50th anniversary: Willie Kirkland brings the clutch

50 years ago today was one of the greatest one-man shows of clutch hitting in baseball history. The athlete didn’t deliver every time he came to the plate, but when he did deliver, boy of boy was it ever important and well-timed. And it didn’t hurt that he got such a ton of opportunities.

On June 14, 1963, the Cleveland Indians hosted the Washington Senators in a doubleheader. The first game was an utterly unremarkable 5-2 win for the visiting Senators. The fun came in the nightcap.

Early on, it looked like Cleveland would even the day up by waltzing to a win game two of the day’s festivities. Against 23-year-old Washington pitcher Claude Osteen, two of the first three batters reached base. After a second out advanced the lead runner to third, veteran Indians right fielder Willie Kirkland came to the plate.

At age 29, Kirkland was having a rotten season. Major league baseball instituted a new and enlarged strike zone that season, and Kirkland was having trouble adjusting. His power numbers fell in half, from nearly 30 homers to mid-teens. Never great at hitting for average, Kirkland would bat just .230. His pedestrian 1-for-4 showing in the day’s first game was actually a good day for him. But the day would get much better the longer it went on.

Here, Kirkland got good wood on the ball, singling the runner in for a 1-0 Indians lead. Unfortunately, the rally ended there as Osteen struck out the next batter to retire the side—but Washington had not heard the last of Willie Kirkland.

Cleveland pitcher Gus Bell brought his A-game, and made the 1-0 lead hold up for quite awhile, but a solo homer in the sixth tied it, 1-1. And neither team could do much aside from that. Take Kirkland, for instance. He grounded out in the fourth and then fanned in the sixth. He had a nice chance to do some damage in the eighth, coming up with runners on first and second and two out, but grounded out to end the inning.

That’s OK. He’d more than make up for it later.

In fact, Kirkland made up for it with his next at bat, in the bottom of the 11th. By this time Cleveland’s situation was bleak. They still had just the one run Kirkland drove in back in the first, but Washington had just taken a 2-1 lead in the top of the 11th. Actually, Cleveland was lucky it was just 2-1. With two outs and runners on first and second, pinch hitter Dick Phillips unleashed a double that let the first run in—but the trailing run was thrown out at the plate to end the inning. It was damn near 3-1.

But it was still 2-1 when Kirkland came up to lead off the bottom of the inning, just minutes after the dramatic double. Though things looked bleak, Kirkland immediately picked up everyone’s spirits with a solo home run. Now it was 2-2, with Kirkland having both RBIs.

Now the game became a bullpen endurance contest. Neither team could score, and for all his heroics, Kirkland also couldn’t help Cleveland out. When they got a modest rally started in the 13th, he hit into a double play to end the inning. In the 16th he did it again—another double play ground ball. Well, he already had an extra inning homer—that’s enough heroics for one man, right?

Maybe not, because the game kept churning and in the bottom of the 19th Kirkland came up again to lead things off. Against Washington pitcher Jim Coates, Kirkland became one of the few men in baseball history to hit a second extra-inning homer in one game. This one was a walk-off shot, for a 3-2 Indians win. Sure he’d hit into two big double plays, but he’d also smacked two clutch homers and driven in all three Indians runs on the day. Despite his failings, he was the unquestioned hero on the day – and that day was 50 years ago today.

Aside from that, many other baseball events today celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is something that happened X-thousand days ago). Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d rather just skim.


1,000 days since the Dodgers trade reliever Octavio Dotel to the Rockies.

1,000 days since Luis Hernandez hits a homer one pitch after breaking his foot on a foul ball. As an added bonus, that turns out to be the only home run by a Mets second baseman all year long. Clearly, they needed to have more bat with broken feet.

4,000 days since the first inning of today’s Astros-Reds game is played with non-regulation balls, thanks to a mix-up in the umpire’s locker room. Defective practice balls are used instead.

6,000 days since the White Sox sign free agent Ruben Sierra.

20,000 days since savvy Orioles Paul Richards has a new trick up his sleeve—he lists three pitchers in his starting lineup—one as pitcher, one as second baseman, and one as left fielder. The opposing manager thus can’t platoon his team against Richards’ visiting squad. In the middle of the first, Richards picks his hurler, replaces the other two in the lineup and is able to have the platoon advantage in the game.

30,000 days since Lou Gehrig weirdly loses a home run. He hits one out of the park, but it bounces back to Washington outfielder Sam Rice, who catches it on the bounce. The umpires see what happened, but the Yankee runner on base doesn’t. He trots back to the dugout, and when Gehrig passes up the point he left the base paths, he’s held to a triple instead of a homer.

50,000 days since early star Cal McVey gets six hits in a game. He becomes the first Cub to ever do that.


