This day in baseball history — a prolonged duel of ace relievers

On June 11, 1963, relievers Dick Radatz and Terry Fox dueled for more than seven innings in a game between the Boston Red Soc and the Detroit Tigers. Boston eventually prevailed 7-3 in 15 innings.

Radatz and Fox were two of the very best relief pitchers in baseball. Radatz was known as the Monster (Detroit baseball writer Joe Falls quipped that “the Red Sox don’t warm him up, they assembled him”). At 6’6” and 230 pounds (enormous for that era), he was the most intimidating pitcher in the American League.

In Radatz’s first three big league seasons, 1962-1964, his record was 40-21 with 75 saves. To put the save numbers into historical context, note that he led the league in saves in two of these three years. During this stretch, Radatz’s ERA was never higher for a season than 2.29, and he struck out 487 batters in 414 innings.

In 1961-62, Terry Fox arguably was even more effective, albeit much less durable. His ERA in these two years was 1.41 and 1.71.

Radatz entered the June 11 game in the bottom of the seventh inning with Boston leading Detroit 3-2. A young Wilbur Wood had left him a runner on second with one out. Radatz was unable to preserve the lead. Bill Bruton’s single tied the game.

Fox entered in the top of the eighth, the Tigers having pinch hit for starter Jim Bunning during their seventh inning rally.

For the next seven innings, Radatz and Fox traded shut-out innings. During this stretch, the Monster allowed just two hits and no walks.

Fox was just about as good. He allowed only two hits and two walks over the seven inning span.

When the Red Sox finally got to Fox in the top of the 15th, it with the aid of an error by Jake Wood on a grounder by Chuck Schilling to lead off the inning. Roman Mejias bunted Schilling to second, and Fox intentionally walked Carl Yastrezemski.

Running on empty by now, Fox yielded back-to-back home runs to Frank Malzone and Dick Stuart. Suddenly, Boston was ahead 7-3.

The more durable Radatz had no difficulty sealing the victory. In the bottom of the 15th, he set Detroit down 1-2-3, striking out two Tigers. The two strike outs brought his total to 11.

A modern manager who leaves a star reliever in the game for more than two innings is likely to face an inquest. But Joe Falls treated the 7.1 and 8.2 inning stints of Fox and Radatz (respectively) like they were a regular pitcher’s duel — e.g., one between starting pitchers like Jim Bunning and Bill Monbouquette.

Radatz’s contribution was all the more stunning because he had pitched six innings just two days earlier (in other words, he worked the 8.2 innings on just one day’s rest). In that outing, he gave up no runs and just two hits. In fact, Radatz hadn’t given up a run since May 12, a stretch of 30 innings.

The Monster’s June 11 performance lowered his ERA to 0.92. No wonder Al Kaline told Falls that Radatz was the best reliever he had ever seen.

Red Sox manager Johnny Pesky was mildly concerned with having left Radatz in so long. “How many did he go, six?” Pesky asked. Not only was Pesky not counting pitches, he wasn’t even counting innings.

The modern equivalent of the Radatz-Fox duel would one between, say, Mariano Rivera and Jim Johnson. In other words, it couldn’t happen.

But would it be malpractice to allow an ace reliever to pitch seven or more innings in a game? The question has two components. First, will doing so risk long term injury or ineffectiveness on the part of the pitcher? Second, is it worth putting so many eggs in the basket of a single game, thereby depriving the team of the reliever’s services for multiple games.

I don’t know the answer to either question. Theoretically, it may not be totally implausible to think that a reliever might recuperate from seven or eight innings of work in basically the same way a starter can. As for the downside of not having one’s relief ace available for several games, I suppose that depends on who else is in the bullpen.

In Radatz’s case, Johnny Pesky wasn’t about to deprive Boston of Radatz’s services. He was back on the mound by June 14 to pitch two scoreless innings in a 5-1 win over Baltimore.

Tiger manager Bob Scheffing was more judicious. He gave Fox a full week off [Note: actually, Scheffing was fired after the game of June 16]. The Tigers were winless in that stretch, blowing two leads. To make matters worse, Fox allowed six runs in less than an inning on his return to action.

Fox got his ship back on course in August and finished with a decent season. He had two another decent year in 1964 and a good one in 1965, but was awful in 1966 and out of the big leagues thereafter.

Radatz continued to be dominant in the months following his duel with Fox, but slumped a bit late in the year. He was spectacular in 1964, mediocre in 1965, and ineffective thereafter.

I’m not all-in on the modern use of the closer, but I’m all-in on the notion that the closer shouldn’t pitch 124 innings or more per year, and certainly not for four straight seasons, as the Red Sox asked Radatz to do.

JOHN adds: When I was a kid, Watertown, S.D. had a semi-pro baseball team in the Basin League called the Lake Sox. (Watertown was the Lake City.) Dick Radatz pitched for us one summer. We seemed to specialize in relievers, as Ron Perranoski pitched for us one year, too. The Lake Sox played in a WPA stadium that was pretty substantial for a town our size (maybe 14,000 at that time, quite a bit bigger now). Fun times.

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