40th anniversary: incredible Giants comeback

Forty years ago today was one of the wildest, most incredible, and unlikely comebacks in baseball history. It was one of the greatest bottoms of the ninth ever, when the Giants came back from the bring of death to smite the Pittsburgh Pirates on May 1, 1973.

As is typically the case in the game with an impossibly amazing bottom of the ninth, the first eight and a half innings were something of a snooze-fest. The Pirates took a lead and appeared to have the game completely in hand. They scored thrice in the first, and then kept adding to it as the day went on.

Heading into the bottom of the ninth, the Pirates had a seemingly insurmountable 7-1 lead. The 7,972 paying customers must have dwindled down a handful of genuine diehards on that Bay Area night.

Surely the way the inning began gave people no hope for anything memorable. Oh sure, Bobby Bonds led off the inning with a walk, but the next two batters both grounded into force outs. Now the score was still 7-1, San Francisco was just one out from defeat, and all the Giants had was shortstop Chris Speier on first base. You have to admit, coming back to win in this situation sure qualifies as an incredible rally.

According to WPA, the Giants had zero percent chance to win. But they had veteran slugger Willie McCovey at the plate. Hey—you take your good news where you can when down to your last out trailing by a half-dozen. McCovey drew a walk, raising the Giants’ chance of winning up to one percent. Well, it’s an improvement.

Up next came third baseman Ed Goodson, who also walked. Hmmm, that’s three walks to the last five batters – and Pirates pitcher Bob Moose hadn’t walked anyone prior to this inning. Time to get him out of there.

Manager Bill Virdon went to his bullpen for Ramon Hernandez. Ordinarily, Hernandez was a terrific pitcher. The year before, he had posted an ERA of 1.67, and if you exclude what he did in this game his 1973 ERA would be 2.01. But it actually was 2.45 because this game did happen, and he was dreadful.

With the bags packed, the first batter Hernandez faced was pinch-hitter Chris Arnold, who promptly made a game of things with a grand slam home run. Arnold wouldn’t hit another homer all year, and had just four in 483 career plate appearances, but this was one of those four. The few fans cheered heartily. At least someone had rewarded their willingness to stick it out to the bitter end.

As impressive as Arnold’s blast was, Pittsburgh still held all the cards. The Pirates still led by two runs, 7-5, there were still two outs, and the Giants had no one on base. WPA figured that San Francisco’s chance of winning the game was still just one percent.

True, but rookie left fielder Gary Matthews belted a double, and then future manager Doug Rader drew a walk. Now the tying run was on base. With the pitcher’s slot due up, the Giants went to their bench for pinch hitter Jim Howarth. He drew yet another walk—the fifth of the inning.

Now things had gotten interesting. A single could tie the game, and an extra base hit could win it. WPA now gave the Giants a 17 percent chance to win the game, still low, but a lot higher than anyone expected when the inning began.

Oh, and coming up was the ever-dangerous leadoff hitter, Bobby Bonds. A sensational talent, the 27-year-old Bonds already had several notable achievements to his credit. He’d had a 200-hit season, and typically stole about 40 bases while blasting 30 homers a season. This year, he’d hit 39 and collect a league-leading 341 total bases. He’s the last man the Pirates wanted to face at a time like this.

Look, Hernandez didn’t have it. Time to go with the team’s fireman, Dave Giusti. This season, 1973, would be his fourth straight season with 20 saves, an impressive figure for the day. He’d average 90 innings a season from 1970-73 with a 2.61 ERA. He was a genuine bullpen ace. A great reliever versus a great hitter to settle a great comeback. What would happen?

Well, if Giusti got him out, I probably wouldn’t tell this story, right?

Bonds blasted a bases-clearing double. All runners came around to score and that was it—a three-run, walk-off double gave the Giants a 8-7 win. I bet none of the happy few fans in attendance ever left a game early again. How could they, after seeing such a brilliant comeback? And that comeback was 40 years ago today.

Aside from that, many other events today celebrate either their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is something occurring X-thousand days ago). Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d rather just skim through things.

Day-versaries

1,000 days since the Braves retire No. 47 for Tom Glavine, and then go on to lose a heartbreaker to the Giants, 3-2 in 11 innings. The Giants tie it in the ninth despite not getting a hit in the inning—and also get the winning run two frames later on no hits.

