September 17 and 18, 1968 Tuesday and Wednesday night at San Francisco.
In the history of great baseball games, these two rank among the greatest of all time – certainly the most exciting back to back games ever.
Two days prior the Cardinals had clinched the National League pennant with a 7-4 thumping of the ninth place Houston Astros in their home ballpark. The Cardinals would take the lead in the first inning with a single by Lou Brock, a stolen base and then Brock would score on a single by Curt Flood. That lead would be short lived though as Houston would take the lead in the bottom of the inning on a 2 run homer from Jimmy Wynn. The Toy Canon was one of the biggest little men in baseball history. Only 5ft 9in, Wynn had an amazingly quick swing and could hit the ball farther than anybody else in his era. I’ve only seen one person hit the ball as hard and that was Richie Allen.
The Cardinals would take the lead for good in the third inning as Roger Maris belted a two run homer after a Curt Flood single. If you are beginning to sense a pattern, Curt Flood was an amazing player both in the field and at the plate. The Cardinals would tack on two more in the fifth as Brock would single, Flood would single and then after a walk to Roger Maris, Orlando Cepeda would haunt his old team with a single to left scoring both Brock and Flood. Maris and Flood would do more damage in the next inning giving the Cardinals a 7-2 lead. Young lefty Steve Carlton would then switch into “let’s get this game over and take the pennant home” mode. The Astros would get two more runs, but would never be in this game as the Cardinals would win their second consecutive pennant.
And then the celebration began. And continued, and continued. Even through the west coast travel day on the 16th.
So a very happy, somewhat ragged Cardinals team took the field against Gaylord Perry and the second place Giants. The Giants had just been eliminated but they weren’t giving up, even though they were facing the game’s best pitcher in 21-7 Bob Gibson. Gibson was allowing just a single run per game and finishing nearly everything he started.
The Cardinals would go quickly in the first inning with a ball never leaving the infield. Perry was known to doctor the baseball and the results were a large number of weak ground balls to the infield. We will never know if he was throwing questionable junk on this day, but he would pitch the game of his career.
In the Giants half of the first, future Cardinal outfielder Bobby Bonds would lead off with a fly out to Roger Maris. Then St. Louisan and future Cardinal Ron Hunt would take Gibson deep for an early 1-0 lead. Ty Cline would single off a frustrated Gibson but was eliminated on a nifty 1-6-3 double play when slugger Willie McGovey hit a come backer to Gibson.
In the second inning, Mike Shannon would get a 2 out walk. Little did we know at the time how important that would be. The only other Cardinal base runner in this game would be little Phil Gagliano with another 2 out walk in the eighth. Gibson would be nearly as tough as Perry though, only allowing four hits and two walks and striking out 10. Perry would be the hero of the day, recording a no hitter against the National League champs.
There are all sorts of stories about what went on in the clubhouse after this game. Tales of being embarrassed, being reprimanded by everyone from manager Red Schoendienst to Bob Gibson and Orland Cepeda. I don’t know what is true, but a very different team took the field the next day, and they were not going to be embarrassed again.
Cardinal favorite Ray Washburn would face the big right hander Bobby Bolin. In many respects, Washburn was the 60s equivalent of Adam Wainwright. He was a tall right hander, although not the towering stature of Wainwright. Like Wainwright, he had smooth delivery without a long stride releasing the ball with an overhand motion with his trunk parallel to the ground. Also like Wainwright, he had a knee buckling curveball to go with an exceptional fastball. This is where the differences end as Washburn was plagued with injuries throughout his career. Not typical wear and tear but things like a broken hand when trying to field a ball hit back up the middle. They really took their toll and limited what had looked like a very promising career. But on this night, Washburn would do what Bob Gibson had not yet done.
It was apparent this was going to be a different Cardinals team in the first inning. After a Lou Brock strikeout, Curt Flood would single. Unfortunately he would be caught in a strike out throw him out double play to end the inning. Giants fans took note that the aggressive playing style of the Cardinals had finally made it to the west coast.
The Cardinals would be aggressive again in the second with Orlando Cepeda trying to steal second after a walk. He would be the second victim of catcher Dick Dietz – but it was clear this Cardinals team would not be beaten tonight.
