Shut ‘em out, hit a home run: “Pappas games”

Former major league pitcher Milt Pappas was a guest on the radio broadcast of the final game of the Cubs-Mets series a few weeks ago. He sat in with Pat Hughes and Kieth Moreland for an inning and shared a handful of anecdotes from his playing days for the listeners.

Milt was a fine pitcher with an impressive career, and as a consequence he’s prone to tooting his own horn on occasion when asked to reminisce. On this particular afternoon in the press box, however, Milt very uncharacteristically did not once mention his near-perfect game from September of 1972.

Nor did Pappas furiously rant for the duration of his time on the broadcast about umpire Bruce Froemming’s infamous call on a 3-2 pitch with two outs during the ninth inning of that nearly-perfect game.

As entertaining as Milt’s lively (and still very bitter) recollection of that almost final at-bat can be, he instead tooted his horn about another proud performance from his resume.

When asked about the best hitting pitcher he ever saw, Pappas pivoted and instead reminisced on the events leading up to the afternoon of April 18, 1962:

Well, back in the late 50s and early 60s—I’m not going to toot my own horn—but the New York Yankees were the most dominant team in baseball. They won it every year. And we got beat the first two games they came in town.

A sportswriter came up to me on the third day and said, ‘How do you beat the Yankees?’ And I just wanted to go home because I was pitching the next day. So I said, “well it’s very simple: you shut ’em out, you hit a home run, you win.”

And what do I do the next night? I shut ’em out, hit a home run, beat ’em one nuthin’.

Pappas did in fact shut out the very potent Yankees lineup the following afternoon, but was pulled from the game after just six innings. But even with the early departure, Pappas’ achievement—shutting a team out for more than six innings and going yard in the process—is still quite impressive.

When we strip a baseball game down to its core, it is really only about two things—scoring runs and preventing runs. When one man can win the war on both fronts just about single-handedly, it is a truly rare and special feat. Of course a pitcher will always rely on his defense during a shutout—there is no denying that. But when that pitcher amidst a shutout can also turn around and score his team’s only run on offense, unassisted, his self-reliance deserves a special recognition.

So, as a tribute to Milt’s bold prophecy before that cloudy afternoon in Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium, I propose all games henceforth meeting those two criteria—shutting ’em out and going yard—should be dubbed ‘Pappas games.’

Pappas games since 1950

According to Retrosheet records there have been 169 of these Pappas games since 1950 (google doc). In each case the bullpens held the shutout when needed and the starting pitcher was always victorious. On 116 occasions those pitchers went the full nine for a complete game shutout. In 25 games the pitcher’s home run was lost within a rout of at least a 10-0 blowout. In 42 games, the winner was decided by no more than just three runs. In eight rare instances, the pitcher’s solo home run was the only run scored in the entire affair.

And on just four spectacular occasions the pitcher went all nine innings and his solo home run stood alone on the scoreboard:

One-run Pappas games

Pitcher Date Score IP RA HA K BBA At the plate
Bob Welch 6-17-83 1-0 9.0 0 6 4 5 2 Hits (1 HR), 1 RBI
Juan Pizarro 9-16-71 1-0 9.0 0 6 8 2 1 Hit (HR), 1 RBI
Jim Bunning 5-05-65 1-0 9.0 0 4 5 1 1 Hit (HR), 1 RBI
Early Wynn 5-01-59 1-0 9.0 0 1 14 7 2 Hits, 1 HR, 1 RBI
Odalis Perez 8-28-02 1-0 8.0 0 5 4 0 1 Hit (HR), 1 RBI, 1 R
Yovani Gallardo 4-29-09 1-0 8.0 0 2 11 1 1 Hit (HR), 1 RBI, 1 R
Bob Forsch 8-04-76 1-0 7.0 0 5 1 4 2 Hits (1 HR), 1 RBI, 1 R
Milt Pappas 4-18-62 1-0 6.0 0 2 5 1 1 Hit (HR), 1 RBI, 1 R

Pappas, as it turns out, was also quite adept at this sort of thing. He is one of just 34 pitchers to do it more than once, and one of just five pitchers to do it at least four times. On two of these occasions, Milt did in fact go the distance and record a complete game as well. At the risk of sounding too ridiculous, we might refer to these complete game Pappas games as “super-Pappas games”.

In any event, Hall of Famer Bob Gibson astoundingly recorded six of these super-Pappas games in his career, more than any other pitcher in the last half of the twentieth century:

Pitcher Pappas Games Super-Pappas Games
Bob Gibson 6 6
Earl Wilson 5 4
Don Drysdale 4 4
Steve Carlton 4 4
Milt Pappas 4 2
Tom Griffin 3 2
Carlos Zambrano 3 0
Warren Spahn 3 3
Stan Williams 3 3

Naturally, with the slow dying of the complete game in major league baseball, these super-Pappas games have also become more of a rarity in recent seasons. Jordan Lyles is the last pitcher to go all nine with a longball on offense in his shutout of the Milwaukee Brewers on September 30 of last year. Prior to Lyles it was Johann Santana in his 3-0 2010 shutout of the Cincinnati Reds, and prior to that we’d have to go back to Mike Hampton in a 16-0 rout in 2005.

But the flame is still smoldering, dim as it may be. There are young pitchers with plenty of potential both on the mound and at the plate that could lead a new generation. Pitchers like the aforementioned Lyles and Cincinnati’s Mat Latos, who now has two non-CG Pappas games to his name, should carry the torch as it’s passed from veterans like Cliff Lee and Tim Hudson, both of whom finally achieved their own Pappas games in 2011.

