Baseball’s Greatest Games Series:
When perfect wasn’t good enough
Game Played on Tuesday, May 26, 1959 (N) at County Stadium
PIT N 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 - 0 12 1 MIL N 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 - 1 1 0 PITCHING Pittsburgh Pirates IP H R ER BB SO HR Haddix L(4-3) 12.2 1 1 0 1 8 0 Milwaukee Braves IP H R ER BB SO HR Burdette W(8-2) 13 12 0 0 0 2 0
On May 26, 1959, Pittsburgh’s Harvey Haddix and Milwaukee’s Lew Burdette Faced off in one of the greatest pitching duels in Major League history. Before the night was over Haddix retired the first 36 batters he faced, a record 12 perfect innings! Unfortunately for the Bucs pitcher though, the Braves’ Burdette blanked the Pirates for a 13-inning shutout himself.
The teams were quite competitive that season. The Braves entered 1959 on the heels of back-to-back National League pennants, they had split two World Series with the Yankees, winning in 1957 and losing in seven games in 1958. They had a formidable lineup that featured Hall of Famers Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews, and fellow sluggers Joe Adcock and Wes Covington. The Pirates were up and coming, one year away from their first World Series appearance since 1927.
The game was played in old Milwaukee County Stadium on a cool night under cloudy skies. An early base-running mistake cost the Pirates and Haddix a run. Neither team knew it at the time, but that was the best scoring opportunity for either team for a while.
Haddix was a good steady pitcher in his day. He relied mostly on a good fastball and a great curveball, and this night was no different. He had good velocity and great command of his pitches early, retiring the first 15 batters with relative ease.
It began raining in the sixth inning and the Braves saw their best chance for a base-runner go by the boards when, with one out, Johnny Logan hit hard grounder to the hole between short and third. It took a great play by the Pirate shortstop Dick Schofield who reached the ball and fired to first, barely nipping Logan. Haddix then retired the next eleven batters to complete the ninth inning with a perfect no-hitter. 27 up, 27 down.
Incredibly, Haddix was entering the 10th inning after throwing only 78 pitches through the first nine frames. He had consecutive close calls in the 10th inning as pinch-hitter Del Rice and Mathews each flied out deep to center field, where Bill Virdon made the grab each time in front of the wall. Aaron followed by grounding out to end the inning and give Haddix the longest-lasting no-hitter in history, never mind perfect game.
In the 11th, and in the 12th, Haddix reached uncharted Major League territory. Never before, or since, had a pitcher been so perfect so long. To end the 12th, the opposing pitcher Burdette, who quietly was pitching his best game as well, with 12 scoreless innings to his credit, lined a hard grounder to third. Pirate third baseman Don Hoak made a great stab and threw Lou out for the 36th consecutive out!!
After Burdette set down the Pirates for the 13th time, Haddix took the mound for the final time that night. As the night had worn on, the odds kept stacking up against him. After All, major league baseball had been played since the 1800s and the sport had never seen a performance like this. As fate would have it, 13 was the unlucky number for Haddix.
In the bottom of the 13th Milwaukee infielder Felix Mantilla hit a slow grounder to third. Pirate third baseman Dick Hoak made an errant throw that eluded first baseman Rocky Nelson. With the error, Mantilla became the first Brave to reach base, thus ruining the perfect game. Ironically Haddix thought he had struck out Mantilla looking but home plate umpire Vinnie Smith called the two-strike pitch a ball.
Mathews then sacrificed Mantilla to second. Pirate manager Danny Murtaugh called for Haddix to intentionally walk Aaron, setting up a possible double play with Adcock coming up. But Adcock, who was 0 for 4 with two strikeouts in the game, would have nothing of it. The Braves slugging first baseman jumped on Haddix’s second pitch, a high slider, and launched it over the right-center field fence to end the no-hitter and the game. Over.
But fittingly in this remarkable game things got bizarre when the apparent game-ending, three-run homer was ruled a double. Adcock’s drive was changed to a two-bagger after Aaron, who thought the game was over the moment Mantilla touched home plate, loped past third base and headed across the diamond toward Milwaukee’s dugout. Adcock, running with his head down and not realizing what Aaron had done, continued his home run trot. As he rounded third base, he was startled to be called out for passing Aaron, who was then in the dugout. Officially, Adcock’s game-winning hit was recorded as an RBI double, making the final score: 1-0.
In a historical sense, Haddix’s accomplishment may well be the best single-game individual pitching performance ever. Whereas no other pitcher had thrown more than 10 hitless innings, Harvey went 12 perfect. Another reason to marvel over Haddix’s gem is that the Braves players admitted later that they had stolen the Pirates’ signs and still couldn’t get a hit. Although it didn’t finish as one, Haddix’s perfect game was recognized as such until 1991, when then-Commissioner Fay Vincent ruled that games not ending in a no-hitter (regardless of innings) can not be counted as such. And so Haddix’s masterpiece was among 50 erased from the no-hit record books eight years ago.