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.
1,000 days since Tampa releases Pat Burrell.
2,000 days since Johan Santana sets a Twins record by fanning 17 in a 1-0 win over Texas. He leaves after eight innings with two hits and no walks allowed.
3,000 days since the Washington baseball club announces its new name—Nationals—logo and team colors.
5,000 days since the 1999 amateur draft. The biggest pick is Albert Pujols by St. Louis, but the following teams also claim these players: San Diego: Jake Peavy; Texas: Aaron Harang and Hank Blalock; Minnesota: Justin Morneau; Baltimore: Erik Bedard; Tampa: Josh Hamilton and Carl Crawford; Oakland: Ryan Ludwick; Milwaukee: Ben Sheets; Philadelphia: Brett Myers; Florida: Josh Beckett; Anaheim: John Lackey; Montreal:Brandon Phillips and Colorado: Jason Jennings.
7,000 days since Seattle trades Mike Hampton to Houston, where he’ll blossom.
9,000 days since Ryne Sandberg hits his 100th home run.
9,000 days since the Reds trade an aging Buddy Bell to Houston.
10,000 days since Andre Dawson belts his 200th home run.
10,000 days since Joba Chamberlain is born.
25,000 days since 19th century phenom Kid McGill dies.
25,000 days since Damon Phillips of the Boston Braves has 11 assists in one game at third base.
1867 Bug Holliday, outfielder, is born. He’ll play 10 years with the Reds and twice lead the league in home runs.
1887 The National League’s St. Louis Maroons franchise is sold to a group from Indianapolis for $12,000. They get the players in the deal, and the former Maroons are now the Hoosiers.
1915 Former Cubs pitcher Ed Reulbach signs with the Federal League’s Newark Pepper club.
1920 Babe Ruth asks the Red Sox for $15,000 of the money they made by selling him to the Yankees. Ruth later tells the press of the Sox owner, “The son of a bitch wouldn’t even see me.”
1921 Hoot Evers is born. He’ll make two All-Star teams as a Tiger and lead the 1950 AL in triples and caught steals.
1921 Willard Marshall is born. He’ll make the All-Star team three times as Giants right fielder, most notably belting 36 homers with 107 RBIs for them in 1947.
1926 The AL announces that, despite a recent joint-league decision by the Rules Committee to allow pitchers to use a rosin bag on the mound, AL hurlers can’t do that. (The league will reverse itself two months into the year).
1932 The A’s release Hall of Fame pitcher Waite Hoyt.
1933 Brooklyn trades longtime star pitcher Dazzy Vance to the Cardinals.
1940 The Red Sox sell pitcher Elden Auker to the Browns.
1941 The Tigers release former Indians star Earl Averill.
1941 The Phillies release veteran pitcher Syl Johnson, ending his 19-year career. He went 112-117 in 500 appearances, mostly in relief.
1942 Fritz Peterson, pitcher and wife-swapper, is born. He also won 20 games for the 1970 Yankees.
1943 Dan Casey dies at age 80. He led the NL with a 2.86 ERA in 1887 while going 28-13 with the Phillies. He wore his arm out in the process, though, and was never the same after that.
1943 Bob Oliver, infielder, is born. Aside from being the father of future pitcher Darren Oliver, Bob received some token MVP voting support for hitting 27 homers with a .260 average and 99 RBIs with the 1970 Royals.
1946 The Braves release aging veteran Joe Medwick.
1954 Tampa Bay Rays skipper Joe Maddon is born.
1956 Boston purchases Pumpsie Green. He’ll later become Boston’s first black big league player.
1956 Connie Mack dies at age 93.
1956 Long Tom Hughes, pitcher from the early 20th century, dies at age 77. He lost 20 games three times, but also went 20-7 for the 1903 world champion Red Sox. He started Game Three of the first World Series, but lost it.
1962 The Federal Trade Commission accuses Topps Chewing Gum of illegally monopolizing the baseball card industry. This case will stretch on seemingly forever until a 1980 court decision opens the playing field for Fleer and Donruss.
1965 Ray Kremer, 1930s Pirates pitcher, dies at age 71. He was a pretty good pitcher for a spell, leading the league in wins, winning percentage, ERA and ERA+ in 1926. The next year he repeated in ERA and ERA+. In 1930, he led in wins, starts, innings and batters faced (as well as homers and hits allowed). However, in those days before the full establishment of the farm system, the Oakland native spent seven years in the Pacific Coast League before debuting with the Pirates. He still won 143 major league games despite not beginning until age 31.
1973 MLB announces that “early bird” spring training camps are cancelled until the collective bargaining agreement with the players’ union is concluded.
1975 Jim Parque, turn-of-the-millennium White Sox starting pitcher, is born.
1979 Aaron Cook, who represented the 2008 Rockies in the All-Star game, is born.
1978 Milwaukee purchases hard-hitting center fielder Gorman Thomas from the Rangers.
1982 The Dodgers trade longtime second baseman Davey Lopes to the A’s.
1983 Commissioner Bowie Kuhn orders former Yankees great Mickey Mantle to cut ties with Atlantic City casinos. Mantle will refuse, causing him to become persona non grata in major league baseball for the rest of Kuhn’s tenure as commissioner.
1983 Burke Badenhop, pitcher, is born.
1994 Atlanta signs free agent reliever Gregg Olson.
1994 The White Sox sign amateur free agent Carlos Lee, “El Caballo.”
1995 A new era begins as the Dodgers sign Japanese pitcher Hideo Nomo. He’s only the second Japanese player in North American history, but his signing begins a consistent stretch of NPB baseball players crossing the ocean to come here.
1995 The Giants release outfielder Darryl Strawberry.
1996 Del Ennis dies at age 70. He was a star outfielder with the 1950 Whiz Kids Phillies, hitting 31 homers with a league leading 126 RBIs and a .311 batting average. In all, he belted 288 homers with over 2,000 career hits.
2001 The Dodgers sign free agent LOOGY Jesse Orosco.
2008 The A’s sign free agent reliever Keith Foulke.
2009 Texas signs free agent Andruw Jones.