40th anniversary: The day Wilbur Wood became a legend

Forty years ago today, White Sox knuckleball pitcher Wilbur Wood became a legend. He was always a great workhorse. He averaged more than 350 innings a season from 1971-73, with an ungodly 376.2 inning pitched in 1972. In 1973 he would become the first pitcher since Walter Johnson to win and lose 20 games in the same season, with a 24-20 mark.

But what Wood did on May 28, 1973 was his most impressive one-day performance.

On the face of it, that doesn’t appear right. If you look at the game logs, he had a nice complete game start, something he did plenty of other times. Aye, but the game logs overlook one key fact that makes this game special.

You see, if you look more closely, Wood is credited with making his only relief appearance from 1972-76 in the May 26, 1973 contest. That is both true and false. It’s true because his relief appearance came in that game, but it’s false that he pitched in relief on May 26. Huh?

You see, the AL at that time had a curfew rule. Games that went too long would be suspended and finished up at a later time. Chicago’s game against the Indians on May 26 was a never-ending marathon that hit the curfew after 16 innings of play.

Rather than finish the game up on Sunday, May 27, the Sox decided to give fans an extra reason to show up to their Monday Memorial Day game against the Indians, so the final innings of the May 26 game came on May 28. As it happens, May 28 was also the day Wilbur Wood was scheduled to pitch.

Sox manager Chuck Tanner had a simple idea. Since Wood is supposed to pitch today, and since that marathon game can’t go on much longer (right?) let’s have Wood finish up Saturday’s game and then take his regularly scheduled start.

So in the early afternoon of May 28, 1973, Wood took the hill in the top of the 17th against the Indians before a crowd of 17,419 Sox fans in a game tied 2-2. Wood’s knuckleball was unhittable. He fanned the first two batters and retired 11 in a row. Unfortunately, the Sox couldn’t score and so after 20 innings, it was still 2-2.

In the 21st, things went haywire for Wood. He fanned the first two batters – giving him 14 outs in 15 batters faced, but then issued a two-out walk to left fielder Charlie Spikes. No big deal, as catcher Dave Duncan hit one to shortstop Eddie Leon. Uh-oh—Leon botched it. All hands were safe, with Spikes scampering to third. DH Walt Williams made everyone pay, with an RBI single—just the second hit off Wood. He retired the next batter to end the inning, but despite he run being unearned, Wood looked destined to suffer an unfair loss.

But the game wasn’t over. Indians pitcher Milt Wilcox allowed a leadoff double to Tony Muser, and after a bunt sacrifice advanced Muser to second, Leon redeemed his error with an RBI single to tie the game. Cleveland pulled Wilcox, but the new pitcher allowed another single. Now a possible winning run was in scoring position for Chicago.

The fans buzzed in their seats as another reliever came into the game—a young Cleveland pitcher named Ed Farmer (who has called games on White Sox radio for decades). He got a force play for the second out, but that brought up the last man Cleveland wanted to see: defending AL MVP Dick Allen. And Dick Allen did what Dick Allen did best: got good wood on the ball for a home run. It was the 10th and final walk-off homer of his career.

The Sox won and Wood had his win, courtesy of five innings of pitching allowing just two hits and one unearned run.

And since he’s Wilbur Wood, the man who threw more than 370 innings the year before and would go 24-20 this season, why not have him make his regular start anyway? Five innings was chicken feed for him. Besides, he clearly had his knuckler knuckling.

Early on, he looked a little rickety, giving up a double and a walk in the first inning. But he survived unscathed. He gave up a scratch single in the second, and another in the third, but no one advanced to second, let alone scored. Meanwhile, the Sox had staked him to a 2-0 lead.

In the middle innings, Wood settled down on the mound and shut down the Indians at the plate. No one reached against him in the fourth or fifth. Charlie Spikes reached on an error by third baseman Bill Melton with two outs in the sixth, but Wood then fanned Dave Duncan to end the inning.

In the seventh Williams successfully laid down a bunt single against Wood, but he was gobbled up in an inning-ending double play a few minutes later. And by now it was 4-0 Wood.

Leading off the eighth, Wood issued his second walk of the game, but again the runner never even advanced to second, let alone scored. The ninth inning went rather appropriately for Wood. Facing the same trio that gave him problems in the 21st—Spikes, Duncan and Williams—Wood retired them with a pop up, fly ball, and grounder. That was it. Game over. Day over.

Wilbur Wood had pitched 14 innings, allowed zero earned runs on six hits and three walks. Oh, and he picked up two wins. Sure, he allowed an unearned run, but that inning would’ve ended easily had it not been for the error. Wood’s domination was so complete that in only two of his 14 innings of work did a runner even reach second base.