1861 Charlie Buffinton, 19th century 200 game winning pitcher, is born.

1870 The Cincinnati Red Stockings winning streak ends with an 8-7 loss to the Brooklyn Atlantics in front of 12,000 to 15,000 people.

1876 George Hall becomes the first major leaguer to hit for the cycle.

1884 Boston Braves pitcher Jim Whitney fans 18 Cubs in one game.

1892 Pittsburgh trades Pud Galvin, the first 300 game winner, to St. Louis for Cub Stricker.

1897 One-time star second baseman Fred Pfeffer plays in his last game.

1918 Gavvy Cravath dings his 100th career home run, which is a lot for back then. It’s a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 10th. It’s also a bounce home run, which would now be called a ground rule double, but back then could be a home run.

1919 The New York Giants sign amateur free agent Frankie Frisch. Good move.

1921 Babe Ruth homers twice. It’s the second straight game he’s done that, and the fifth consecutive game he’s homered in.

1921 George Sisler suffers through what might be his worst game ever, going 0-for-6 with a pair of Ks, which ties his personal one game strikeout total.

1924 George Kelly belts three homers in a game for the second time in his career. He’s the first person to do it twice. In all, he’s 4-for-4 with eight RBIs and a walk, guiding the Giants to a 8-6 win over the Reds. Yes, he drove in all of the team’s runs.

1924 Rogers Hornsby suffers through his worst game at the plate, going 0-for-4 with three Ks. He’ll end the year batting .424 anyway, with just 32 strikeouts in 642 PA.

1924 The Cardinals trade veteran spitballer Bill Doak to Brooklyn.

1926 Great Dodger pitcher Don Newcombe is born.

1926 Outfielder (and future Hall of Fame manager) Billy Southworth is traded by the Giants to the Cardinals.

1929 Yankee centerfielder Earle Combs legs out an inside the park home run for the second consecutive day.

1929 Red Ruffing loses another one, dropping his record on the season to 0-12. Including last year, the Red Sox hurler is on a 13 game skid. In that stretch, here are his numbers: 0-13, 14 G, 12 GS, 8 CG, 97 IP, 119 H, 72 H, 58 ER, 53 BB, 45 K, and a 5.38 ERA.

1930 Chuck Klein, who is hit by pitch or 12 or 13 times in his career, gets plunked in both ends of a doubleheader. (His career stats say 12 plunks, by a Play Index search lists 13 games he got hit in).

1930 Pie Traynor gets a personal best seven RBIs in a game—which is amazing because he has no extra base hits on the day. It ties the post-1920 record (and perhaps overall record) for most RBIs without an extra base hit. He’s 3-for-5 with a sacrifice hit and strikeout as the Pirates beat up the Phillies, 19-12.

1932 The Yankees top the Indians, 7-6, thanks to a triple steal with Ben Chapman swiping home plate.

1932 Pitcher Rip Sewell makes his big league debut. He’ll toss a handful of games with Detroit this year, and then won’t return to the majors until 1938. He’ll end up a very successful pitcher in the talent-depleted WWII years, with a pair of 20-win seasons for the Pirates. He’ll also have the best winning percentage in the NL in 1948.

1934 The Phillies purchase third baseman Bucky Walters from the Red Sox. Philadelphia will convert him to a pitcher, where he’ll become a star.

1939 The Indians trade Hall of Fame center fielder Earl Averill to the Tigers.

1940 Boston trades future Hall of Fame manager (but then still a catcher) Al Lopez to the Pirates.

1942 Bucky Walters loses his 100th game, giving him a record of 123-100.

1942 Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Gordon’s best hitting streak peaks at 29 games. He’s 48-for-112 with a AVG/OBP/SLG of .429/.471/.634.

1945 The Phillies release 200 game winner Fat Freddie Fitzsimmons.

1946 The White Sox release all-time franchise wins leader Ted Lyons. Well, they release him as a player—he is still their manager.

1947 Pete Reiser, who nearly died from crashing into a wall last week, is released from the hospital.

1947 The Cubs win, giving them an all-time cumulative franchise peak record of 1,179 games over .500 (5,527-4,348).

1949 Eddie Waitkus is shot by a rifle in Room 1297A of the Edgewater Beach Hotel by a 19-year-old woman.

1949 Wally Westlake hits his second career cycle.

1950 Cleveland trades Mickey Vernon to the Senators.

1952 The Braves sign Hank Aaron. (I also have this listed occurring on June 11. One of them must be correct).

1952 Warren Spahn has a great day—one of the greatest days ever by a pitcher who lost the game. He fans 18 batters in a 15 inning complete game, but loses 3-1 to the Cubs.

