Saturday, September 24, 2016

Pitchers' Day--September 25, 1956 (Sixty Years Ago)

On September 25, 1956, with less than a week left before the regular season ended, Cleveland's Early Wynn beat Kansas City for his 20th win. That had no bearing on the American League pennant race since the Yankees had already officially punched their ticket to the Fall Classic. But in a game that did have significant pennant-race implications, Milwaukee's Warren Spahn won his 20th beating Cincinnati, a pretender that had become a real contender. That kept the Braves on top of the National League and all but officially eliminated the Reds from contention. Oh, and Sal Maglie's 12th win of the year kept the Dodgers within half-a-game of the Braves. But Maglie's 12th wasn't just any win. It was a no-hitter.

Pitchers' Day
(60 Years Ago, September 25, 1956)

In the bottom of the 10th on September 25, rookie Rocky Colavito made a 20-game winner of Cleveland starter Early Wynn with his 21st home run against the KC Athletics. For Wynn it was his fourth 20-win season in six years going back to 1951.  

Wynn's win, however, did not come in the heat of a pennant race since the Cleveland Indians had been officially eliminated nine days earlier when they split a doubleheader with the Yankees. They won their next six games. The fourth of those wins was a 5-hit shutout by Wynn's mound mate, Bob Lemon, on September 19, which made him the second pitcher in the American League, after Chicago's Billy Pierce on September 13, to win 20 games in 1956. Four days after Lemon's shutout, Detroit's Frank Lary ended the Indians' 6-game winning streak with his 20th win of the season.

So, Early Wynn was the fourth American League pitcher to join the 1956 chapter of the 20-win club. The next day, he and Lemon were joined in the 20-win club by their teammate, Cleveland's phenomenal southpaw, Herb Score. It was the third time in six years that the Indians' staff featured three 20-game winners; Bob Feller, Mike Garcia, and Wynn did it for Cleveland in 1951, and Wynn, Garcia, and Lemon in 1952. No other team had as many as three 20-game winners in a single season since the 1931 Philadelphia Athletics with Lefty Grove, George Earnshaw, and Rube Walberg.

Meanwhile, over in the National League, it was 150 games down and just 4 to go when Warren Spahn took the mound at Cincinnati's Crosley Field on September 25, 1956. Not only was he going for his 20th win, which would make for seven 20-win seasons so far in his career, but more importantly, his Braves had the slimmest of leads in a taut three-team pennant racehalf a game up on the Dodgers and just 1½ ahead of the Reds. 

Once again for the Redlegs, another critical game. They had won six straight since four consecutive lossestwo to the Dodgers and two to the Phillies (discussed in the two previous posts)—had seemed to put an end to their pennant ambitions. But Cincinnati didn't fold; instead they picked up three games in the standings. But they had also played 151 games and were down to their final 3. Lose this game, and they would need to win both of their remaining games against the Cubs in Chicago while hoping that the Braves lost all of their final three games against the Cardinals and that the Dodgers won no more than one of their remaining games.

Larry Jansen started for the Reds. Once a premier pitcher for the New York Giants from 1947 to 1951, he was back in the minor leagues in 1955 trying to recover from arm problems. Signed by the Reds before the '56 season started, Jansen pitched for Seattle in the Pacific Coast League before being called up in August to help with the pitching. He won his first two startsboth complete-game victories—but was 0-2 with an 8.40 earned run average since then, dating back to August 24. He had given up 8 runs in his last 10 innings. Reds ace Brooks Lawrence, meanwhile, had not pitched since working in his seventh game in eight days five days before.

Perhaps Cincinnati manager Birdie Tebbetts should have tried Lawrence. Jansen got just 4 outs and gave up 3 runs before he was shown to the showers. After three innings, the Braves led, 6-1. Lawrence pitched two shutout innings later in the game. Spahn was efficient9 innings, 6 hits, 1 walk, just 2 strikeoutson his way to becoming the National League's second 20-game in 1956, more than a month after Don Newcombe had won his 20th. 

It was also a very good day on the mound for the Dodgers' Sal Maglie. He didn't win his 20th. It was only his 12th win of the year. Not only did he not give up any runs, Maglie also didn't give up any hits. Like Spahn in winning his 20th, Maglie was efficient on the mound, striking out three, walking two, and hitting one, and, of course, no hits.

Maglie took the mound knowing this was a crucial game. Since Carl Furillo's walk-off homer to beat Brooks Lawrence eight days earlier, the Dodgers had lost four of six. If he could pitch his team to a victory and Milwaukee lost, Brooklyn could end the day in first place. The other way around, they'd be 1½ back.

Maglie retired the first eight Phillies he faced before walking the opposing pitcher. The Phillies did not have another base runner until Willie Jones walked to lead off the 8th. He was wiped out in a double play. Maglie also hit Richie Ashburn with a pitch with two outs in the 9th, then got Marv Blaylock to ground out to second to end the game. Roy Campanella's 2-run homer in the 2nd was all that Maglie needed in what was, in the end, a 5-0 Dodgers win to stay within a half-game of the Braves. 

It was now 150 games down and just 4 to go for the 1956 Brooklyn Dodgers. With one game left against the fifth-place Phillies, who were 69-81 after being no-hit, and three with the sixth-place Pirates, who were 66-85, while the Braves would be up against a better teamthe 74-76 fourth-place CardinalsBrooklyn, with the same number of losses and one fewer victory than Milwaukee, was in a good position to make up the difference and try to defend their 1955 World Series championship against the Yankees.

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