Meanwhile Washburn was cutting through the Giants order like a hot knife through butter. The only base runners were walks to Willie Mays in the first and a walk to Dick Dietz in the second. Things would progress very swiftly until the bottom of the sixth inning when Hal Lanier would lead off the Giant’s half of the inning with a fly ball to Lou Brock in left field. This was the first ball the Giants hit past the infield all night. They had yet to have a hit, and it was starting to look like they would end the game still looking for their first one. To say that Washburn was in a groove was a gross understatement. This is the pitcher that we all knew he was capable of being.
The Cardinals would finally break through in the seventh inning. After a Bobby Tolan foul out to third, Orlando Cepeda would single. Catcher Johnny Edwards would hit a tailor made double play ball to short, but Cepeda was running hard and Hal Lanier chose to take the out at first. Mike Shannon would make Lanier pay for not turning the double play with a double to the opposite field scoring Cepeda easily from second.
With a 1-0 lead, Washburn would face the heart of the Giants order, and that was a formidable task. Ron Hunt would lead off with a walk. Washburn would strike out Willie Mays. McCovey would then walk. Jim Ray Hart would ground out to second with Javier making the sure play to first. Ron Hunt would advance to third – the only Giant to do so against Washburn. A quick strikeout of Dick Dietz would end the inning with the no hitter still in tact.
The Cardinals would get another run in the eighth inning. Dick Schofield would lead off with a double. Ray Washburn would lay down a perfect sacrifice bunt moving Schofield to third. Lou Brock failed to drive him in with a ground out to third, but Curt Flood would come through with a single deep in the hole in short, beating the throw and advancing to second when the throw goes wild.
The Giant would go quietly in the bottom of the inning. Ty Cline would ground out to Cepeda unassisted. Pinch hitter Bob Schroder would ground out to first with Washburn covering on the play. Not only was Washburn throwing a no hitter, he was also fielding his position and helping his team at the plate. Dave Marshall would walk, Washburn’s fifth and the Giant’s last base runner. It was still a 2-0 game and Washburn was pitching carefully – this was a dangerous Giants team. Leadoff man Bobby Bonds would pop out to Cepeda at first to end the inning.
The Cardinals would go quietly in the ninth. Equally as quiet was the bench around the Cardinals hurler. He didn’t need anybody to tell him that he was three outs away from immortality. He knew that he still had to face two Future Hall of Famer’s who could tie this game if he wasn’t careful.
But Ray Washburn was careful. His big curveball had been getting infield outs all night, and so too would it help him in this last inning. Ron Hunt, who was responsible for the only run the night before, led off the inning with a ground out to Javier. Willie Mays would ground out to Shannon for the second out. And big Willie McCovey would end the game with a harmless fly ball to Curt Flood in center field – only the second ball to get into the outfield. Ray Washburn had done it – thrown a no hitter. It was the fourth in Cardinals history, the first since Lon Warneke in 1941. It was also the first time no hitters have been thrown on successive games. This feat would happen again in 1969 with Jim Maloney of Cincinnati and Don Wilson from Houston.
What an amazing two games. The Cardinals would lose the final game of the series, but that didn’t matter. After being no hit, the Cardinals rebounded and Ray Washburn delivered the game of his career – one we always knew he had in him.
This was not the first time that Washburn had flirted with a no-hitter. In his second full season with the Cardinals, Washburn would start the season 4-0. On April 27, 1963 he would come very close, retiring the first 20 batters he faced. He took a perfect game into the eighth inning. With one out, Bill Skowron would hit a liner to right that nobody would be able to catch. George Altman would holdSkowon to a single, but the perfect game and no hitter were gone. Washburn would give up one more hit in the inning and a double to Maury Wills in the ninth for a complete game 3 hit shutout. Washburn had lost more than a no hitter though as he injured his shoulder throwing a few too many fastballs that night. He would win his next start against the Cubs – another amazing performance taking a no hitter into the seventh inning where it would be broken up by a leadoff single from future Cardinal great Lou Brock. Washburn would also give up a leadoff single in the eighth inning. Working with a 4-0 lead, big Ray would get within out of a complete game shutout before giving up a single, a double and then a home run to Ron Santo. Ed Bauta would finish the game, preserving the victory for Washburn taking him to 5-0. As his arm troubles worsened, he would lose his next three starts and spend the rest of the season on the disabled list after being shut down in May.