This day in history: Bob Gibson throws 14 innings for the win (8/12/70)


Adam Wainwright threw another gem to complete the Cards sweep of the Reds yesterday. Wainwright moved to 17-6 on the year with a 1.99 ERA. He’s the best pitcher in baseball right now in a year chock full of dominance on the mound. Wainwright’s year gets better with each start and it’s the best we’ve seen in St. Louis since Bob Gibson was piling up wins. While his best year was 1968, the well-documented Year of the Pitcher, Gibson had a career full of amazing achievements.

On this day 40 years ago, Gibson threw one of the most memorable games of his career. It wasn’t a perfect game or a no-hitter or even a one-hitter or a shutout. It wasn’t in the World Series or the last day of the season with everything hanging in the balance. He didn’t have 20 strikeouts. He allowed four runs.

So, what made August 12, 1970, so special in a legendary career?

Gibson threw 14 innings for a complete game in a 5-4 win over the San Diego Padres.

Chris Jaffe of Hardball Times broke it down today. […]

"Against the Padres, Bob Gibson on that day threw 14 innings, the longest outing of his career. In fact, it’s the longest start by any Cardinal pitcher since September 24, 1944. Gibson faced 52 batters, also the most of his career. With 13 Ks and a pair of walks, a basic pitch count estimator places him at just under 200 pitches thrown. This marathon start came in the midst of 21 consecutive starts in which he made it into the ninth inning. Oh yeah – he picked up the win, as the Cards beat the Pads 5-4. This improved Gibson’s record to 16-5 on the year."

Gibson would go on to win his second Cy Young award that season, finishing with a 23-7 record and 3.12 ERA. He struck out 274 batters and walked only 88. Gibson is remembered as one of the fiercest competitors in baseball history and as a Hall of Famer whose 1968 season in which he had a 1.12 ERA changed the game forever.

Jaffe examines how this game shows that it was a different era compared to today’s game.

"In pointing this out my purpose isn’t to upbraid the modern game for going soft on pitchers or anything quite like that. I’m just fascinated by how very different the game was then. My favorite part came in the eleventh inning. In the top of the inning, Gibson found himself in a big jam, with the bases loaded and only one out. After San Diego’s Ed Spiezio hit into timely double play got Gibson out of the inning, Gibson came to the plate in the bottom of the inning. Even though there were two outs and a runner on (and in scoring position after a wild pitch), the team let Gibson bat. He was one of the best hitting pitchers of his day, but as I said – it was a very different game."

Pitchers were expected to pitch deep into games and most of the time that meant finish them. And pitchers wanted to pitch long to prove their greatness and dominance. Today, bullpen specialists have taken over and watered down the game. Managers use a lefty for one batter and then make another change to get the next guy out in the seventh. But that’s a story for another day.

The Padres met up with Gibson later that year for another classic by the right-hander. Jaffe found an interesting connection in that game and the 14-inning marathon.

"On August 22 (again against the Padres), Gibson was back to his old self – throwing a CG 2-hit shutout. One San Diego player got both hits, and if it wasn’t for him Gibson would’ve had a perfect game that day. The batter? Ed Spiezio, the same man who hit into the double play 40 years ago today."

Gibson was perhaps the best ever in his prime. And he’d be on the list for guys chosen if you had to win just one game. Today, another St. Louis pitcher is coming into his own and winning a whole lot of games in impressive fashion. While he’ll probably never throw 14 innings in one game, a strong finish will likely land him the Cy Young award.