1953 Bob Buhl, one of the worst hitting pitchers of all-time, goes 3-for-4 at the plate. And he tosses a complete game shutout over the Pirates for the Braves.

1953 The Yankees win their 18th consecutive game. There won’t be another winning streak this long in the AL until the 2002 Moneyball A’s.

1954 The Tigers trade Johnny Pesky to the Senators.

1956 The Cardinals trade Red Schoendienst and others to the Giants for Alvin Dark, Whitey Lockman, and a pair of others.

1957 The White Sox sign amateur free agent Johnny Callison, who they’ll trade away in the 1959-60 off-season, only to see him later become an All Star.

1957 Johnny Roseboro makes his big league debut.

1957 The Phillies sign amateur free agent Chris Short.

1958 The Cardinals purchase Sal Maglie from the Yankees.

1959 Ken Boyer hits his 100th home run, which is an inside the park shot. He has only one other career inside the park home run, and that was 15 days earlier.

1959 Ernie Banks swats his 200th career home run.

1959 Early Wynn, one of the better hitting pitchers, has his only four-hit day at the plate, going 4-for-5 with two doubles as the White Sox top the Orioles, 9-6.

1959 Del Ennis plays in his final game.

1961 Don Drysdale has a nice day, belting a home run and throwing a complete game shutout.

1963 Duke Snider joins the 400 home run club. He’s just the ninth man to do so, joining Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Mel Ott, Stan Musial, Ted Williams, Eddie Mathews, and Mickey Mantle.

1965 Bill Mazeroski is hit by a pitch for the first time since Sept. 1962. He had 1,362 straight PA without getting plunked before Steve Carlton tags him in the fourth inning in this game.

1965 Jim Maloney has one of the greatest games to result in a loss. He has a no-hitter after nine innings, but the game is tied, so keeps going on. He allows a hit in the 11th and the Reds end up losing 1-0 to the Mets. Maloney has to settle for a Reds franchise record 18 strikeouts. He walks just one batter, Ed Kranepool in the fourth.

1966 The Red Sox trade pitcher Earl Wilson to Detroit for Don Demeter.

1966 Bill Walker, two time NL ERA champion, dies at age 62.

1968 Hawk Harrelson hits three home runs in one game for the Boston Red Sox.

1969 Reggie Jackson has a fantastic game, driving in 10 runs (!) on the day. He’s 5-for-6 with a double and two homers. His two singles both come with the bases loaded and drive in a pair of runs each. It’s the only five hit game of his career and (obviously) his personal best in RBIs. He could’ve had even more RBIs, too—his only out was a bases loaded strikeout. The A’s destroy the Red Sox, 21-7.

1971 Jim Perry fans a personal best 11 batters in one game.

1971 Joe Morgan receives a walk-off walk for a 5-4 Astros win over the Pirates.

1974 It’s one of the most amazing pitching duels of all-time as Luis Tiant and Nolan Ryan go into overtime against each other. Tiant pitches 14.1 IP, the longest start of his career, only to get stuck with the loss as the Angels top the Red Sox, 4-3. Ryan pitches “only” 13 innings but fans 19 and walks 10 in the process. It’s the first of four times he fans 19 in a game in 1974. It’s Tiant’s ninth consecutive complete game, his personal best. It’s also the last time any starting pitcher has gone over 14 IP in a game.

1975 Johnny Bench enjoys the only 5-for-5 game of his career (though he has a 5-for-6 game also).

1976 Hank Aaron finally has a moment against Frank Tanana. In his 18th plate appearance against the fastballer, Aaron gets his first hit – which is a home run. It will be the only hit Aaron gets against Tanana in 19 PA, the most PA he has against a pitcher with just one hit. Also, this makes Tanana half the answer to a great trivia question, as he and Rick Reuschel are the only pitchers to surrender home runs to Barry Bonds and Hank Aaron.

1977 The Yankees sign amateur free agent Jeff Reardon, who will briefly be the all-time career save leader.

1978 Davey Concepcion gets his 1,000th career hit.

1978 Pete Rose begins his 44 game hitting streak.

1978 Gaylord Perry shuts out the Padres. It’s the 22nd team he’s shut out, the most by any pitcher in history. (Nolan Ryan had 21).

1978 Vida Blue walks the game’s first batter, something he last previously did on Aug. 14, 1974, 138 starts earlier.

1980 Phil Niekro loses his 200th decision. His record 223-200. The 41-year-old will go 95-74 from here on out. By Game Score, it’s his worst start ever: 1 IP, 11 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 0 BB, and 0 K for a Game Score of 3.

