50 years since baseball’s most surreal bottom of the ninth (6/2/11)

Fifty years ago today, the Giants and Dodgers played possibly the most bizarre half-inning in baseball history. It’s an inning I remember reading about in one of the Baseball Hall of Shame books that came out when I was a kid.

It’s the bottom of the ninth in Los Angeles, and the Giants cling to a 2-1 lead. Leadoff hitter Willie Davis immediately erases that with a homer to leadoff the inning. So that means all the inning’s upcoming oddities are taking place in a dramatic context: Late in a tie game between two fierce rivals.

Bobby Bolin immediately walks the next batter, Wally Moon, earning him a trip to the showers. The inning starts to go off the rails a few pitches later when Moon also goes to the showers. You see, Moon got ejected over arguing with the umpire over a play that never happened. Really.

You see, with batter Tommy Davis at the plate against new Giants pitcher Stu Miller, Moon broke for second on an apparent stolen base attempt, but was called out by the umpire. He must’ve said the magic words, because second base umpire Augie Donatelli (the first umpire ever to eject Jackie Robinson from a game) thumbed Moon.

But the play never happened. You see, when Moon broke for second, Davis swung at the pitch, and fouled it off. So there was no play at second, but the ejection stood anyway. Pinch runner Bob Aspromonte took his place at first.

Then Davis tried to bunt Aspromonte over the second, but an error allowed everyone to be safe. Now there were runners at first and second and still no one out. But both factors were about to change.

It turns out that Aspromonte wasn’t the ideal man to use as a pinch runner tonight, because he strayed so far off second and paid so little attention that San Francisco catcher Hobie Landrith tried to pick him off after a pitch—and caught Aspromonte off the bag. Desperate, Aspromonte broke for third and got caught up in a rundown. He may not have been very observant, but he sure improvised well, and before the Giants could tag him out, he’d made it safely back to second.

But…well, of course there’s “but” in this half-inning, right?

But Aspromonte wasn’t alone at second. During the rundown, trailing runner Davis scampered to second, and now two Dodger runners stood at the same base. Aspromonte had possession of the bag so the umps called out Davis. One away.

The weirdness still wasn’t quite over. Now with first base open, the Giants intentionally walked the next batter to set up the force. Besides, the trailing runner made no difference in the bottom of the ninth of a tie game anyway.

Darryl Spencer, the next batter, grounded into a force at second. Aspromonte, the potential game winning run, advanced to third, but now LA was down to its last out.

But there was still some weirdness left: San Fran manager Alvin Dark put in reliever Mike McCormick, who intentionally walked pinch hitter Norm Sherry to load the bases, and then yanked him for another reliever (Eddie Fisher). Hmmmm…what was the point of using McCormick again?

Dark got a little too caught up in the managerial maneuverings there. I can see a manager wanting to bring in a reliever to get a better matchup. I can also understand intentionally walking the batter to load the bases in this circumstance. You just can’t do both. The moves cancel each other out.

But the overly thought-out maneuverings weren’t over yet. After the walk, with the Dodger pitcher due up, Walter Alston brought in Frank Howard to pinch hit. So Dark decided he didn’t like the McCormick-Howard match up and brought in a new reliever: Fischer. Alston wasn’t going to take that lying down; he dove back into his bench for Duke Snider to pinch-hit for his pinch hitter. That cannot have been easy to mark down on the scorecards.

Oh, does this maneuvering absolve Dark for bringing McCormick in? After all, the original plan apparently wasn’t to have him face only one guy. Perhaps, but that’s a bad defense. Shouldn’t he have known the pitcher was due up next and that the Dodgers would use a good pinch hitter in that circumstance? Maybe Dark was really outthinking everyone and hoping to get Alston to burn two pinch hitters in one at bat, but I doubt it. When it all ended up, the Dodgers were the ones with the platoon advantage as Snider faced Fisher.

Do you have a headache yet? Well, relax, Snider made the third out to end the inning, after a half hour and a home run, an ejection, a bizarre rundown, a weirdly-used relief pitcher and a pinch hitter for a pinch hitter.