3,000 days since former pitcher Nelson Briles dies.

4,000 days since Brady Anderson appears in his last game.

5,000 days since Pedro Martinez fans 15 Twins in eight scoreless innings.

7,000 days since Darryl Strawberry comes under IRS investigation.

9,000 days since Orel Hershiser’s scoreless inning streak reaches 22 innings, thanks to a 5-0 complete game shutout over the Reds.

9,000 days since Roger Clemens throws his only career complete game one-hitter. Dave Clark singles with one out in the eighth for Cleveland. Clemens never manages a no-hitter.

20,000 days since the birth of infielder Scott Fletcher.

Anniversaries

1863 Frank Foreman, pitcher, is born. He’s one of the few people to play in four major leagues – UA, AA, NL, and AL. When he dies in 1957 at age 94, he’s one of the last (and maybe the last) surviving pitcher from the UA.

1878 Way back in the day, May 1 was Opening Day, so a ton of 19th-century players make their big league debut on May 1. In 1878, the following stars debuted: Hall of Famer King Kelly, third baseman Ned Williamson (who will swat 27 homers in a single season in 1884), Charlie Bennett (the best catcher of the 1880s), and slugger Abner Dalrymple.

1879 Today the following guys debut: Star middle infielder Jack Glasscock; hitting star George Gore, and versatile player Hardy Richardson. All will be among the best players of the 1880s.

1880 Several more stars make their debut: Roger Connor, who will be the all-time home run king prior to Babe Ruth; Mickey Welch, a 300-game winner; Larry Corcoran, a star pitcher; Fred Dunlap, maybe the best second baseman of the 1880s, Ned Hanlon, a good player who becomes a Hall of Fame manager, and Tom Burns, a solid infielder.

1882 Fred Pfeffer, infielder, makes his debut.

1883 The New York Giants play their first ever-game. They beat Boston, 7-5. Among the 12,000 in attendance is former president U. S. Grant. Also debuting, the Philadelphia Phillies play their first game. They lose 4-3 to Providence.

1884 Gus Schmelz, one of the game’s great innovators, manages his first game. He’ll be at the cutting edge of creating spring training, some coaching drills, and developing the sacrifice bunt.

1884 Several more players make their big league debut: Pitcher Ed Morris, the all-time complete game king; Adonis Terry, a long-lasting pitcher; Curt Welch, the best defensive outfielder of his day; and Charlie Ferguson, a great pitcher who will die young.

1884 Also debuting today but deserving his own entry is Moses “Fleetwood” Walker. He’s the first black player in the majors.

1885 George McQuillan is born. He’ll win 23 games for the 1908 Phillies with a 1.53 ERA (which isn’t nearly as impressive as it sounds, but is still a mighty nice year).

1886 The NL plays its first game under “sudden death” rules in the ninth. It used to be that both teams batted in the ninth, no matter the score. Now a team won’t bat in the bottom half if it already has won the game. In the first such game, Chicago tops Cincinnati, 4-3.

1886 Al Atkinson throws his second no-hitter, and wins 3-2.

1891 300-game winner John Clarkson surrenders an inside-the-park grand slam to Oyster Burns.

1901 Chicago White Sox Herm McFarland hits the first grand slam in AL history as Chicago tops Detroit, 19-9. The Tigers commit an even 12 errors in that loss, the AL record.

1906 The Red Sox release Hall of Fame outfielder Jesse Burkett.

1906 Phillies pitcher Johnny Lush throws a no-hitter, beating the Dodgers, 6-0, fanning 11 in the process.

1912 University of Michigan freshman George Sisler fans 20 in seven innings.

1919 Al Zarilla, All-Star for the 1948 Browns, is born.

1920 Babe Ruth hits his first home run as a Yankee. It’s career long ball No. 50.

1920 It’s the longest game in history, as the Braves and Dodgers play 26 innings and end tied 1-1. Both starting pitchers go the distance: Leon Cadore and Joe Oeschger.

