July 2, 1963: Spahn vs. Marichal -- The best pitcher's duel ever

July 2, 1963: Spahn vs. Marichal -- The best pitcher's duel ever
July 2, 2013, 9:15 am
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We will never see another pitcher's duel like this marathon contest, with the starting pitchers going all 16 innings. (AP)

Programming note: Giants-Reds coverage gets underway today at 3:30 p.m. with Giants Pregame Live on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area

It’s my pleasure to introduce a special guest writer on the 50th anniversary of perhaps the greatest pitching duel in baseball history.

Chris Mavraedis is a San Francisco native who was born in the Mission District in 1952, just across the street from Seals Stadium. He’s been a Giants season-ticket holder for 25 years and attended scores of games prior to that, beginning with his first as a 5-year-old when the team first arrived from New York in 1958. He’s also a master chess player. I wouldn’t recommend playing a money match against him.

Whenever anyone tells me they are the world’s biggest Giants fan, I have to resist the urge to tell them, as polite as I can, that they’re not. Of all the regular interactions I’ve have with readers over the years, nobody matches Chris’ passion and enthusiasm for the Giants and for baseball. I think it shines through in his writing, and so I was thrilled when he agreed to let us publish his reminisces about July 2, 1963, that he sent to me last week.

The photo that Chris was good enough to provide us is from 2008, shortly before he was diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Going to games has gone from challenging to difficult to practically impossible for him. He struggles to talk. But he hasn't lost his voice. He remains incredibly active on the Internet, and “Mavo” is a familiar name on many blog comment sections and fan boards.

When I asked him for some biography details, he made just one request: Please don’t crop out his wife and life partner, Elizabeth. “I want her in the photo with me. She is TRULY my better half!” he wrote.

It’s the easiest request that I’ll accommodate all month. Thanks again, Mavo.

=baggs=

July 2, 1963: Duel for the ages at Candlestick Park 
By Chris Mavraedis

This Tuesday, July 2nd 2013 is the 50th anniversary of a remarkable baseball game played in our own Candlestick Park. It was perhaps the best pitcher's duel of the Live Ball Era (which is dated from 1920)! I am of course referring to the magnificent duel between Warren Spahn of the Milwaukee Braves and Juan Marichal of the San Francisco Giants. Both hurlers in this pitching duel for the ages is a Hall of Fame member. Undoubtedly they both rank among the best pitchers in baseball history.

Let's set the stage for this game. The Giants were in their 6th season in San Francisco. They were defending NL Champions, and had Willie McCovey’s line drive been a foot or two higher the previous October, they would have been defending World Champions ... but that is a story for another day. The Giants were loaded with stars, especially sluggers, destined for the Hall of Fame. They were in the midst of a run of excellence that would see them win the most games in the NL for the decade of the 1960s.

The Milwaukee Braves were in their 11th season in that city after they had fled Boston in 1953. They were two-time NL champions in the late ‘50s and still were a force to be reckoned with in the NL that season of 1963. The Braves also had multiple stars destined for enshrinement in Cooperstown.

Both teams were some of the first, along with the Dodgers, to recognize and sign the deep talent pool of black players and Latin players. As a result they were perennial contenders for the pennant.

The two co-HR leaders for that season of 1963 played in the game, Henry Aaron and Willie McCovey ... both future Hall of Famers ... and strangely they tied with 44 HRs that season ... the same as both their uniform numbers! Numerologists would have a field day with that one! Both of them hailed from Mobile, Ala., and in fact, Willie McCovey chose 44 as his uniform number when he broke in in 1959 because it was his idol's number ... Henry Aaron! Of course Henry Aaron would go on to break the most hallowed of all baseball records, Babe Ruth's career home run total of 714, and wind up his career as the all-time home run leader with 755.

