Saturday, August 8, 2009

Where Have You Gone, Juan Marichal?

Last night, the New York Yankees defeated the Boston Red Sox, 2-0, in 15 innings, in a classic pitcher's duel. The Yankees and Red Sox pitchers went toe to toe in a scoreless game, until Alex Rodriguez hit a walk-off, two-run home run, in the bottom of the 15th inning. Both teams nearly used every available pitcher they had, in a nail-biter that took 5 hours and 33 minutes to complete.

This morning when I looked at the box score, what immediately jumped out at me was-- the combined 14 pitchers used by both teams. I guess by today's standards, it was a classic pitcher's duel. But it's a far cry from the days of San Francisco Giants Hall of Famer, Juan Marichal.

Back in his day, Marichal was involved in a few of these long scoreless games and amazingly, he usually completed them . In fact, during his career, Marichal pitched in three games which went 14 or more innings and ended in a 1-0 score. And breathtakingly enough, he completed all three and had a 2-1 record. Whoa!

Of the three, the game which gets the most recognition, was Marichal's classic duel with fellow Hall of Famer, Warren Spahn of the Milwaukee Braves. On July 2, 1963, Marichal and Spahn matched each other, pitch by pitch, in what many consider the greatest pitching performance in MLB history. Marichal went 16 innings, allowing o runs on 8 hits, walking 4 and striking out10. That was a touch better than Spahn, who went 15.1 innings allowing 1 run on 9 hits, with 1 walk and 2 strikeouts. The one run, was a walk-off home run by Willie Mays, in the bottom of the 15th inning. Here is the astonishing pitching line score from that game:

Milwaukee IP H R ER BB SO HR ERA
W. Spahn (L, 11-4) 15.1 9 1 1 1 2 1 2.84

San Francisco IP H R ER BB SO HR ERA
J. Marichal (W, 13-3) 16 8 0 0 4 10 0 2.14

Amazing as that game was, Marichal would be involved in two more complete game nail-biters that went to extra innings. On May 26, 1966, Marichal pitched a complete, 1-0, 14-inning shutout against the Philadelphia Phillies. Current Kentucky Senator, Jim Bunning wasn't too shabby in that game either, pitching 10 innings of shutout ball. The Giants scored the winning run off of reliever Darold Knowles with 2 outs in the bottom of the 14th inning.

Then on August 19, 1969, Marichal went the distance, 13.1 innings, in a 1-0 loss to the New York Mets. Tommie Agee hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 14th inning off the Giants ace. Marichal would later say of the Agee home run, "When I close my eyes, I can still see the ball, floating in the air, leaving the park."

I'm not taking anything away from the pitching gem that occurred at Yankee Stadium last night. I'm just comparing eras and pointing out how much the game as changed. Teams today, with the huge amounts of money they have invested in their star pitchers, are more wary of injuries, so pitch count has become a crucial part of the game. Also the heavy dependence on set-up men and closers, have made Marichal's masterpieces a thing of the past.

During his career, Marichal only earned around $135,000 per season, which is pennies compared to what players make today. But unlike today's players, on most nights, Marichal was the starter, the set-up man, and the closer.

Stats courtesy of

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