September 17 and 18, 1968 – Two Days of Nothing

Celebration

Two days prior to this midweek series in San Francisco, the Cardinals had clinched the National League pennant with a 7-4 thumping of the ninth place Houston Astros. The Cardinals jumped out to a quick lead in the first inning on a single and stolen base by Lou Brock, followed by an RBI single from Curt Flood. Cardinals fans had been enjoying this productive twosome at the top of the order since Brock came over to the Cardinals in a mid-season trade with the Cubs in 1964. This would come to an end following the 1969 season, but the tandem of Brock and Flood were a big reason the Cardinals were making their third World Series appearance in the last five years.

The 1-0 lead would be short lived as Jimmy Wynn would put Houston ahead with a 2 run homer in the bottom of the first inning. 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 as far as anybody in his era. The only player I’ve seen hit the ball as hard and as far as Wynn is future Cardinal, Richie Allen.

The Cardinals would take the lead for good two innings later as Roger Maris belted a two run homer after a Curt Flood single. We didn’t know it at the time, but this would be the last regular season home run hit by Maris. The Cardinals would tack on two more runs in the fifth on another pair of singles from Brock and Flood. 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, extending the Cardinals lead to 7-2. At this point, Steve Carlton would switch into “let’s get this game over and take the pennant home” mode. The Astros would score two meaningless runs, but would never get back in this game as the Cardinals. The 1968 National League Championship Pennant would return to St. Louis.

After the game, the celebration began. And continued, and continued. Even through the west coast travel day on the 16th. And apparently into the next game.

Gaylord Gets Even

A very happy, somewhat ragged Cardinals team took the field against Gaylord Perry and the second place Giants. The Giants may have just been eliminated, but they weren’t giving up, even if they were facing the game’s best pitcher in Bob Gibson (21-7). Even though Gibson was allowing a mere run per game, many young fans ask how he could have lost 9 games in 1968. This is how.

The Cardinals would go quickly in the first inning with the ball never leaving the infield. Perry had been known to doctor the baseball a bit, and when he did, there would be 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. Next up was St. Louis native and future Cardinal Ron Hunt. 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 Gibson bore down on slugger Willie McCovey.

In the second inning, Mike Shannon would draw 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 while striking out 10 – typical of his 1968 starts. Perry would be the hero of the day, recording a no hitter against the National League champs. He was simply mesmerizing, keeping the ball down and making the Cardinals hitters ground out weakly to the infield. Only two balls would leave the Giants infield: fly outs to center field off the bats of Tim McCarver and Bob Gibson.

Ray’s Turn

Ray Washburn would take the mound on Wednesday and he would face the Giants big right hander, Bobby Bolin. In many respects, Washburn was the 60’s 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 possessed a knee buckling curve ball and would use it to great effect for the next nine innings. This is where the differences end as Washburn had been plagued with injuries throughout his career. Not typical wear and tear, but freakish accidents like a broken hand when trying to field a ball hit back up the middle. They really took their toll and limited what looked like a very promising career. None of that mattered because Washburn was about to do something that not even even Bob Gibson had been able to do. Yet.

In the first inning, it was apparent that this was going to be a different Cardinals team facing the Giants. After a Lou Brock strikeout, Curt Flood would single. Unfortunately he would be erased in a strikeout throw 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. After a walk, Orlando Cepeda would attempt to steal second base. He would be the second victim of Giants catcher, Dick Dietz. It was just a matter of time before the Cardinals would break through.

Meanwhile, Washburn was cutting through the Giants order like a hot knife through butter. The only base runners so far 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. Like Perry’s no hitter the day before, nothing had gone past the Cardinals infield until now. They had yet to have a hit, and it was starting to look like they might 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 Ray could be. Fans that had suffered through all of Washburn’s injuries were now savoring every pitch.

The Cardinals would finally break through in the seventh inning. After a Bobby Tolan foul out, Orlando Cepeda would single. Johnny Edwards, giving regular catcher Tim McCarver the night off, would hit a tailor made double play ball to short, but Cepeda was running hard and Hal Lanier chose instead to take the safe 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. Wille McCovey would follow that with another 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 then advancing to second base when the hurried throw goes wild.

The Giants would go quietly in the bottom of the eighth. 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 Giants’ last base runner. It was still a 2-0 game and Washburn was pitching carefully – this was a dangerous Giants team. Bobby Bonds would pop out to Cepeda, ending 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. More sobering, nobody had to remind Washburn that he still had to face two Future Hall of Famer’s who could tie this game if he wasn’t careful.

But Washburn was careful – very careful. His big overhand 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 second baseman, Julian Javier. Willie Mays would ground out to Shannon for the second out. Finally, 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 no-hitter 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. It has not happened since.

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.

The Rest of the Story

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 off with an impressive 3-0 record. On April 27, 1963, he would come very close to perfection, retiring the first 20 batters he faced. He took a perfect game into the seventh inning. A walk to Ron Fairly ended the perfect game, but the no hitter was still intact. That would end with one out in the eighth inning when Bill Skowron would hit a liner to right that nobody would be able to catch. Right fielder George Altman would hold Skowon to a single, but the no hitter was gone. Washburn would give up one more hit in the inning and then a double to Maury Wills in the ninth for a complete game 3 hit shutout. It was the best pitching performance of his young career.

Unfortunately, Washburn had lost more than a no hitter when he injured his shoulder throwing a few too many fastballs on that chilly April night in Los Angeles.

Playing through a sore shoulder, he would win his next start against the Cubs. It was another amazing performance, taking a no hitter into the seventh inning where it would be broken up by a lead off single from future Cardinal, Lou Brock. Washburn would also give up another single in the eighth inning. Working with a 4-0 lead, big Ray would get within one out of a complete game shutout. With two outs in the ninth, a tiring Washburn would give up a single, a double and then a 3 run home run to Ron Santo. Ed Bauta would finish the game, preserving the victory for Washburn, taking his record to 5-0.

As his arm troubles worsened, he would lose his next three starts. He would spend the rest of the 1963 season on the disabled list after being shut down in May. This injury would affect Washburn over the next two years.

With a little bit more digging, we find out that in 1959, Washburn had thrown a no-hitter while playing Canadian semi-pro baseball with the Lethbridge White Sox.

Bob Gibson’s amazing 1968 season overshadowed an impressive performance from Ray Washburn. Finally healthy for a full season, Washburn threw an incredible 215 1/3 innings, finishing with a 14-8 record and a 2.26 ERA. All were career highs for the big right hander. To put that ERA in perspective, only four previous Cy Young award winners had posted a lower ERA than Washburn’s: Dean Chance in 1964 and Sandy Koufax in 1963 and again in 1965-1966. If not for Gibson’s mind numbing 1.12 ERA, Washburn would have gotten more attention for the Cy Young award in 1968.

When you watched Ray Washburn pitch in the 60’s, you knew that he had no-hitter stuff. Early in his career, he could overmatch any batter with a devastating fastball. When injuries took that away from he, he developed one of the better curveballs in the game, and batters again had a hard time making solid contact on a Washburn pitch. With Washburn, it was not if, but when. And the when was September 18, 1968.

Author: Bob Netherton

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