It’s as close as anyone has ever come to two complete game victories in one day in ages. That was common in the deadball era, but hasn’t happened since World War II. OK, so it was 14 innings, not 18, but given how strong Wood was, he likely could’ve made it four more frames without any problem. Keep in mind, only once in history has a pitcher thrown two complete game shutouts in one day: Ed Reulbach for the 1908 Cubs. And 65 years later, Wilbur Wood threw 14 innings in two games without allowing a single earned run.

It was an amazing achievement—and it happened 40 years ago today.

(One last side note: That crowd of 17,000-plus fans included two of my uncles, Ron and John Jaffe, so this day found its way into family lore.

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

Day-versaries

2,000 days since the Nationals sign free agent infielder Aaron Boone.

2,000 days since the Dodgers sign free agent Andruw Jones.

4,000 days since Rafael Palmerio smacks his 1,000th extra base hit.

4,000 days since the rematch of pitcher Roger Clemens and catcher Mike Piazza occurs. It’s the first time they’ve faced off since the 1999 World Series, when Clemens threw a broken bat at Piazza. Today, however, Mets pitcher Shawn Estes steals the show, not only getting the win but becoming the first pitcher ever to homer off Clemens.

5,000 days since Jamie Moyer endures his 100th loss, giving him a career record of 118-100. It’s actually his eighth straight Quality Start, his longest such streak. He has a 1.52 ERA in 65 IP in that span.

5,000 days since Kenny Lofton suffers maybe the worst game of his career, going 0-for-4 with four Ks. It’s his only four-K game.

8,000 days since Calvin Schiraldi’s last game.

8,000 days since Ernie Whitt appears in his last game.

15,000 days since 37-year-old Al Kaline legs out two triples in one game.

15,000 days since Bert Blyleven posts his 10th straight win, a personal best he’ll tie 17 years later. He has a 1.92 ERA over 13 starts, nine of which he completes.

20,000 days since the Giants sign amateur free agent Jesus Alou.

Anniversaries

1888 Jim Thorpe, baseball player and the greatest athlete of all-time, is born.

1891 Sam Thompson belts “only” 13 inside the park home runs, but he gets one for the second day in a row today.

1892 Star center fielder Jimmy Ryan collects five walks in one game.

1896 Hall of Fame baseball executive Warren Giles is born.

1898 Veteran third baseman Billy Nash appears in his last game.

1920 Hall of Fame center fielder Max Carey has maybe the worst day of his career. He’s 0-for-4 with three Ks.

1921 Clyde Milan gets his 2,000th hit.

1923 Stuffy McInnis gets his 2,000th hit.

1927 Lou Gehrig gets spiked at first base by Bucky Harris. Of course Gehrig will play the next day anyway.

1930 Hal Carlson, an active big league pitcher with the Cubs, dies at age 38.

1930 Pete Alexander, one of the greatest pitchers of all-time, appears in his last game.

1934 The Braves release veteran pitcher Tom Zachary.

1934 Jimmie Foxx hits his eighth and final inside the park home run.

1934 The Yankees sign free agent pitcher Burleigh Grimes, the last legal spitballer.

1935 Jimmie Dykes gets his 2,000th hit in his 2,008th game. That’s fun because it took him 1,004 games to get to 1,000 hits, so he’s staying on the same steady pace.

1935 Earl Averill belts a line drive that shatters the kneecap of pitcher Bobo Newsom. Bobo is a tough son of a gun, though—and he finishes the game. (Then he spends the next five weeks in a cast).

1936 After nearly 20 years as a big league pitcher, Tom Zachary appears in his last game.

1938 Superstar pitcher Carl Hubbell has his best Game Score in a nine-inning game: 93. His line: 9 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, and 9 K.

1939 The Yankees release what’s left of Wes Ferrell.

1941 Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C. hosts its first night game. Yankees outfielder George Selkirk hits a pinch-hit grand slam in it.

1946 Yankee Stadium hosts its first night game—and the Yankees lose to Washington, 2-1.

1951 After an 0-for-12 start to his big league career, Willie Mays finally connects. It’s a home run off Warren Spahn. Giants manager Leo Durocher will say he never saw a ball move so fast in his life. Spahn says he’ll never forgive himself for this. If Mays had stayed in the slump, he (and the rest of the NL pitchers) might’ve been done with Mays that month).

1952 Willie Mays gets an ovation playing for the last time before reporting for duty at Ft. Eustis, Va. He’s just been drafted by the U.S. armed forces.

1955 St. Louis signs free agent Harry Walker—and he makes his debut as manager that day.

1956 Dale Long, of all people, homers for the eighth straight game. That sets a record that will last decades.

1956 Whitey Ford completes his eighth straight start, his longest span of complete games. He’s 7-1 with a 1.01 ERA and two shutouts in that span.