1922 Pop Schriver becomes the first NL pitcher of the 20th century to throw a shutout in his debut.

1924 Hall of Fame center fielder Max Carey gets hit No. 2,000.

1924 White Sox base runner Bill Barrett steals home twice in one game versus Cleveland.

1925 17-year-old Jimmie Foxx makes his big league debut as a catcher for the A’s.

1926 19-year-old Satchel Paige debuts in the Negro Southern League, leading Chattanooga to a 5-4 win over Birmingham.

1928 Babe Ruth legs out his 100th career triple.

1929 Jimmie Foxx enjoys the first of 55 multi-home run games. In that same game, his teammate Al Simmons has the first of his eight career five-hit games.

1930 After playing 1,103 consecutive games, Hall of Fame infielder Joe Sewell misses a contest. He’s only the third man to top 1,000 consecutive games played.

1933 Pittsburgh shortstop Arky Vaughan hits the first of two career inside-the-park grand slams.

1934 Burleigh Grimes, the last legal spitball pitcher, wins his 270th and final game.

1936 Dizzy Dean posts his 100th career victory. He’s 100-53 in his career at this point. He also ties his career high Game Score: 87. His line: 9 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, and 7 K.

1936 The White Sox claim outfielder Dixie Walker off waivers from the Yankees.

1939 Monty Stratton, a pitcher who lost a leg in an offseason accident, plays in an exhibition game.

1940 For the only time in his 457 career starts, Lefty Grove allows a leadoff home run.

1941 It’s the first night game at Griffith Stadium. The Yankees spoil Washington’s big night by winning, 6-5.

1942 Stan Musial has the first of 37 career games with more than one home run.

1943 Rubber-armed Bobo Newsom has one of his five career one-hitters. He never does get that no-hitter. Babe Barna gets the sole safety against him. Barna will end the year with 42 hits and a .187 batting average.

1944 Washington’s George Myatt gets six hits in one game. It’s the first time in franchise history anyone has done that.

1946 Brooklyn releases veteran pitcher Curt Davis. He arguably has the best career by any pitcher who debuted after his 30th birthday.

1946 Before today’s Cubs-Dodgers game, Chicago’sLennie Merulloand Brooklyn’s Dixie Walker have a big fight on the field. The players form a circle so no one can break it up.

1947 Kitty Bransfield, Pirates first baseman during the Honus Wagner era, dies at age 72.

1948 The White Sox lose, putting their all-time franchise record at .500 (3,547-3,547). They’ll stay under it for the next eight years.

1949 Ted Williams smashes the ninth of his career 17 grand slams.

1949 Elmer Valo of the A’s become the first AL player to hit two bases-loaded triples in one game.

1949 Bobby Shantz makes his big league debut.

1951 Minnie Minoso integrates the Chicago White Sox. In that same game, Mickey Mantle hits career home run No. 1. It’s a 450-foot shot.

1952 Bob Lemon has the longest outing of his career: 12.1 innings. He loses as Washington tops the Indians, 2-1.

1955 It’s a great doubleheader for the Indians—and a terrible one for Boston. In game one, veteran strikeout artist Bob Feller has his 12th and final career one-hitter. It’s an odd one for him, as there are only two strikeouts and one walk. Sammy West of the Red Sox gets a seventh-inning single. In the nightcap, young strikeout artist Herb Score fans 16, including nine in a row at one point. The Indians predictably win both contests.

1955 Cardinals third baseman Ken Boyer draws four walks in four PA.

1959 Early Wynn has maybe the most dominant game of his career. He throws a one-hitter, and the hit came with one out in the first inning by Pete Runnels. Wynn fans 14 and walks seven. Oh, and Wynn also belts a home run. Chicago wins 1-0.
1959 Dick Stuart hits a nearly 500-foot home run for the Pirates.

1959 The Reds trade Del Ennis to the White Sox.

1960 It begins! For the first time, the exploding scoreboard at Comiskey Park goes off. Al Smith hits a homer to launch it for the first time.

