Sunday, September 18, 2016

This Wouldn't Happen Today (60 Years Ago, Sept. 19, 1956)

As if pitching in five games in six days between September 12 and 17 wasn't enough as the Cincinnati Reds fought to stay close to the National League front-runners with the 1956 season rapidly approaching its end, Brooks Lawrence pitched each of the next two days as well, both times in relief. In fact, from the first day of September, when he pitched a complete game victory, to the 19th, Lawrence started 3 games and relieved in 7 others for a total of 10 appearances on the mound in the space of 20 days. 

This Wouldn't Happen Today
(60 Years Ago, September 19, 1956)

When Brooks Lawrence walked off the mound having given up Carl Furillo's 10th inning walk-off at Ebbets Field on September 17, Cincinnati's pennant prospects looked bleak indeed. Since winning three of four against the first-place Braves at Milwaukee in the beginning of September to get to within 1½ games of the top as of September 5, the Redlegs had won just 3 and lost 6, including that heart-breaker against the Dodgersthe new first-place club in the National Leaguethat seemed quite possibly to be a season-ender.

There were only 11 games left to play, and they were in third place, 4 games behind, and now the Reds faced back-to-back doubleheaders in Philadelphia the next two days. The Phillies, however, were a fifth-place club with a losing record whose pitchers and defense had given up 39 more runs than any other team in the National League. The Dodgers, meanwhile, would play two over the next two days against the fourth-place Cardinals, a team with a winning record. The Braves over the next two days had one against the sixth-place Pirates. If the Reds could win all four of their games and the Dodgers lost both of theirs, they could move within a game of Brooklyn. It would be a real three-team race again.

Instead, they lost the first game of their September 18 doubleheader, 4-3. Not a good opening. Lawrence did not pitch in that game. In the nightcap, the Phillies took an early 5-0 lead behind their ace, Robin Roberts. But a 3-run homer by Ed Bailey capped a 4-run top of the 8th, and with his team now in striking distance of a possible victory, Cincinnati manager Birdie Tebbetts once again called on . . . Brooks Lawrence to hold the Phillies in place.

Including the 6 innings he had thrown in his start on September 15, it was the fourth consecutive day that Lawrence had to pitch for his team. After striking out Roberts, he walked Richie Ashburn, gave up a double to Solly Hemus, and intentionally walked Stan Lopata to load the bases with just one out and the dangerous clean-up hitter Del Ennis at bat. And Lawrence got him to hit a double play grounder, 6-to-4-to-oops . . . second baseman Johnny Temple's relay to first turned into a two-base throwing error. Two runs scored, the first of which was earned. Cincinnati lost, 7-4, dropping both games of the doubleheader.

Meanwhile, Milwaukee moved into a first-place tie with Brooklyn, who lost, and the Reds were now 4½ games behind with just 9 left on the schedule. Still not impossible, but not looking good.

The next day, the Reds scored 4 in the top of the 1st and took a 6-1 lead into the 8th when their starter, Johnny Klippstein, faltered. The score was now 6-3, runners on first and third, and Granny Hamner at the plate representing the tying run when, once again, Tebbetts called on Brooks Lawrence to get the Reds out of the inning. Even though he was not yet 30, Hamner was no longer the Whiz Kid he had been when the Phillies unexpectedly won the 1950 pennant. He was nearing the end of his career. Hamner was hitting only .224, but had a hot handhe already had two hits in the game, one a triple, and had two hits off the Reds the previous day. 

Lawrence was taking the mound for the fifth day in a row. For the fourth day in a row, Tebbetts was asking his ace starter to get outs as a reliever in a high-stakes situation. He was exhausted. He should have known Lawrence was exhausted. Tebbetts could have called on Hersh Freeman, his relief ace. 

As poorly as he pitched in August, giving up 9 earned runs and 17 hits in 8 inningsFreeman was throwing well in September. He had appeared in 10 games so far in the September stretch and given up just 3 earned runs in 20 innings. But he had also pitched in each of the four previous days, totalling 5 innings, compared to Lawrence's 9. Notwithstanding a run he gave up to the Dodgers in the game Lawrence ultimately lost, Freeman was pitching more effectively. That was the only run he had given up in his four straight days of work, compared to Lawrence having surrendered seven, six earned.

But Lawrence was who Tebbetts wanted. His stalwart right-hander walked Hamner to load the bases, and then Tebbetts decided to bring in Freeman. Freeman got the final out of the inning and pitched a scoreless 9th for his 14th save, and Cincinnati's four-game losing streak had come to an end.

The Reds also won the second game of the September 19 doubleheader, a 3-hit shutout thrown by rookie Tom Acker who was making just his 6th major league start. Even though the Dodgers won their game that day, by winning two, the Reds were able to pick up a half-game on Brooklyn. They now trailed first-place Brooklyn by 4 and were 3½ behind second-place Milwaukee. Cincinnati had played 147 games, however. There were just 7 to go.

Brooks Lawrence had pitched in 7 games in 8 days dating back to September 12, totaling 10 innings, given up 9 earned runs on 14 hits, four of which were homers, and had walked 5. He would get the next five days off.

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