1957 Three weeks after a line drive smashed his eye socket, Herb Score is finally released from the hospital.

1957 Arizona Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson is born.

1957 NL voters unanimously approve of the Dodgers and Giants moving to the West Coast.

1958 Bill Doran, All-Star second baseman for the Astros, is born.

1960 Suffering from a virus and fever, Yankees manager Casey Stengel has to check into a hospital. Ralph Houk takes over the team until Stengel returns on June 8.

1960 Sandy Koufax throws a complete game in a 14-inning loss to the Cubs, 4-3. He fans 15 and walks a career high nine in 13 innings pitched (the winning run scored with no outs in the bottom of the 14th).

1960 Julian Javier makes his big league debut. It comes right after the Pirates and Cardinals engage in a four-player trade that sends Javier to the Cardinals and pitcher Vinegar Bend Mizell to Pittsburgh.

1962 Warren Spahn suffers his 200th loss.

1962 The Boston Red Sox sign amateur free agent George Scott, who will later become one of the first really prominent black players in club history.

1962 Former Dodgers star pitcher Don Newcombe crosses the pond, signing with the Chunichi Dragons of the Japanese Central League.

1962 Cubs pitcher Glen Hobbie has an odd distinction. He faced Hank Aaron the most times with allowing just one homer. Today, Aaron has his only long ball in 95 plate appearances against Hobbie.

1963 For the only time in his career, Ron Santo legs out two triples in one game.

1963 Nellie Fox suffers through his worst game ever, according to WPA: -0.542. He’s 1-for-5 in a 3-2 Sox loss to Cleveland.

1964 Duane Ward, stud middle reliever, is born.

1965 The A’s sign Don Mossi as a free agent.

1968 AL owners vote to divide the league into two divisions the next year.

1969 Earl Weaver catches the Seattle Pilots batting out of order during an Orioles-Pilots game.

1969 Jerry Koosman has his best Game Score ever: 97. His Line: 10 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, and 15 K for a no-decision, but the Mets top the Padres in 11, 1-0.

1969 Ken Holtzman achieves an interesting achievement: worst Game Score in the 1960s for a starting pitcher credited with the victory. He allows seven runs (all earned) on 10 hits and five walks in just five innings work but gets the win despite his Game Score of 18. The Cubs edge the Giants, 9-8.

1970 Jim Hickman has a WPA today of 1.181, which is the best known one-game WPA score by any Cubs hitter. He’s 3-for-4 with two homers, a walk, and four RBIs in Chicago’s 8-7 triumph over the Pirates.

1971 Chris Chambliss makes his big league debut.

1972 Harmon Killebrew smacks the last of his 11 career grand slams.

1973 A month before his 37th birthday, Harmon Killebrew gets his last triple.

1973 Bobby Grich enjoys the first of 13 career multi-home run games.

1975 Atlanta trades Ron Reed to the Cardinals for Ray Sadecki and two other players.

1976 The Indians trade Fritz Peterson to Texas.

1978 Jim Palmer posts his 200th career victory, giving him a career record of 200-108.

1979 George Brett hits for the cycle, and—fittingly—has the greatest WPA performance by anyone in Kansas Royals history. In a 16-inning, 5-4 win over the Orioles, Brett is 5-for-7 with a double, triple, and two home runs and a walk for a WPA of 1.126. His second homer is a walk-off blast in the 16th.

1980 Oakland steals home twice in one inning.

1982 Lou Whitaker has the first of nine career multi-home run games.

1982 Jhonny Peralta is born.

1985 Billy Martin suffers his 1,000th loss as manager. He’s 1,247-1,000 in his career.

1986 Starting pitcher Joe Cowley becomes the first hurler since 19th century pitcher Mickey Welch to begin a game with seven straight Ks. But he doesn’t get out of the fifth inning and loses.

1986 Taylor Douthit, former Cardinals outfielder who led the NL in at bats in 1930, dies at age 85.

1987 There is something about May 28 and a great WPA performance. Mike Young has the best known one-game WPA ever by an Orioles hitter. He scores 1.087 when he goes 3-for-4 with two home runs in an 8-7 win over the Angels. Both homers come in extra innings, the 10th and 12th.

1987 Joe Carter belts three home runs in a game for the second time in his career.

1988 Rafael Palmeiro has the first of 34 career multi-home run games.

1989 The Blue Jays win the last game in old Exhibition Stadium, topping the White Sox 7-5 in 10 innings.

1989 Mike Schmidt plays his last game. Feeling old and unable to play, he’ll make a surprising retirement announcement.

1989 Roger McDowell commits a walk-off balk in a 4-3 Dodgers loss to the Mets in 12 innings.

1991 Frank Tanana loses his 200th decision for a 209-200 career record.

1991 Mark McGwire has his least McGwire-ian game ever, laying down one of three career sacrifice hits, and getting caught stealing, one of just eight times in his career.

