On September 27, 1964, the Milwaukee Braves completed a four-game sweep of the Philadelphia Phillies, extending the Phils’ losing streak to seven games. Meanwhile, the Cincinnati Reds took a double-header from the New York Mets to extend their winning steak to nine.
As a result, the Reds leap-frogged the Phillies, moving into first place by one game. The St. Louis Cardinals lurked just a game and a half behind Cincinnati. Ten days earlier, Philadelphia had led the Cards by six and a half games and the Reds by seven and a half.
The Phillies still controlled their own destiny — their remaining schedule consisted of a three game series with St. Louis and two games with Cincinnati (all on the road). But after the Milwaukee series, most Phillies fans would have preferred that someone else control it.
Jim Bunning started two of the four games against the Braves. He entered the series with a record of 18-5 and a 2.33 ERA. He left with a 18-7 record and 2.58 ERA.
The Braves beat Bunning 5-3 in the series opener. Joe Torre did much of the damage with two triples and three RBIs.
The next day, Phillies manager Gene Mauch decided to start Chris Short on two days race. It was a surprising move because Art Mahaffey, whose turn it was to start, had pitched brilliantly in his previous outing — the 1-0 loss to Cincinnati in which the only run scored on Chico Ruiz’s steal of home.
Short pitched fairly, though. He shut out Milwaukee through six innings before yielding two runs in the seventh.
The Phils were trailing 2-1 in the top of the eighth when Mauch pulled Short with one out and one on. His runner later scored to give the Braves a two run lead. But Philadelphia tied the game in the bottom of the eighth on a two-run homer by Johnny Callison.
The Phillies again overcame a two run deficit in the tenth inning, The Braves pulled ahead 5-3 on a two-run homer by that man, Joe Torre. In the bottom of the inning, Richie Allen tied the score with a two-out inside-the-park home run.
But the Braves won the game with two more runs in the top of the twelfth inning. Eddie Mathews had the game-winning RBI.
In game three, the Phillies jumped out to an four run lead behind Mahaffey. The Braves got two back in the fifth inning, but Philadelphia still led 4-2 heading into the eighth inning.
Torre and Rico Carty led off that inning with singles off of Mahaffey, so Mauch pulled his starter and brought on relief ace Jack Baldschun. When Baldschun couldn’t close out the inning, Mauch turned to veteran left-hander Bobby Shantz. He struck out Ed Bailey and retired Lee Maye on a pop-up. The Braves had managed to score a run, but Philadelphia led 4-3 with just one inning to go.
In the ninth, the scheduled Braves batters were future Hall of Famers Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews, followed by the pitcher’s slot and then Rico Carty. Mauch elected to stay with Shantz, a southpaw, despite this array of mostly right-hand sluggers.
It made sense. Shantz had been excellent since coming to Philadelphia in August, and Mauch had already used Baldschun. Moreover, throughout his career Shantz had been fairly effective against right-handed hitters.
Aaron led off the ninth with a single. Mathews, a left-handed hitter, was next. He also singled, advancing Aaron to second base.
Frank Bolling, another right handed hitter, batted for the pincher. He hit a ground ball to Ruben Amaro, who flipped it to Tony Taylor. But Taylor failed to make the play. Bases loaded.
With deadly-dangerous right-handed hitting Rico Carty up, now was surely the time to pull Shantz and bring on Ed Roebuck, a competent veteran right-hander who had saved 12 games and pitched to a 2.33 ERA. But Mauch didn’t.
Carty tripled home three runs to give the Braves a 6-4 lead. In the bottom of the ninth, 43 year-old Warren Spahn retired the Phils one-two-three to earn the save.
For the final game of the series, a desperate Mauch turned to his ace, Jim Bunning, on only two days rest. Bunning later told David Halberstam that he volunteered to pitch the game.
More importantly, as Bryan Soderholm-Difatte points out in this excellent article about the Phillies collapse, Mauch’s alternatives were unappealing. Dennis Bennett’s shoulder was ailing, and Mauch simply didn’t trust 19 year-old Rick Wise, who had been chased in the first inning in both of his previous starts.
Mauch’s biggest Bunning blunder had less than two weeks earlier when, with the Phillies holding a six game lead, he inexplicably started Bunning on two days rest against Houston. Soderholm-Difatte argues that Mauch did this because he was trying to set up Bunning to pitch the World Series opener (the Phillies had already printed World Series tickets). This explanation seems far-fetched until one considers the alternatives.
Bunning was shelled in his short-rest start against Houston, but that was nothing compared to what happened against the hard-hitting Braves. Milwaukee reached him for two runs in the first inning and five more in the fourth, in which Bunning was chased before he retired a batter.
By the end of the fifth inning, the Braves led 12-3. They cruised to a 14-8 victory.
Milwaukee accumulated 22 hits. Lee Maye went 5-6. Torre went 3-5 with another home run. Pitcher Tony Cloninger, a decent hitter, went 2-4 with two RBIs.
St. Louis awaited with Bob Gibson (17-11), Ray Sadecki (19-10), and former Phillie Curt Simmons (17-9)all scheduled to pitch on normal rest. With whom would Mauch, his rotation in shambles, counter?