1960 Charlie O’Brien, longtime backup catcher, is born.

1964 Jose Lind, Pirates second baseman, is born.

1965 Tommy Davis breaks his ankle sliding into second base for the Dodgers.

1965 Hy Myers dies at age 76. As a Dodgers outfielder, he twice led the league in triples and once in RBIs.

1966 Sudden Sam McDowell throws his second straight one-hitter. Don Buford gets a third-inning single off him.

1967 Jimmy Piersall plays in his final game.

1968 For only the second time ever, a pitcher is ejected for throwing the spitball. This one is especially interesting, because it isn’t during the game. John Boozer of the Phillies is throwing spitters while warming up against the Mets in Shea Stadium when umpire Ed Vargo rings him up.

1968 It’s one of the greatest pitchers’ duels of the year as Oakland’s Blue Moon Odom and Cleveland’s Sam McDowell square off. Odom retires the first 15 batters he faces but loses 3-0 to McDowell, who fans 16 batters.

1969 Hall of Fame skipper Al Lopez manages his last game.

1969 Houston’s Don Wilson no-hits the Reds. The day before, Cincinnati’s Jim Maloney had no-hit the Astros. Just nine days ago, Wilson faced the Reds and got killed, 14-0. Today, he fans 15 in a 4-0 win.

1971 For the first time in nine years, an American League game begins with back-to-back homers. Incredibly, the same pitcher who surrendered them in 1962 is on the mound here again, Jim Perry. Boston’s Luis Aparicio and Reggie Smith go deep against the Minnesota star pitcher.

1973 Jim Colborn becomes the last Brewers hurler to throw nine innings in relief.

1974 Pittsburgh pitcher Dock Ellis is looking to send a message to shake things up against the Reds. Boy, does he ever want to send a message. He beans the first three batters of the game and then walks the fourth guy on four would-be bean balls. After two more attempts, he’s yanked from the game.

1974 Tom Seaver has his all-time highest Game Score of 106. His line: 12 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 16 Ks. As a bonus, he does it against the Dodgers, who begin the day with a record of 17-6 and will win 102 games all year. Aside from a Steve Garvey homer in the fifth, Seaver doesn’t allow anyone to make it past first base against him until the 12th inning. Alas, Seaver gets a no-decision as the Mets lose in 14 innings, 2-1.

1975 Hank Aaron breaks Babe Ruth’s RBI record, as he ends the day with 2,211 RBIs to Ruth’s 2,209. Next year, the Records Committee will revise Ruth’s RBI total to 2,204, so officially the record was set on April 18, but no one knew that on May 1, 1975.

1977 Tony Perez, who steals only 49 bases in 2,777 career games, has two swipes in today’s contest. He’s nearly 35 years old, too.

1977 According to WPA, this is Carlton Fisk’s best game: 0.790 WPA. He’s 3-for-4 with two homers and five RBIs in a 6-4 Red Sox win over the A’s.

1978 Jim Bouton begins his unlikely comeback pitching with the Savannah Braves of the Southern League.

1979 Phil Niekro wins his 200th game. He’s 200-175. Though he’s already 40 years old, he’ll still notch 100-plus more wins.

1979 Frank Taveras of the Mets fans five times in one game.

1979 Roger Freed hits a walk-off grand slam for the Cardinals against Houston. Even by walk-off grand slam standards, it’s unusually dramatic. It’s in the bottom of the 11th with St. Louis trialing, 6-3.

1980 Bill Madlock receives a 15-game suspension and $5,000 fine for hitting umpire Jerry Crawford in the face with a glove in a recent game.

1981 Tim Raines hits his first home run, a walk-off shot in the bottom of the 13th inning. He’ll never homer that late in a game again, and have just one more walk-off homer in his career.

1983 Robin Yount hits his 100th home run.

1984 Dwight Gooden becomes the first teenager to record double-digit strikeouts in a game since Bert Blyleven back in 1970.

1985 Jimmy Key becomes the first southpaw starting pitcher to win a game for the Blue Jays in 614 contests.

1985 Pitcher (and pretty good hockey player) Kirk McCaskill makes his big league debut.

1986 Dick Ruthven pitches in his final big league game.

1987 Tim Raines finally signs with the Montreal Expos. He tried to sign with another team in the offseason free agent market, but collusion slammed the door in his face, so he missed the first month of the year. For that matter, Bob Boone, Ron Guidry and Bill Campbell all also sign for the first time on this day.