All those ninth-inning Twilight Zone moments must have made the bottom of the 10th’s memorable moment seem downright ordinary. In that frame, Dodger batter Davis hit a walk-off grand slam for a 6-2 LA win.

While that was the weirdest event to mark its anniversary today, it’s not the only one. Below is a list of anniversaries and day-versaries (which are events happening X-thousand days ago), with the better ones in bold if you just want to skim:


6,000 days since the Astros trade six players, including Steve Finley and Ken Caminiti, to the Padres for seven players, including Derek Bell.

7,000 days since the Astros trade Curt Schilling to the Phillies for Jason Grimsley. Advantage: Philadelphia.

9,000 days since the Angels beat the Red Sox 4-3 in 11 innings in Game Four of the ALCS. California scored three times in the bottom of the ninth to tie it 3-3 (and this after Boston scored twice in the top of the eighth to expand their lead).

9,000 days since the Mets beat the Astros 6-5 on a walk-off two-run homer by Lenny Dykstra in Game Three of the NLCS. Yeah, the 1986 really did have the best LCSs of all-time. As good as this pair of games was 9,000 days ago, neither was the best game of their respective series.


1890 Hall of Famer Ed Delahanty gets six hits with Cleveland in a game in the Players League.

1891 Old Hoss Radbourn becomes the fourth pitcher to win 300 games. The earlier ones were Pud Galvin, Tim Keefe, and Mickey Welch.

1903 The Tigers suspend infield Kid Elberfeld, claiming he’d intentionally made errors that cost the team three of six games in St. Louis.

1906 The Cubs trade Bob Wicker to the Reds for Orval Overall and $2,000. Orverall becomes a 20-game winner for the Cubs.

1908 There is bad blood in the Cubs dugout. A bottle of ammonia explodes in the face of star outfielder Jimmy Sheckard, reputedly after a teammate threw it at him. Prompt action saves his eyesight, but he’ll miss about a month of baseball.

1915 Babe Ruth hits his second career home run. In an interesting bit of serendipity, the pitcher is the same guy who surrendered his first blast: Jack Warhop of the Yankees. Ruth also picks up his first career win as an MLB pitcher today.

1925 One of the wildest games of the decade features some of the most impressive achievements and milestones by the greatest players of their generation. The Tigers defeat the White Sox 16-15. The victory is a mighty big relief for Detroit given that they’d blown a 10-run lead earlier in the game. They won it on the only walk-off home run Ty Cobb hit in his entire career.

But none of that was the most noteworthy part of the game. Instead that honor fell to White Sox second baseman Eddie Collins, who cranked out his 3,000th career hit. He became the sixth member of the club, behind Cap Anson, Honus Wagner, Nap Lajoie, Tris Speaker, and of course today’s home run hero, Cobb.

1925 Yankee first baseman Wally Pipp has a headache and asks manager Miller Huggins for the day off. So instead a young kid named Lou Gehrig gets the start at first, and goes 3-for-5 with a double and a run. That earns him a start the next day, and before you know it Pipp never does get his position back as Gehrig plays 2,130 consecutive games. This is actually game No. 2 in the streak, as Gehrig pinch-hit the day before.

1927 Hall of Famer Burleigh Grimes has his longest relief outing ever: 10.2 IP. He gets the win for the Giants, allowing only one run off eight hit and seven walks while fanning four. NYG 5, CIN 4 (12).

1928 Lefty Grove wins his 50th game.

1928 Pete Donohue of Cincinnati makes a bit of history today: Worst known Game Score for a starting pitcher who gets the win. His line: 6.1 IP, 14 H, 11 R, 10 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, but the other team pitches even worse: Reds 20, Braves 12.

1931 Larry Jackson, quality starting pitcher, born

1932 Minor league star Buzz Arlett hits four home runs in one game

1937 NL President Ford Frick suspends St. Louis Cardinals start Dizzy Dean for refusing to retract statements he’d made about a balk call on May 19 that led to a brawl. I’m going to guess he criticized the ump.

