This day in baseball history: Gibson’s fifth straight shutout

On June 26, 1968, in the first game of a doubleheader in St. Louis, Bob Gibson shut out the Pittsburgh Pirates on four hits. St. Louis won 3-0. Gibson contributed to the Cardinals’ offense with a double and a walk in three plate appearances.

This was Gibson’s fifth consecutive shutout. Here are Gibson’s numbers in the five games:

June 6 at Houston: 9 innings, no runs, three hits and two walks allowed, five strikeouts
June 11 at Atlanta: 9 innings, no runs, five hits and two walks allowed, four strikeouts
June 15 vs. Cincy: 9 innings, no runs, four hits and no walks allowed, 13 strikeouts
June 20 vs. Cubs: 9 innings, no runs, five hits and one walk allowed, six strikeouts
June 26 vs. Pitt: 9 innings, no runs, four hits and no walks allowed, seven strikeouts

In his next game, against the Dodgers, Gibson would finally allow a run. Just one, in nine innings.

Then, he would pitch three shutouts in his next four games.

His totals for this stretch of ten games were:

90 innings, two runs allowed on 51 hits, with 12 walks and 74 strikeouts.

Gibson won all ten of these starts on his way to a 12 game winning streak. He finished the season with a 1.12 ERA and a record of 22-9.

How could Gibson have lost so many games pitching to such a low ERA. Because 1968 was “the year of the pitcher,” and Gibson didn’t get much run support. He lost three games in which he allowed just one earned run; three games in which he allowed just two; and three games in which he allowed three. Those were his nine losses.

Even taking into account the dominance of pitchers in 1968, Gibson’s season is still astonishing. Only one other National League starting pitcher managed an ERA of under 2.00 that season. San Francisco’s Bob Bolin came in at 1.99. Bolin pitched only 177 innings as a starter and reliever. Gibson pitched 305 innings.

In the weaker American League, five starters had ERAs under 2.00 (Luis Tiant, Sam McDowell, Dave McNally, Denny McLain, and Tommy John). But none was within half a run of Gibson’s number. McLain, who shocked baseball by winning 31 games, pitched to an ERA of 1.96. His Detroit Tigers scored 88 more runs than Gibson’s Cardinals. 88 runs went a long way in 1968.

Gibson and McLain would face off twice in the 1968 World Series. That’s a subject for later this year.

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