1988 Andre Dawson has the last sacrifice hit of his career. It’s the only one he’ll ever have with the Cubs.

1991 The Brewers and White Sox have a 19-inning contest. It’s the longest AL game in seven years—since the same two teams went a league-record 25 innings. Milwaukee wins today’s game, 10-9. Paul Molitor receives three intentional walks along the way.

1991 Nolan Ryan throws his seventh career no-hitter. He walks two and fans 16 along the way for a Game Score of 101.

1991 He is the greatest. Rickey Henderson steals his 939th career base, passing Lou Brock for No. 1 on the list.

1992 The Dodgers postpone their three-game home series against the Expos due to rioting going on after the jury in the Rodney King beating trial acquits the police. They’ll make the contests up with a series of doubleheaders, among the few doubleheaders ever hosted in LA.

1992 Randy Johnson walks 10 batters, his most. Since then, five other pitchers have walked 10 in a game, and none have walked more than that in one outing.

1992 He’s the greatest: Rickey Henderson steals his 1,000th base.

1995 MLB and the umpires reach an agreement, ending the ongoing lockout of the umps. They’ll be back on the field on May 3.

1996 Gerald Williams of the Yankees gets six hits in a 15-inning contest.

1998 The Orioles release veteran infielder Ozzie Guillen.

2000 For the first time, a home run ball lands in McCovey’s Cove in San Francisco. Naturally, Barry Bonds blasts it there.

2000 Texas purchases the ancient Ruben Sierra from the Mexican League’s Cancun team.

2000 Todd Helton hits three homers in one game.

2001 Ramon Martinez appears in his last game.

2001 Jeff Kent enjoys perhaps the best game of his career. He’s 3-for-4 with a double, homer, walk, and seven RBIs as the Giants top the Pirates, 11-6.

2002 Rafael Palmeiro bops his 500th career double.

2003 Baltimore’s B.J. Ryan records a win despite not throwing a single pitch. He enters the game and picks off Omar Infante in the bottom of the seventh to end the inning. The Orioles rally to take the lead in the eighth and pull Ryan for a new pitcher in the eighth. Baltimore wins, 5-4 over Detroit.

2004 Barry Bonds gets four intentional walks in a nine-inning game, setting a record for a nine-inning contest. (Andre Dawson had five in a 16-inning game in 1990).

2004 Frank Catalanotto of the Blue Jays gets six hits in one game, a first in franchise history.

2005 It’s the end of Johan Santana’s 17-game winning streak as the Angels top Santana and the Twins, 2-1. He allows just two hits in eight innings, but those hits are solo homers by Vladimir Guerrero and Jose Molina.

2006 Joel Pineiro becomes the first hurler in a dozen years to pitch nine innings and neither walk nor fan any batters.

2010 The Mets’ Mike Pelfrey has a scoreless-inning streak end at 27 as the Phillies clobber New York, 10-0. For the Phillies, today is Roy Halladay’s second complete-game shutout in his last three starts.

2012 Buck Showalter records his 1,000th victory as manager. His record is 1,000-958.

2012 White Sox outfielder Alejandro De Aza hits the rare infield double. He pops one up—but it gets lost in the smoke from the fireworks released at U.S. Cellular celebrating the just-hit homer by Gordon Beckham. Bizarre.

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Comments

  1. Tod said...

    I was at the Giant/Pirate game on May 1st, 1973. The description of the game was accurate, except for Bobby Bonds’ (who I was a huge fan of) double that won the game. Bonds’ double was not blasted. He hit an end of the bat loopy liner to short left center field. The Pirates’ left fielder, Willie Stargell, charged in and to his left to try to catch it, and then to atleast short hop it to prevent the tieing run from coming home from second. Unfortunately for Stargell, he missed the short hop and the ball kicked off his leg and rolled into shallow right center field, allowing all three Giants’ runners to score. Needless to say, I never went to a game before or since with that type of inning, so I remember it well.

  2. Barry said...

    I listened to the end of that game on my car radio. I’ll never forget it. And I have a cassette tape somewhere with Lon Simmons call of the final play in that game. Talk about excited. Lon was hoarse as he yelled “Stargell knocks the ball down,… It gets by him!! Howarth’s rounding third…. Howarth scores!!!! The Giants Win!!!!!!!!!

    What a memory! GO GIANTS!

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