1940 Bucky Walters, Cincinnati Reds ace, wins his ninth straight game. In his last 18 starts, he’s 15-1 with 16 CG, and a 1.82 ERA.

1940 Horace Clarke born

1940 Jim Maloney born

1941 Lou Gehrig dies

1942 Ted Williams enlists as a naval aviator

1943 The Browns and Red Sox play their fourth consecutive extra-inning game.

1949 The Phillies blast out five home runs in the eighth inning.

1949 Warren Spahn wins his 50th game.

1950 Harry Dorish of the St. Louis Browns becomes the last AL pitcher of the 20th century to steal home. He does it as the head of a double steal.

1951 Managers Billy Southworth and Frankie Frisch face each other for the 200th time.

1951 When Jackie Robinson singles in the second inning, his batting average reaches it’s all-time career high: .322062 (781/2,425).

1952 Joe DiMaggio HBP twice in one game. He scores both times, which proves to be the difference as the Yankees win by one run: NYY 8, DET 7.

1953 Monte Irvin has his worst known WPA game: -0.315 WPA: 0-for-6 with a K as the Reds beat his Giants, 4-2.

1954 Lew Burdette has a rough day for the Braves. He walks in a run in the third inning, and then does it again in the fifth.

1957 Moe Drabowsky ties an NL record by hitting four batters in one game.

1958 Brooks Robinson hits into a triple play, the first of an MLB-record four times he’ll does this in his career.

1958 Whitey Ford ties a record by fanning six straight batters.

1959 Orioles-White Sox game delayed for a half-hour by a giant swarm of gnats.

1961 The expansion Washington Senators franchise tops .500, at 24-23. It’s the only time the Senators-Rangers cumulative all-time franchise record has ever been over .500.

1962 The Orioles sign amateur free agent Davey Johnson.

1962 Pirate right fielder Roberto Clemente home run almost makes it to the roof at Forbes Field.

1963 Willie Mays clubs three homers in one game

1964 The Yankees sign amateur free agent Bobby Murcer.

1966 Joe Morgan draws a career-high five walks in one game.

1968 Reggie Jackson hits the first of four inside-the-park home runs in his career.

1970 Steve Carlton wins his 50th career game: 50-40 on his career

1973 Neifi Perez, infielder, born

1976 Angels sign free agent Tommy Davis

1976 Expos release Nate Colbert, who was then and still now is the all-time Padres home run king

1978 Johnny Bench hits his only pinch-hit walk-off homer run. He has four other walk-off homers (this is his last) and four other pinch-hit homers (this is his first), but this is the only to do both in one swing.

1981 Pete Rose, age 40, hits two triples in one game. He hit one in all 1980, in which he played every day and had over 700 PA. Only Sam Rice hit two triples in one game at an older age (at least since 1920, that’s the case).

1983 According to WPA, Ryne Sandberg hits his most valuable homer. When he hits a two-run homer with two outs and Chicago trailing 2-1, his WPA registers as 0.583 for this shot.

1984 Dennis Eckersley commits his first balk in almost five years (7-11-79).

1986 Rod Carew announces he’ll retire at the end of the year.

1986 Draft day. Highlights include: Rangers drafting Kevin Brown; Giants drafting Matt Williams; A’s drafting Rod Beck and Kevin Tapani; Mets drafting John Olerud (whom they wouldn’t sign), and the Phillies drafting Chuck Knoblauch (also not signed). But he big story in 1986 was the Royals drafting football star Bo Jackson.

1987 Andre Dawson homers twice in one game for the second consecutive day.

1987 Draft day. Highlights include: Mariners drafting Ken Griffey Jr.; White Sox drafting Jack McDowell; Royals drafting Kevin Appier; Astros drafting Craig Biggio; Indians drafting Albert Belle; Astros drafting Darryl Kile; Rangers drafting Robb Nen; and the Orioles drafting Mike Mussina (whom they didn’t sign—at least not this year).

1989 The Padres trade John Kruk to the Phillies.

1990 Randy Johnson tosses the first no-hitter in Seattle history: SEA 2, DET 0. He walks six and fans eight.

1993 Johnny Mize dies

1994 Draft day. Highlights include: Red Sox drafting Nomar Garciaparra; Dodgers drafting Paul Konerko; Twins drafting A.J. Pierzynski; Mariners drafting Jason Varitek; Giants drafting Keith Foulke.

