Mitchell to the A’s for Reggie Jackson, Ken Holtzman and a minor leaguer.

1976 Texas releases former star pitcher Clyde Wright.

1982 Under orders from team manager Billy Martin, A’s pitcher Steve McCatty comes to bat with a 15-inch toy bat in a preseason exhibition game against an NL squad. This is a protest of the lack of a DH in NL parks.

1983 The White Sox release troubled outfielder Ron LeFlore. (He’s got drug problems).

1984 On Opening Day in Baltimore, President Reagan tries to buy four $2 hot dogs with a $5 bill. Oops.

1984 Davey Johnson enjoys his first game as manager in the big leagues.

1991 Baltimore signs free agent Mike Flanagan.

1991 Milwaukee signs free agents Rick Dempsey, Candy Maldonado and Willie Randolph.

1992 Houston trades Curt Schilling to Philadelphia for Jason Grimsley. Yeah, Philly got the edge here.

1995 The big 1994-95 strike officially ends as owners accept the players’ March 31 unconditional offer to return to work.

1997 Tino Martinez of the Yankees hits three homers in one game.

1998 Vladimir Guerrero enjoys the first of 42 career multi-home run games.

1998 Mark McGwire enjoys the fourth of five career walk-off home runs.

1998 Ellis Burks homers in his 33rd stadium, setting a big league record.

1998 Russ Ortiz makes his big league debut.

2000 Atlanta signs free agent pitcher John Burkett.

2000 Boston signs free agent third baseman Gary Gaetti for the final five games of his career.

2001 On Opening Day, it’s the big league debut of Albert Pujols and Ichiro Suzuki. In lesser news, it’s also the debut of Shea Hillenbrand, and Jim Tracy manages his first big league game.

2002 Highly touted prospect Sean Burroughs debuts. He’ll turn into a drug addicted train wreck.

2003 Alex Rodriguez hits his 300th career home run.

2003 Mike Bordick’s errorless streak at shortstop ends at 544 chances in 110 games.

2003 Detroit has four pitchers make their big league debuts today, a big league record. The biggest name of them was Jeremy Bonderman. Elsewhere, Shane Victorino also makes his big league debut.

2004 Minnesota purchases Terry Mulholland from Seattle.

2007 Josh Hamilton makes his big league debut.

2008 Kevin Youkilis plays his 194th consecutive game without an error at first base, breaking Steve Garvey’s record.

2010 Mike Cuellar, 1970s Orioles pitcher, dies.

2011 Ichiro Suzuki gets his 2,248th hit; breaking Edgar Martinez’s club record.

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Comments

  1. Jim said...

    Interesting recap.  However Retrosheet.org sees it a little differently, although the results are the same:

    TIGERS 9TH: HERZOG REPLACED CERV (PLAYING LF); FRANCONA BATTED FOR WILSON; Francona singled to center; ZERNIAL BATTED FOR HOEFT; Zernial flied out to center; F. Bolling singled to center[Francona to second]; Virgil singled to right [Francona to third, F. Bolling to second]; BERTOIA RAN FOR VIRGIL; DICKSON REPLACED GORMAN (PITCHING); Kuenn reached on an error by Ward
    [Francona scored (RBI), F. Bolling scored (unearned) (no RBI), Bertoia scored (error by Maris) (unearned) (no RBI), Kuenn to first]; 3 R (1 ER), 3 H, 2 E, 1 LOB.  Athletics 6, Tigers 7.

  2. rbt said...

    I don’t get this:

    “Tito Francona led off the inning for Detroit with a pinch hit single… Frank Bolling cracked a sharp single to center, advancing Francona to third. Then Ozzie Virgil, who had recently become the first black player in Tigers history, laced another single to load the bases.”

    Why does Virgil’s single load the bases?  Francona was on third; why didn’t he score?

  3. Chris J. said...

    rbt – I goofed up.  Francona went to second on Bolling’s single, not third.

    Sorry about that.

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