1991 Roy Cullenbine, a two-time All Star in the 1940s, dies at age 77.

1994 It’s the first known victory for an all-female team over an all-male squad when the Silver Bullets beat the Richfield Rockets.

1995 The White Sox and Tigers combine for 12 home runs in a 14-12 Chicago triumph.

1996 Barry Larkin beats out his only inside-the-park home run.

1996 Cal Ripken has perhaps his best game, picking up a personal best eight RBIs on three home runs.

1996 Kenny Rogers issues a walk-off walk, letting Chili Davis get the RBI-BB for a 1-0 Angles win over the Yankees. This is Rogers’ only career walk-off walk. Well, his only one in the regular season anyway.

1996 Former Cy Young Award winner Frank Viola appears in his last game.

1998 Buck Showalter issues one of the most famous intentional walks of all time, walking Barry Bonds with the bases loaded in the ninth inning. Up comes Brent Mayne with two outs—and he lines out, ending the game. The intentional walk worked.

1999 Derek Jeter enjoys his only career game with three doubles.

1999 Ken Griffey Jr.’s longest hitting streak peaks at 16 games.

2001 Chuck Finley has his worst Game Score, 4. His line: 1 IP, 8 H, 8 R, 8 ER, 2 BB, and 1 K.

2001 Dodgers catcher Paul Lo Duca gets six hits in an 11-inning game.

2002 It’s one of the best pitchers duels of the 21st century as Arizona’s Miguel Batista and the Giants’ Jason Schmidt each pitch nine scoreless innings. Batista allows just one hit and Schmidt surrenders three. Once the game goes to the bullpen, the Giants win in 10 innings, 1-0.

2002 Former Mets manager Wes Westrum dies at age 78.

2003 The Atlanta Braves become just the second team to begin a game with back-to-back-to-back home runs when Rafael Furcal, Mark DeRosa and Gary Sheffield all go deep. Only the Padres had ever done this, on April 13, 1987.

2003 David Cone appears in his final game.

2003 Jorge Posada takes the second of three career walk-off walks.

2004 Mariano Rivera notches his 300th save.

2004 Barry Bonds blasts his 10th and last career walk-off home run.

2004 Hard-throwing pitcher Matt Clement hits three batters in one inning.

2005 The Cubs trade LaTroy Hawkins to the Giants.

2005 The Reds retire No. 10 for former manager Sparky Anderson.

2006 Barry Bonds hits his 715th home run, passing Babe Ruth as the all-time leader.

2006 Matt Kemp makes his big league debut.

2008 David Price, the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft, makes his second minor league start—and it comes against longtime star pitcher Pedro Martinez. Price wins the duel.

2010 Giants pitcher Matt Cain throws a one-hitter, a second inning double by Mark Reynolds.

2010 After 35 straight scoreless innings, the Mets finally push a run past the plate when Corey Hart smacks a two-run homer for a 2-0 win over the Brewers.

2010 Miguel Cabrera hits three home runs in one game.

2010 Tim Wakefield has his worst start: 3.2 IP, 12 H, 9 R, 9 ER, 3 B, and 1 K for a Game Score of –1.

2011 Kansas City’s Sean O’Sullivan has one of the most dreadful starts by anyone all year. In 5.2 innings, he allows 15 hits—nine for extra bases, including five homers. It’s a wonder he allows just 10 runs.

2012 Young White Sox ace pitcher Chris Sale fans 15 batters in just 7.1 innings in a 2-1 win over the Rays and their pitcher, Matt Moore.

2012 The Twins grant Jason Marquis free agency.

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Comments

  1. MikeS said...

    Wilbur Wood was my very first favorite player.  looking back, it’s probably because he was pitching every time we went to a game.

  2. scott said...

    I remember that suspended game well…. it was one of few interesting spots in yet another dismal Tribe season.  The game was actually completed it Monday because the Sunday game was rained out.

  3. Clete6 said...

    Of course, less than two months later, Wood became a legend of a different kind by starting and losing both games of a doubleheader.

  4. Jerry Esses said...

    “But the game wasn’t over. Indians pitcher Milt Wilcox allowed a leadoff double to Tony Muser, and after a bunt sacrifice advanced Muser to second”
    How do you sacrifice someone to SECOND after a leadoff double?

  5. 87 Cards said...

    Wilbur was a workhorse—averaged over 300 IPs and 21 wins from 1971 to 1974.  It wasn’t an arm injury that ending his MLB run.  Ron Leflore lined one off his left knee in early 1976.

    On topic of hurling both ends of a double-header, did you ever look at day’s work of Dutch Levsen of the Indians on Aug. 28, 1926?  He pitched 18 innings, four hits each game, one run on each end, three total walks—he got two wins of course- but struck out zero Red Sox at Fenway.

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