Among the players drafted who didn’t sign that year: Troy Glaus (drafted by Padres), J.D. Drew (Giants), Michael Young (Orioles), Eric Gagne (White Sox), and Tim Hudson (A’s—they’d get him later, obviously).

1996 Darryl Kile hits four batters in one game, tying a record.

1996 Orel Hershiser walks in a run. It’s his first time since July 13, 1989, a stretch of 1779.1 IP.

1998 Andruw Jones hits two triples in one game for the only time

1998 Draft day. Highlights include: Indians drafting CC Sabathia; Rockies drafting Juan Pierre and Matt Holliday; Cardinals drafting J. D. Drew; A’s drafting Mark Mulder; Rangers drafting Carlos Pena; Astros drafting Brad Lidge; Reds drafting Adam Dunn; and the White Sox drafting Aaron Rowand.

Among those drafted by not signed: Barry Zito (Rangers), Mark Teixeira (Red Sox), and Mark Prior (Yankees). Supposedly, the Yanks blew a chance to sign Prior when a scout complained to some people at Prior’s high school that Papa Prior was being a real jerk in negotiations. As it happens, Papa Prior was in earshot when that comment was made. This would be a much better story if he hadn’t blown his arm out.

1998 According to WPA, this is the best ever day for Rafael Palmeiro. He goes 3-for-5 with a triple, home run, two RBIs, and three runs in Baltimore’s 9-8 win over Seattle. He hit a home run in the bottom of the tenth with a man on and the team trailing 8-7. That homer was worth 0.646 WPA, his best one-swing WPA ever.

1999 Draft day highlights: Cardinals draft Albert Pujols; Padres draft Jake Peavy; Angels draft John Lackey; twins draft Justin Morneau; Orioles draft Erik Bedard; Rays draft Joey Hamilton and Carl Crawford; A’s draft Barry Zito and Ryan Ludwick; and the Marlins draft Josh Beckett.

2000 The Expos announce they’ll wear #9 on their jerseys the rest of the year to honor Maurice Richard, a hockey great who died earlier that week.

2004 Vladimir Guerrero has his best game: 4-for-4 with two home runs, a double, two runs, and nine—count ‘em, nine—RBIs. Oh, he also had a sac fly. Angels 10, Red Sox 7.

2010 Bobby Abreu hits his 500th double.

2010 Adrian Gonzalez hits a walk-off grand slam: SDP 5, NYM 1 (11).

2010 MLB has its first game in over three years in which neither team tossed over 100 pitches all game: DET 3, CLE 0.

2010 Nobody’s perfect: First base umpire Jim Joyce blows the obvious call at first with two outs in the ninth, turning what looks like a perfect game for 23-year-old hurler Armando Galarraga into both something less, and something more, than a perfect game. Something less in that Batter No. 28 comes to the plate. Something more in that his response (as well as that of manager Jim Leyland, and umpire Joyce himself) is one of the best acts of sportsmanship in a long time.

Also, this game is pretty much destined to be better remembered than almost any perfect game, aside from Don Larsen’s World Series one and maybe the Sandy Koufax one that featured majestic work by Vin Scully.

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Chris J.
12 years ago

Just wanted to note this: at BTF some noted how can a guy be called out at second if the batter fouled the ball off?  The ball can’t be in two places at once. Good point.

Ess eff reported what happened:

It wasn’t an attempted steal. Davis was trying to bunt the winning run into scoring position. He bunted the ball at the plate, and the catcher threw to second, where Donatelli called Moon out on a close force, even as the home umpire was ruling that the bunt was foul.

Moon not only was ejected, but was given a three-day suspension for bumping Donatelli.

12 years ago

Hey Chris just one typo..otherwise great article.  DiMaggio retired at the end of the 1951 season.

Galarraga’s game is the most remembered after Larsen and Koufax (two and two to Harvey Keene)?
You just might be right smile