This game also featured the other two top HR leaders for the NL that year. That meant all four of the NL’s top HR leaders played that night. In order: Aaron 44, McCovey 44, Willie Mays 38, Orlando Cepeda 34. So the game did not lack for power hitters! The power laden Giants, even in windy Candlestick, would lead the league in home runs that season by a large margin -- 197 over the Braves at 139.

But the key actors in this game that would make Shakespeare proud, were Marichal, Spahn and in my opinion the best ballplayer to ever lace up his spikes ... Willie Mays!

The contrast between the two pitchers could not have been more stark! Marichal was a young fire-balling right-hander of 25 who was having his first great season. Spahn was a crafty left-hander of 42 who was having the last great year of a stellar career! Both would win over 20 that year, (Marichal 25 and Spahn 23) yet both would not get a single vote for the Cy Young because a lefty named Sandy Koufax was beginning the greatest four-year run of pitching dominance in baseball history! Koufax won his first of three Cy Young awards like he did the other two ... unanimously! And this was in the era were they gave ONE Cy Young award for all of the major leagues!

When the Tuesday evening game started at 8 p.m., Marichal came in with a record of 12-3 and Spahn was 11-3. Both pitchers featured a high leg kick in their delivery. But the similarity between these two pitchers ended there. Spahn was the crafty old veteran lefthander who got by on guile and experience. Spahnie, as he was known, already had well over 300 victories and that was despite his missing three whole years of his prime fighting in WWII! Spahn had thrown a three-hit shutout just four days prior at Dodger Stadium. Marichal was a fire-balling right-hander who had thrown a no-hitter only 17 days prior. Marichal, just that season, had become the undisputed ace of the Giants staff. Spahn had no-hit these same powerful Giants two years before, on April 28, 1961 -- five days after his 40th birthday! Incidentally, two days after that no-hitter tossed by Spahn, Willie Mays tied the single-game home run record by clouting four in a game!

I quit a heated neighborhood ballgame in the park to go home and listen to the Giants on KSFO. I knew it was going to be a good matchup ... but I could not have imagined how historic it would be. So after a quick dinner, I hustled out to the living room where my dad had a large console stereo set, wood and all. It was about 5 feet long. I tuned to Russ Hodges and Lon Simmons and lay down on the carpet to have the two large speakers by my head. Of course, I had my trusty glove with me and tossed an old beat up ball in the air as I listened. I was 10 and already totally in love with baseball!

The game started as you'd expect. Both pitchers looked in good form. There was no real scoring threat through the first three innings. Marichal had only given up a single in the first. Spahn had also only given up a single to Cepeda in the second. Even though Cepeda stole second base, he died at third when Jose Pagan, the Giants shortstop, fouled out.

In the fourth, the Braves mounted a rally off Marichal. After Marichal retired the two Braves Hall of Fame sluggers Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews to start the frame, he walked Norm Larker, the Braves first baseman. Mack Jones, a slugger in his own right, singled and Larker moved to second. Here one of our trio of heroes makes his first big contribution. Del Crandall, the Braves’ fine catcher, lined a single to center. Willie Mays, the finest center fielder in history, fielded it and gunned down Larker at the plate as he tried to score from second! Still 0-0 headed to the bottom of the fourth.

Braves Hall of Fame slugger Eddie Mathews left the game in the bottom of the fourth due to injury. Denis Menke replaced him in the cleanup spot. The Giants managed a single by McCovey in the bottom of that inning. But Spahn did not let him get past first as he set down the Giants. 0-0 going to the fifth.

The next scare came in the top of the seventh. Crandall led off with a single. The Braves had stolen two bases in the two previous innings, but Marichal pitched out of it. Now with Crandall on first and the bottom of the Braves order up, he tried to steal second also. Ed Bailey gunned him down for out No.1. Then with two down, Warren Spahn, who was a fine hitting pitcher, doubled. He was stranded at second, though, when Marichal got Lee Maye on a grounder to first. 0-0 going to the bottom of the 7th. Both pitchers still looked strong. In this era of no pitch counts, neither manager remotely considered taking out his ace!

