This day in baseball history: Gibson vs. Seaver

The old baseball games I enjoy writing about tend to feature pitching duels between Hall of Famers or abnormally long outings by pitchers. The game at Busch Stadium between the St. Louis Cardinals and the New York Mets on May 6, 1968 featured both.

It pitted Bob Gibson against Tom Seaver. Gibson was in his prime and on his way to one of the best seasons a pitcher has ever had — in which he posted a 1.12 ERA.

Seaver was in his second season. He had been Rookie of the Year and an all-star in 1967. He would be an all-star again in 1968. In 1969, he would win the National League Cy Young award, succeeding Bob Gibson.

Seaver came into the game with just a 1-1 record, but a 1.71 ERA. Gibson was 2-1 with a 1.43 mark.

The Cardinals scored an unearned run off of Seaver in the second inning. Tim McCarver led off with a single. Mike Shannon then reached on an error by Mets first baseman Ed Kranepool. Julien Javier drove in McCarver with a single that sent Shannon to third. Seaver avoided further damage by retiring Dick Schofield, Gibson and Lou Brock.

Gibson retired the first nine Mets he faced, but New York evened the score in the fourth inning. The first three batters he faced — Bud Harrelson, Ken Boswell, and Art Shamsky — all singled. Shamsky’s hit drove in Harrelson. McCarver then allowed a passed ball, putting runners on second and third, still with no outs.

Ron Swaboda hit a fly by to center field. Curt Flood caught it and threw out Boswell trying to score from third. Kranepool ended the inning by grounding out.

Hits were hard to come by after that. In fact, there were no more hits (or baserunners) by either team until the the bottom of the tenth inning. Gibson and Seaver combined to set down 38 batters in a row.

Shannon led off the bottom of the tenth with a single. Javier bunted him to second.

Schofield was due up, but St. Louis manager Red Schoendienst called on Dick Ricketts instead. Ricketts, a basketball star at Duquesne along with his brother Dave, had experienced some success as a pinch-hitter on the Cardinals 1967 championship team.

On this day, he hit a grounder to Harrelson at short. Shannon tried to advance to third, but was thrown out. Ricketts reached first.

Gibson was next up. He had already pitched ten innings. And four days earlier, he had pitched twelve against Houston. Schoendienst must have considered a pinch-hitter.

On the other hand, Gibson had been perfect since the third inning. Plus, he was a decent hitter.

Schoedienst let him bat. Seaver got him on a called strike three.

The Mets went down in order again in the top of the eleventh. Seaver made the third out, Mets manager Gil Hodges having elected to stay with his ace.

Brock led off the bottom of the eleventh with a triple. Hodges then had Seaver walk Flood and Roger Maris to load the bases with no outs.

Walking Maris seems like a questionable move. Walking the bases loaded is inherently problematic in my view because (1) a walk will now drive in a run and (2) the pitcher must throw strikes if he falls behind in the count, thus increasing the likelihood of a hit. Walking the bases loaded to face the reigning National League MVP, Orlando Cepeda, seems especially problematic.

Hodges was hoping for a ground ball double play, something that would have done him no good without the second intentional walk. But Cepeda singled to right, to end the game.

When pitchers have extended outings like Gibson and Seaver did on this day, I like to see whether they paid a price in the next few games. Gibson didn’t. He benefited from two rainouts, which pushed his next start to May 12.

Seaver was hit a little harder than normal in his next outing (on May 11), but wasn’t really thrown off stride by his extended duel with Gibson. He had already pitched into extra innings once in the young season, and would do so four more times this season. (Gibson would do so two more times.)

Hodges rode his starting pitchers hard. Just ask Tom Cheney.

Hall of Famers would grace the remainder of this series between the Mets and the Cards. Nolan Ryan limited St. Louis to one run and three hits in a complete victory on May 7. Steve Carlton shut out the Mets on four hits the following day.

But on this day in baseball, fans enjoyed a Hall of Fame two-fer.


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