Thursday, September 25, 2014

Epic Collapse: Sept 26, 1964--Reckless Endangerment of Lead

For Philadelphia, losing had become contagious. After Bunning, pitching on normal rest, lost at home to the Milwaukee Braves in the first of a four-game series, manager Gene Mauch--feeling the sure-thing pennant was slipping away--acted in desperation by starting Chris Short on only two days of rest. Didn't work; the Phillies' losing streak was now five, and their lead down to 1-1/2.  The next day, however--September 26--the Phillies held a one-run lead going into the ninth ... which Mauch recklessly endangered by leaving southpaw reliever Bobby Shantz in to pitch against right-handed slugger Hank Aaron, due up first for the Braves.

Sept 26,1964:  Reckless Endangerment of Lead

The Phillies had an early 4-0 lead in the third game of their series with the Braves, only to once again go cold at the plate when they had additional opportunities to score runs. Milwaukee had whittled the lead down 4-3 with a run in the eighth, an inning in which Mauch made two pitching changes to control the damage. Relief ace Jack Baldschun was brought on after starting pitcher Art Mahaffey allowed back-to-back singles at the start of the inning. Baldschun got only one out and left with the bases loaded when Mauch called upon Bobby Shantz to pitch to left-handed batting catcher Ed Bailey. A passed ball allowed a run to score, but Shantz prevented further damage.

With the dangerous Hank Aaron (in his prime) leading off the ninth and capable of tying the game on one swing, and having already used Baldschun (his premier reliever) in the game, Mauch's best right-handed option was Ed Roebuck. Instead of Roebuck, however, Mauch chose to stay with the lefty Shantz even with Aaron at the plate. Aaron singled.

Mauch still stayed with Shantz against another dangerous Milwaukee hitter, Eddie Mathews, but this made sense because Mathews was a left-handed power hitter. Mathews singled, and the right-handed Frank Bolling was announced as a pinch hitter. Still, Mauch stayed with Shantz. This maybe also made sense since Bolling, the Braves' mostly-regular second baseman, was hardly a dangerous hitter, his average hovering slightly above .200. Bolling reached on an error, loading the bases.

The Phillies had a one-run lead with the bases loaded and had yet to secure an out here in the ninth inning. Coming up was the right-handed Rico Carty, himself a dangerous hitter with a .325 batting average, 20 home runs and 80 RBI. Still, Mauch stayed with the southpaw Bobby Shantz, when he had the right-hander Ed Roebuck warmed up and waiting in the bullpen. Why not turn to Roebuck?

In a month when Mauch's bullpen was stressed--Baldschun had lost four games already in September and allowed 37 of the 106 batters he had faced so far in the month to reach base--Roebuck had been pitching well. In fact, Ed Roebuck had allowed only four earned runs in his previous 14 appearances dating back to August 18. Two of those, however, came on a three-run home run he surrendered to Vada Pinson that made him the losing pitcher in the final game of the Reds series. But that was three days ago. Presumably, Mauch no longer had much trust in Roebuck because he stayed with Shantz in a situation where he desperately needed an out. 

Carty tripled. The Phillies' lead was gone. Shantz was removed from the game. And Mauch finally brought in Roebuck, who pitched to two batters and got three outs (including a double play). The Phillies went down quietly in their half of the ninth.

Gene Mauch had now watched his team lose six straight games, eight of their last nine dating to September 18, and nine of eleven dating back to when he decided to start Bunning on short rest against Houston even though his Phillies had a comfortable lead in the pennant race. With the Reds having extended their winning streak to seven straight games, the Phillies' advantage was down to half-a-game. The Cardinals, having won five of their last six, had closed to within a game-and-a-half. There were still six games to play. Philadelphia's situation was ... desperate.

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