1980 Johnny Hodapp, led the AL in hits and doubles in 1930, dies at age 74.

1985 Bert Blyleven gets his 200th win, for a record of 200-173.

1986 Here’s a weird one the A’s top the Rangers 3-2 despite getting just three hits – all of which are singles. That’s tough to do. In the second inning, Oakland get their first run on a leadoff walk, a pair of runner-advancing ground outs, and a single. Their big inning is the sixth, when the following happens: lead-off walk, stolen base, strikeout, RBI single—and advancement to second on throw home, intentional walk, fly out, and then back-to-back wild pitches to score the other run.

1987 Hall of Fame skipper Dick Williams becomes the 13th manager to win 1,500 games. His record is 1,500-1,366.

1987 Mike Schmidt gets his 2,000th career hit. He does it in style too, as it’ a three home run game for him.

1987 The Reds release veteran pitchers Jerry Reuss.

1988 For the second and final time in his career, Rafael Palmeiro plays centerfield.

1989 Eric Show wins his 93rd game as a Padre, passing Randy Jones as the franchise’s all-time leader. He still is.

1989 Hall of Fame Negro League third baseman Judy Johnson dies. Among the initial batch of Negro League Hall of Famers, he had the most questionable case for induction.

1990 The NL announces that it will expand to 14 teams in 1993.

1991 The Dodgers sign amateur free agent Ismael Valdez.

1991 The original Expos owners announce the sale of the team to a company headed by Claude R. Brochu.

1994 In negotiations with the players’ union, baseball owners propose an even 50/50 split of money with a salary cap, an end to arbitration, and lowering free agent eligibility from six to four years. There are quite a few things here that players will not like, and the owners know it. A strike is coming.

1994 Monte Weaver, won 22 games for the 1932 Senators, dies at age 87.

1995 Manny Ramirez steals two bases in one game, the only time he ever does that.

1995 Mike Benjamin, of all people, goes 6-for-7 in order to set a new record with 14 hits in his last three games. He’s 14-for-18 in that span.

1996 Cal Ripken plays in his 2,216th consecutive game, breaking the record by Japanese iron man Sachio Kinugasa.

1996 Jeff Bagwell nails four doubles in one game. It’s the only time he has more than two in one contest.

1996 Darin Erstad makes his big league debut.

2000 Randy Johnson wins his 28th game as a Diamondback, passing Andy Benes as all-time franchise leader. He still is that franchise’s all-time win leader.

2000 Kenny Rogers allows his first grand slam in over seven years. Albert Belle hits it.

2001 Wally Joyner appears in his final game.

2002 Curt Schilling allows the only inside the park home run of his career. Wendell Magee of the Tigers hits it.

2004 Jim Thome crunches his 400th career home run.

2005 Ichiro Suzuki gets his 1,000th hit in the North American major leagues. It took him just 696 games. He, Chuck Klein, and Lloyd Waner are the only guys since 1900 to reach this level in under 700 games.

2006 Steve Finley crushes his 300th career home run.

2006 Matt Clement plays in his last game.

2007 Seattle releases former super-prospect Sean Burroughs.

2009 Hal Woodeshick, All-Star for the 1963 Astros, dies at age 76.

2010 A 5.9 earthquake interrupts a Toronto-San Diego game at Petco Park in the eighth inning. There’s no damage, so the game resumes.

2010 For the first time since 1942, a game features two players with over 5,000 at bats and batting averages over .330 when Ichiro Suzuki and Albert Pujols play against each other in a Mariners-Cardinals game. It last happened when Joe Medwick and Paul Waner appeared in a game against each other.

2010 Jeff Suppan is signed as a free agent by the Cardinals.

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Steve Alspach
9 years ago

“Cleveland pitcher Gus Bell brought his A-game,…”

Gus Bell?  Um, don’t you mean Gary Bell?

9 years ago

What was Kirkland’s WPA that game?

9 years ago

How long was Cincinnati’s winning streak in 1870?

Chris Jaffe
9 years ago

Jim—his WPA was 0.454.  His good things had a WPA of +0.918 and his negative moments were -0.464.  That’s a wild ride of a game for one guy.

Jerry – I should’ve mentioned that.  Based on records available, it was a 24 game winning streak.

Chris Jaffe
9 years ago

Steve – yeah, that would make more sense.  Dammit.  I always get those two names confused.

Sam Yulish
8 years ago

My best friend and I went to the Willie Kirkland game. There were less than 1000 fans left when the game was over. The gnats were absolutely horrible. The poor batters were swatting them away between pitches. Even though the Indians and the Senators were at the bottom of the standings–well, it was just like winning the world series when Kirkland hit the game ending homer. My friend and I, devout Cleveland fans, also sat in below 0 wind chill factor to witness the 2-touchdown underdog Cleveland Browns SHUT OUT Johnny Unitas and the Colts to win the NFL Championship IN 1964. My friend still has a piece of the goal post. WHAT A THRILL!!!