The Giants scratched out two singles against Spahn in the bottom of the seventh. But they came with two out and both runners were stranded when pinch hitter Jimmy Davenport flied out to end the inning. Still 0-0 and the tension was building.

It was about this time I started realizing how lucky I was that it was a summer night with no school. It was past 10 p.m. and if it had been a school night, I'd have had to break out my old trusty trick. I kept a transistor radio (yes kids, we called them that back then!) stashed away in my bedroom in a secret hiding spot. When I had to go to bed during a Giants game, I'd put that radio under my pillow and listen until I fell asleep or the Giants won! I suspect my Mom knew my secret as at times the radio was sticking out from under the pillow when she came to wake me in the morning. But, being the gold standard of Moms ... she never said a word! God bless her!

The game headed to the eighth inning and both pitchers kept dealing blanks. After the scare in the seventh, surprisingly, Marichal gained strength! With one out in the eighth, he walked Henry Aaron ... probably not a bad thing to do! Then he retired the next 16 Braves batters in a row!! God knows what his pitch count was but the young ace was dealing now! He finally yielded a harmless single with two outs in the top of the 13th, but retired the next batter to close out the inning.

The only problem for the Giants and us faithful fans, both at the game and at home listening, was that the old man Spahn was also holding the Giants scoreless! So as we entered the bottom of the 13th it was still 0-0! Giants manager Alvin Dark approached Marichal when he came off the mound after the top of the 13th and asked him how he felt. Juan looked out at the old man Spahn warming up to pitch the 13th inning at 42 years old and broke baseball protocol by telling his manager in no uncertain terms "See that old guy out there? He's 42! I am NOT coming out of this game until he does or we win!" With that, Dark shrugged his shoulders and walked away.

In the bottom of the 13th, Spahn gave up a leadoff single to Ernie Bowman, who had come in for Pagan when Davenport pinch hit for him. A threat ... I got excited. Not so fast! The wily veteran promptly picked Bowman off first!! The next two went down and we were going to the 14th in a scoreless tie! About this time my Dad asked if the game was still on. I explained the amazing drama unfolding and he sat down to listen too. It was close to midnight now and a classic was unfolding at The Stick.

Marichal navigated the top of the 14th while pitching around his fourth walk of the night. In the bottom of the 14th, I thought for sure the Giants would win it. We had Mays and McCovey hitting second and third with Harvey Kuenn, a former AL batting champion, leading off. Both my Dad and I got excited when ole Harvey, who wound up his career with a .303 batting average, led off with a double! This surely was it. The old pitcher had to be tiring and we had our version of Murder's Row coming up, starting with Mays. Spahn, whom Mays had hit more home runs off of than any other pitcher, wisely walked Willie. But now he had to face the fearsome Willie McCovey, whom you might remember, tied for the home run lead that year with Hank Aaron! I thought for sure the Braves would bring in a relief pitcher. But Bobby Bragan, the Braves manager, decided to let his old ace win or lose it on his own.

I was only slightly disappointed when "Stretch" McCovey fouled out to the catcher. We still had Felipe Alou, a dangerous hitter, and Orlando Cepeda, the Baby Bull, coming up. I was optimistic. These were two tough right handed hitters – All-Stars and one a future Hall of Famer – and surely one of them would win this marathon by beating the tiring old man on the mound!

But Felipe flied out to shallow center field and both Kuenn and Mays had to hold. But now the dangerous Orlando Cepeda was up. Would they dare walk him to load the bases? NO! Spahn pitched to Cepeda! He got him to hit a grounder to third ... and Menke booted it. Bases loaded now with two outs! Ed Bailey, our powerful catcher, was up now … and he flied out to centerfield! The crafty old veteran lefty pitched out of it … again!! How long could this go on???

