Friday, September 16, 2016

Paging Brooks Lawrence, Again (60 Years Ago, September 17, 1956)

Just as he had two weeks earlier, Cincinnati manager Birdie Tebbetts called on his front-line ace Brooks Lawrence to save the day in relief  just two days after he had started and won a critical game in a tight pennant race, this time against the new first place clubthe Brooklyn Dodgers. Once again, a must-win game in the other team's ballpark. How did it go?

Paging Brooks Lawrence, Again
(60 Years Ago, September 17, 1956)

The Cincinnati Redlegs had been hanging close in the National League pennant race all summer, but had not been on top since the first day after the All-Star break. They had some close calls that could have dropped them from realistic contention earlier than this.

Up till now, the Reds' most important series of the season was in the beginning of September when they took three of four against the Braves in Milwaukee to stay relevant in the pennant race. As readers will recall from an earlier post, Brooks Lawrence arguably saved their season with 7 strong innings in relief for his 18th win on September 3 by coming into a bases-loaded, no-outs situation in the 3rd inning, his team's lead in jeopardy, and retiring Hank Aaron on a short fly out and getting Eddie Mathews to hit into a double play. That was just two days after he had pitched a complete-game victory against the Cubs. His aborting a Braves' rally may have meant a two-game difference in the standingsbetween the 3½-game deficit they in fact ended the day with, or a 5½-game deficit had they lost.

Lawrence had started twice and relieved twice since his pitching heroics against the Braves. Given four days of rest after pitching 16 innings in three days, Lawrence lost his next start on September 8 in St. Louis, failing to make it out of the 3rd inning. Both of his next two appearances on back-to-back days, in New York at the Polo Grounds and in Pittsburgh, were in relief. Against the Giants on September 12, he came into the game in the 6th inning with the Reds already behind 6-0 and gave up three runs in one-third of an inning. And against the Pirates on September 13, manager Birdie Tebbetts called him into the game with the score tied 3-3 in the 7th. Pitching just the one inning, Lawrence gave up the tie on a home run to Frank Thomas, but Cincinnati scored twice in the 9th to win.

Two days after that, on September 15, Lawrence was back on the mound against the Pirates, making his 30th start of the year. He won his 19th, but left in the 7th inning after surrendering back-to-back homers to Bill Mazeroski, a two-run shot, and Hank Foiles that narrowed the Reds' lead to 6-4, the final score. He had given up 18 hits and 11 earned runs in 9⅔ innings since rescuing, at least temporarily, the Reds' season in Milwaukee back on September 3. The Reds had not been home since, and their next two series were also on the road.

Lawrence's victory in Pittsburgh kept the Reds within two games striking distance as they went to Brooklyn's Ebbets Field for exactly two games with the first-place Dodgers. Meanwhile, the Milwaukee Braves, who were tied with the Dodgers in first, were also in New York for two games, against the Giants at the Polo Grounds.

For the Reds, this was their new most critical series of the season. Thirteen games were all they had left on the schedule. They trailed both the Dodgers and the Braves by two games. These were the last games they had left on their season-schedule against the Dodgers. If they were to make their move towards first place, this was the time. Winning both would put them in a tie with the Dodgers. There was nothing they could do about the Braves, but should the Braves lose twice at the Polo Grounds, all three teamsBrooklyn, Milwaukee, and Cincinnatiwould be tied for first place.

With Sal Maglie on the mound, the Dodgers won the first of the two games,     3-2. Lawrence, the very day after pitching 6⅓ innings in his start against the Pirates, was called in to get the Reds out of the 2nd inning with runners on second and third and one out; he did so, retiring Roy Campanella and Maglie  without giving up a run. His job done successfully, and the pitcher's spot due up first in the 3rd, he left the game for a pinch-hitter. 

The Reds' loss left them three behind the now first-place-all-by-themselves Dodgers with just 12 games remaining on their schedule . . . making the second game of the seriesand their season finale against the Dodgers on the scheduleone they REALLY HAD TO WIN. Clem Labine started for Brooklyn. Hal Jeffcoat started for Cincinnati. After the Reds scored three times in the 9th on a two-run homer by catcher Ed Bailey and a solo shot by pinch-hitter Ray Jablonski to tie the score at 4-4, it was Brooks Lawrence who Tebbetts once again called upon . . . this time to win the game.

Lawrence was pitching for the fourth time in five days, which included his 6⅓-inning start just two days before. What was Birdie Tebbetts thinking? Especially since the overworked Lawrence hadn't exactly been pitching very well? Perhaps that he had used his putative relief ace, Hersh Freeman, in the 8th (he gave up a run) and pinch hit for him in the top of the 9th? And that, at 19-9, Lawrence was the best pitcher he had available, despite his recent struggles and no rest, and with their pennant chances on the line . . . he had no choice but to go with his best?

Lawrence gave up a single and a walk in the 9th, the runners advancing to second and third on a passed ball with two out, but he got Sandy Amoros on a pop up to short to end the inning and the game went into extra innings. The Reds got their first two batters on in the 10th, but Carl Erskine came in to retire the side without giving up a run.

The first batter in the Dodgers' 10th was Carl Furillo, who was batting .298 and had already driven in two runs in the game. Furillo sent the Ebbets Faithful home happy with his 20th home run of the season over the left-center field wall. Instead of winning his 20th, Lawrence lost his 10th. And for the Cincinnati Redlegs

—With 153 games down and just 11 to go, times were now desperate. They now trailed Brooklyn by four games and Milwaukee by three. Their next stop   . . .  Philadelphia. For four games. In back-to-back doubleheaders. Perhaps now, Brooks Lawrence would get some rest. Perhaps.


No comments:

Post a Comment