Thursday, September 18, 2014

Epic Collapse: Sept. 19, 1964--Sending a Rook to do a Vet's Job

After Bobby Shantz's brilliant 7.2 innings of relief to salvage Rick Wise's start on September 17, the 1964 Phillies' unraveling began the next two days with consecutive   4-3 losses in Los Angeles, the second of which was a 16-inning affair that ended on a walk-off steal of home plate with a rookie reliever just called in to make his very first major league appearance of the season. That outcome was the unanticipated (and certainly unintended) consequence of manager Gene Mauch using, in effect, two pitchers in one start just two days before, which made Shantz unavailable when he was badly needed to try to get the Phillies out of the 16th inning.   

Sept. 19, 1964:  Sending a Rook to do a Vet's Job

The Shantz victory in relief of Wise had boosted Philadelphia's lead to 6-1/2 games over second-place St. Louis. In third and fourth place were Cincinnati, 7-1/2 behind, and San Francisco, eight back. The next day--September 18--Chris Short, starting on normal rest, took a 3-0 lead into the last of the seventh, but surrendered a three-run home run to Frank Howard (still not the "Capital" Punisher, he having yet to play for Washington). The Dodgers went on to win, 4-3, on a walk-off two-out single off Phillies' relief ace Jack Baldschun.

Baldschun was back on the mound, out of the bullpen, the following day in the 16th inning of a game tied at 3-3. Having already worked two innings in the game, and six innings in the previous four days, Baldschun retired the first two Dodgers to bat as the game went past 5 hours, but then gave up a single to Willie Davis, intentionally walked Tommy Davis after Willie stole second, and unleashed a wild pitch that advanced Willie Davis to third.  The left-handed batting Ron Fairly, 2-for-4 on the day (having entered the game defensively in the eighth inning), was at the plate.

With the winning run now on third base, but with two outs, Mauch chose this moment to replace his relief ace with rookie southpaw Morrie Steevens, who was not only pitching in his first major league game of the season but had only 12 appearances in the Big Time before this. Mauch had only one other left-handed option available--the crafty veteran Bobby Shantz. But having pitched 7.2 innings two days before in first-inning relief of Rick Wise, Shantz was not sufficiently rested, apparently not even to face one batter to get the one out needed to end the inning.  Of course, that would have meant somebody on the Phillies having to pitch the seventeenth inning. But, remember, the Phillies still had a 6-game lead (even after the previous day's loss) with 13 games to go, pending the outcome of this one.

Instead of staying with Baldschun to get one more out to escape the inning, Mauch went with Steevens. To recap: there were two out and the would-be winning run edged off third in the person of Willie Davis. As a left-hander, whether pitching from the stretch or a full windup, Steevens on his delivery would have had his back to the runner at third. Steevens was apparently so focused on Fairly, as well he should have been, that he was inattentive to Davis, which he should not have been.  Willie Davis took advantage and stole home, scoring the winning run.

The Phillies' lead was now 5-1/2 games--large enough that it would still take a perfect storm for them not to win the pennant, and that is the subject of my next post.

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