On April 11, 2010, I watched the Philadelphia Phillies' ace Roy Halladay defeat the Houston Astros as I sat in front of the TV. The commentators marveled that Halladay had pitched a complete game, surrendering seven hits and no earned runs. It was the first complete game by a Phillies pitcher in 2010 and in these days of "Set-up" men and "Closers", there aren't likely to be too many complete games by any pitcher in Major League Baseball anymore.
My mind drifted back to my boyhood days, when my hero was Robin Roberts, a true ironman on the mound. For the record, Robin Roberts is in the Hall Of Fame, and he truly deserves to be there. Pitching for weak-hitting teams for nearly his entire career, Roberts made 609 starts and had 305 complete games. On average, he completed 50% of all the games he ever started! This was way above average even back when he played, and is considered phenomenal today. Roberts had 45 shutouts and pitched some 4,688+ innings in the big leagues over 19 seasons. Roberts threw with an easy smooth delivery and never seemed to tire. Even on days when he didn't have his best stuff, he battled his opponents and had a "never give up" approach to the game. He often pitched into extra innings and he was a fierce competitor against some of the very best hitters in the fifties.
On September 6, 1952, the Phillies played a Saturday doubleheader against the Boston Braves at Shibe Park in Philadelphia. Manager Steve O'Neill selected his ace Robin Roberts to pitch the first game. At the time, Roberts' Won-Loss record was 22-7. No one suspected that he was about to pitch the longest complete game of his career.
Braves' Manager Charley Grimm named Virgil Jester to oppose Roberts. The Phils scratched out single runs in the second and third innings while Roberts breezed through the first three innings. But in the top of the fourth inning, the Braves' Johnny Logan singled, advanced to second on a groundout by Earl Torgeson, and scored on a single by Sid Gordon. Then rookie Eddie Matthews tripled to score Gordon and tie the game at 2-2. The fifth inning was uneventful, but Roberts had some tough luck in the sixth. Earl Torgeson surprised the Phillies with a bunt and reached first when catcher Smokey Burgess was unable to throw him out. Then Sid Gordon, who was to collect the amazing total of five singles during this game, singled again. The next two Braves were both safe on infield errors, and by the time the side was retired, the Braves had a 5-2 lead.
Eddie Matthews led off the eighth inning with a home run off Robin Roberts, and it seemed that all was lost for the weak-hitting Phillies.
They trailed 6-2 as they came to bat in the bottom of the eighth. Mel Clark led off with a double to centerfield. But Virgil Jester bore down and retired Del Ennis on a grounder to shortstop. Smokey Burgess followed with a single to drive in Clark with the Phillies' third run. When Willie (Puddin' Head) Jones singled to right, Braves' Manager Grimm decided to replace Jester with Sheldon Jones. Steve O'Neill sent Johnny Wyrostek up to pinch hit for Putsy Caballero. Wyrostek singled and Burgess scored, with Willie Jones taking third. Then Jackie Mayo followed with a double, which scored both runners and tied the game at 6-6.
Both teams threatened in the ninth inning, but failed to score. Roberts retired the first two Braves, but Johnny Logan singled. When Torgeson singled to right, the aggressive Logan was easily thrown out a home. In the bottom of the ninth, Ennis walked and Burgess singled, but Sheldon Jones escaped by retiring Willie Jones.
Roberts got through the Braves in the tenth inning, and was due to bat third in the Phillies half. Manager O'Neill did not send up a pinch hitter; Roberts successfully sacrificed Jackie Mayo to second. But Connie Ryan was retired and the game went on to the eleventh.
Braves' Manager Grimm sent up his ace starting pitcher Warren Spahn to pinch hit for Sheldon Jones. Roberts struck him out and retired the Braves. Bob Chipman came in to pitch for the Braves and retired the Phillies in order in the bottom of the eleventh.
Both teams had two base runners as they batted in the twelfth inning, but neither team was able to score. With 2 outs and 2 on in the bottom of the inning, Manger O'Neill let Roberts come to bat again. Then he came out to pitch the thirteenth.
Robin Roberts kept pitching with determination and grit through the thirteenth, fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth innings. He gave up one hit in each of these innings, but kept the Braves off the score board. He batted again in the bottom of the fifteenth as Manager O'Neill allowed him to continue. In the meantime, Bob Chipman allowed the Phillies no hits at all during those four innings.
When the Braves came to bat in the seventeenth inning, Roberts retired them in order. This was the first 1-2-3 inning he had pitched since the seventh inning! Yet the Braves had not scored any runs after Matthews homered in the eighth. Roberts had pitched nine consecutive scoreless innings after the first eight - the equivalent of pitching a shutout - a most incredible feat.
This amazing game came to a sudden end in the bottom of the seventeenth inning when Del Ennis led off with a line drive home run to win the game for the Phillies, 7-6.
I don't know how many pitches Robin Roberts threw that day, but it had to be the equivalent of pitching two complete games on the same day! Did it hurt him? I don't think so - his record went to 23-7 that day and he started and won five more games that final month to end his season with a record of 28 wins and only 7 losses. He started 37 games in 1952 and had 30 complete games with an ERA of 2.59. Now that was a season!
How much salary would Robin Roberts receive if he were in his prime TODAY? Would today's Managers allow such a great starting pitcher to go for complete games? Or would they take him out to bring in the "Set-up" man and then the "Closer"? It's interesting to speculate.
The 2010 Phillies' ace Roy Halladay seems to be sort of a throwback type of pitcher. He is a determined competitor and likes to finish what he starts. I hope he goes on to have a fine season for the Phils.
1952 was the last year that the Braves played in Boston. They moved to Milwaukee in 1953 and then they moved to Atlanta in 1966. If you check the records, I believe that Robin Roberts is the only pitcher that ever defeated the Braves in all three of their franchise locations.
I must admit that I had to look up the play-by-play and box score of Robin Roberts' longest complete game. I certainly did not remember all of the details. But I do recall that my Dad and I were listening to that game on the big Bendix radio console in our living room that Saturday so very long ago. I specifically remember that the Phillies' plight seemed hopeless after Eddie Matthews' homer put the Braves ahead by 6-2 in the eighth inning, and I remember my excitement when Johnny Wyrostek got that clutch pinch hit to tie the game in the bottom of the inning. But most of all, I remember my hero, Robin Roberts, who refused to give up, and hung on for all seventeen hard-fought innings.