The database I used for this query was only updated to the 2012 season, so there may have even been a Pappas game this season that’s slipped through the cracks, though I certainly don’t recall one. If you do know of any such game to have occurred so far in the 2013, or one any in the near future, I’d appreciate it if you’d post it to the comments to give it its due respect.

References & Resources
Thanks to Retrosheet, Baseball Heat Maps, and “GIF-guy” Matt Hunter.

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9 years ago

Was this in honor of Travis Wood’s grand slam yesterday?

Marc Schneider
9 years ago

That’s a pretty silly comment about Koufax.  You may argue about his overall statistics, but he was an utterly dominant pitcher for five years.  He was clearly one of the best pitchers of his generation-and, yes, I know he pitched in a pitcher’s park but still.

One thing I always see is that people, whenever they want to complain about something they don’t like, is to criticize the intelligence of others who dare to have a different opinion.

9 years ago

4 years.

9 years ago

et tu Marc

Jon Roegele
9 years ago

Nicely done as usual, James!

I believe Clayton Kershaw had a “regular” Pappas game on opening day this year. It was a 4-0 complete game shutout where he also homered.

Just checked on Fangraphs – yeah, he had a .503 WPA as a pitcher and a .250 WPA as a hitter in that game.

James Gentile
9 years ago

Thanks, Jon!  Good to hear the Pappas game lives on in 2013!

I think to expand this idea, it might be interesting to look at pitchers WPA as both batter and pitcher in individual games. Maybe next week…

Gordon Danning
9 years ago


I’m not much of a fan of Drysdale being in the HOF, but it seems to be a stretch to say that Pappas’s stats match Drysdale.  Their W/L is identical, but not much else, and Baseball Reference’s normalized stats show Drysdale as clearly superior:

      Drysdale   Pappas
W/L   212-151     177-156
ERA   3.41       3.76
K/9   6.5       4.9

Paul G.
9 years ago

What, no mention of Rick Wise?  Throws a complete game no-hitter shutout and hits two homers, yet nothing.  For shame!

The Drysdale vs. Pappas debate is an old one.  Bill James goes on about it for some length in his Hall of Fame book.  They do have have almost the same W-L record in the same number of starts.  Outside of the more superficial “I Love LA,” handsome man, and “voters dig strikeouts” factors there are four things in the Don’s favor:

1. Significantly better ERA, both in raw and adjusted numbers.
2. Better hitter.
3. He had the big seasons.  Don had years of 25-9 and 23-12,  Milt never won 20 topping at 17 twice.  Big seasons do have a bigger splash, especially concerning pennants.
4. Three World Series rings vs. one bad outing in the NLCS.

9 years ago

A Pappas (see above) is a 1-0 game where the Pitcher gets the win and bats in the only run with a homerun.  A super Pappas (again see above) is a complete game by said pitcher.

This does not include mere shutouts where the pitcher hits a homerun.

9 years ago

Oops, I’m not correct.  A “true” Pappas is a thing of beauty.  A regular Pappas ain’t nuthin’.

I stand corrected.

James Gentile
9 years ago

Rick Wise’s performance on 6-23-71 was definitely one of the better Pappas games in the google doc, one of just two no-hitters. The other no-hitter belonged to Earl Wilson from 6-26-62.

Wise’s game was also one of just four shutouts in which the pitcher hit two homeruns. The others belonged to Pedro Ramos (5-30-62), Sonny Siebert (9-2-71), and Milt Pappas himself on 8-27-61! How bout that.

dennis Bedard
9 years ago

Pappas will forever be linked with Don Drysdale, whose career statistics match his.  You will see many articles where the career stats of the two players are placed side by side and the question is which of these players is in the Hall?  Of course, Drysdale is and Pappas never came close.  Just goes to show that movie star good looks and the right geographic playing spot determine as much as the hard numbers you put up.

9 years ago

Pretty well sums up the Hall of Fame and the intelligence level of the voters.  Hype always works in America. Only reason Koufax is in.

But this article was very interesting.  I thought maybe there had been a Pappas this year already, but I guess not.  It seems a lot of winning pitchers are hitting homeruns, but that’s only the beginning of the criteria.

9 years ago


I’ve been trying to forget those banana Pirates uniforms for 40 years. Now I’m blind again. Thansk for that.

And hey, why did Milt know he had a perfect game going with two outs in the ninth? He’s supposed to be blissfully unaware, because as we all know, nobody, NObody, is supposed to talk about no-hitters while they’re in progress. So SOMEbody in the dugout ruined Milt’s game. And Milt had the gall to bitch at Froemming?

Ian R.
9 years ago

@bucdaddy – I realize you’re being ironic, but I’d think Milt himself noticed that he hadn’t allowed a baserunner all game.

Shaun in Juneau
9 years ago

I remember a Phil Niekro game in either ‘82 or ‘83 he won on his homer 1-0, maybe even against the Dodgers

James Gentile
9 years ago

On October 1, 1982 Phil Niekro shut out the Padres 4-0 in Jack Murphy Stadium. He hit a two-run home run in the eighth inning.

7 years ago

Can information on how many pitches the pitcher used, as well as if he might have stole a base, be included in the Google Doc?

Thanks for providing this.