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April 6, 2007

Prospectus Matchups

Good Fridays of Yore

by Jim Baker

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A couple of Good Fridays ago, I did a column on memorable games played on this day. It covered the period starting in 1971 to the present. This Good Friday, I thought a follow-up was in order, covering the period prior to '71 this time out.

Before we get into the time device though, I'd like to discuss a game that I failed to mention last time out, and was reminded of by several readers. It was the contest of Good Friday 1998 between the Mariners and the Red Sox; Seattle scored two runs in each of the eighth and ninth innings to make the score 7-2. To that point, starter Randy Johnson had given up just two hits and struck out 15 Red Sox batters. Having thrown a lot of pitches and preserved a comfortable lead, he was replaced to start the ninth by Heathcliff Slocumb. Things immediately went awry. Troy O'Leary singled, Mark Lemke walked, and Darren Bragg hit a run-scoring double. Slocumb was yanked in favor of Tony Fossas, who walked pinch-hitter Scott Hatteberg to load the bases. Future Red Sox Mike Timlin replaced Fossas and gave up two runs on a single and a hit batter. That brought in the fourth pitcher of the inning, Paul Spoljaric, who immediately put an end to the contest by serving up a grand slam home run to Mo Vaughn to make the final score 9-7, and Johnson's exceptional outing into 'no-decision' limbo.

Now, onto the older stuff:

April 12, 1968

The '68 Reds could hit, really hit. In a league where the average team scored 543 runs, they plated 690. Unfortunately for their pennant hopes, they also surrendered a lot of runs as well. Much of this can be attributed to their ballpark--Crosley Field was the most volatile hitting environment in a very calm year for batsmen, as 777 runs were scored there in 1968, even more than in Wrigley Field. On the road, Reds games were more typical Year of the Pitcher affairs. On Good Friday, they traveled to Atlanta and lost to Phil Niekro, who also hit a solo home run to help himself. The first four Reds in the lineup, Pete Rose, Alex Johnson, Vada Pinson, and Tony Perez each had two hits, but they only managed to score three runs. For the Braves, Bob Tillman hit a two-run homer and Sonny Jackson added a solo shot--just one of the seven he hit in over 3,500 career plate appearances.

In the only other game played that day, the Phillies managed to turn 11 hits and four walks into just two runs, as they lost to the Astros in Houston 5-2. They left two men on base in the first three innings and the bases loaded in the eighth. They also hit into two double plays, and had a runner thrown out going from first to third on a single. Denny Lemaster got the win with the unlikely line of 7.2 11 2 2 4 4.

April 12, 1963

A greatly reduced schedule was also in place in 1963, as only two games were played. The Dodgers, who would go on to sweep the Yankees in the World Series that year, were in Houston to face the Colt .45s. Their starter was Robert L. Miller, making his first post-'62 Mets start. He and .45s starter Turk Farrell traded goose eggs, with Miller wiggling out of a bases-loaded jam in the fifth. Miller was pulled in favor of Ron Perranowski when he ran into trouble in the eighth; Perranowski got Bob Aspromonte to ground out to squelch the rally. The double shutout ended in the next half-inning when Frank Howard singled home Lee Walls, but Houston tied it in their half of the ninth when pinch-hitter Carl Warwick singled home Howie Goss. Goss would have four hits in the game, including the game-winner in the 12th; he was a 28-year-old sophomore that year, which would prove to be his last in the bigs, as he hit .209/.264/.328 in 448 plate appearances. The contrast between Miller's line and Farrell's is amusing--Miller walked four Colt .45s without striking out any of them, while Farrell went all 12 innings and whiffed 11, giving up just two walks and four hits.

Meanwhile, before 6,462 enthusiasts in Kansas City, Lenny Green led off the game for Minnesota against Ed Rakow with a double, but Rakow would surrender just one more hit the rest of the way. Norm Siebern touched Twins starter Jack Kralick for a three-run homer with one out in the first, and the Athletics cruised to a 6-0 win.

April 20, 1962

There were just seven Good Friday games played in all of the 1960s, and none in the 1950s. In most years, the day fell before the start of the season, but in years like 1954, 1957, and 1965, the schedule was simply left blank. Baseball would never leave a Friday open in these modern times. Not only is it a prime attendance night, but the demands of scheduling 162 individual games makes off days rare. The presence of doubleheaders in the schedule back then also created some flexibility not present now. A dozen scheduled twin bills was not rare for this time period.

Who was the greatest Good Friday hitter ever? Certainly one of the candidates has to be Norm Siebern. As he was to do a year later, he hit a three-run homer on Good Friday 1962. In this case it put the visiting Athletics up 5-0 over the White Sox; he had also driven in their second run with a sacrifice fly. The first A's run came on a homer by starting pitcher Jerry Walker. He smacked some his fellow hurlers around that year, compiling a line of .263/.259/.456 after hitting .368 two years before. (You've got to love an OBP that's lower than the player's batting average.)

The Senators hosted the Orioles before 5,729 fans at D.C. Stadium. The Orioles prevailed 5-4 as Jim Gentile had three hits, while Hoyt Wilhelm got the save. Chuck Hinton hit a two-run homer for the Senators, and Marv Throneberry made a pinch-hit appearance for the Orioles. Little did he know then that he was just weeks away from the trade that would send him to the Mets, and infamy. Retrosheet reports an odd play in the seventh, in which Sens center fielder Jimmy Piersall sprained his ankle falling into a hole in the outfield. Ballparks are certainly much safer places than they used to be. Descriptions of Mickey Mantle getting his cleats caught in a water drain while making a play in the outfield still make me wince and grab for my knee.

On the West Coast, the Twins and Angels hooked up at Dodger Stadium and raced out to a 7-5 score after only three innings. They slacked off from that point, with each team adding only two runs the rest of the way, as the Twins prevailed 9-7. Angels starter Eli Grba didn't make it out of the second; his parting shot was a three-run homer by Harmon Killebrew. Meanwhile, the Twins' Jack Kralick-- making the first of two consecutive Good Friday starts--wasn't doing much better. He lasted just two batters into the third, surrendering seven hits and four runs. The Angels tied the game in the seventh on a two-run single by Buck Rodgers (the same Buck Rodgers who would go on to manage the team three decades later). The Twins went ahead in the 10th when Bob Allison doubled off of reliever Art Fowler to bring home Rich Rollins. Fowler later became Billy Martin's pitching coach, bestest buddy, and professional enabler.

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