Marichal set the Braves down again in order in the top of the 15th. During the inning, Warren Spahn batted for himself! Talk about OLD SCHOOL baseball!! When Marichal came into the dugout after the 15th, he noticed Dark had a pitcher warming up in the bullpen. If the Giants could not win it this inning, he was probably coming out ... BEFORE the old man!

Spahn, amazingly, set down the Giants in order in the bottom of the 15th. Marichal convinced Dark to let him stay in the game. He batted for himself and made the last out by striking out.

Juan set down the Braves again in the top of the 16th, stranding Menke after he had singled with two down. As Marichal walked off the mound, he paused near first base. Willie Mays for years had the habit of always stepping on first base as he trotted in from center field at the end of an inning. This time Marichal was there, too. He said to Willie, “Alvin is going to take me out before the old man.” Willie just looked at him and said, “Don't worry ... I'll end it this inning for you!”

Harvey Kuenn led off the bottom of the 16th by flying out to center. Then came Willie Mays. I have always wondered this: As Mays dug into the batter's box to face Warren Spahn, did he think back to his first home run as a major league player? He hit it, 12 years earlier, off none other than the veteran lefty he was about to face now ... Spahnnie. He also already had 381 home runs on his odometer and wound up hitting more home runs off Warren Spahn than any other player ... 18! So Spahn had to know he was in deep trouble as Mays stood in to face him. But he could not walk the speedy Mays and risk a stolen base. Besides, the fearsome home run champ that year lurked on deck ... McCovey.

And so, the classic pitcher's duel of the 20th century finally ended dramatically and suddenly when Mays laced one of Spahn's offerings over the fence and trotted around the bases, as he did 659 other times in his illustrious career! It was simply called a game-winning home run in those long ago days. It was not until the 1980s that the term "walkoff" came into use. So Willie trotted around the bases as the old lefty trudged to the locker room. It was OVER! My Dad and I could finally go to bed ... HAPPY!

We will never see another pitcher's duel like this marathon contest, with the starting pitchers going all 16 innings. With today's emphasis on protecting pitching arms, not to mention protecting multimillion-dollar investments, managers start going to the bullpen when a pitcher approaches 95 pitches. It would be interesting to know how many pitches Spahn and Marichal threw that night. But those statistics were simply not even considered important enough to track.

Editor’s note: Baseball statisticians and historians have determined that Marichal threw 227 pitches and Spahn threw 201 that night. That detail and more can be found in Dan Brown’s excellent piece in the San Jose Mercury News.

So on Tuesday night, July 2, if you’re a baseball fan, give a thought to how the old timers played our beautiful game 50 years ago. When pitchers took the ball back then ... they EXPECTED to finish what they started! It was, in my opinion, the greatest pitching duel of the 20th century.

Editors note: Mavo followed up with the following postscript

--Warren Spahn ended his career and got his final win as Juan's teammate with the Giants in 1965!

--Harvey Kuenn wound up being famous in Milwaukee when he managed his "Harvey's Wallbangers" Brewers to their only World Series in 1982.

--Felipe Alou was traded after the 1963 season to the Braves for Del Crandall, Bob Shaw (who famously contributed to Giants Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry's career in 1964 by teaching him the spitter!) and Bob Hundley. The Giants back then were constantly trying to match the Dodgers by trading for pitching. Sadly, they gave up a lot of great hitters in the process ... with very little in return.

--And the most amazing of all ... on the same date, July 2, exactly 30 years before Juan and Spahn's duel, Carl Hubbell won a complete-game, 18-inning affair also 1-0! Amazingly King Carl threw this gem against the famous Gashouse Gang Cardinals! He only gave up six hits in 18 innings! Both Marichal and Spahn featured the screwball in their repertoire, but it was Hubbell that made it famous! And Carl Hubbell was at the game in 1963 as the Giants’ director of the farm system! Talk about historic connections!

Images from USA Today images and the Associated Press

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