Saturday, March 12, 2011

The bizarre double shutout of August 11, 1942

I can't help it. I like the game score as a stat. After my two previous posts involving game scores, I played around some more.

I got to wondering, has anyone ever broken a 90 game score while not striking out anyone? If you remember, a complete perfect game with no strikeouts has a game score value of 87. So to get a 90 with no strikeouts, you have to go past nine innings, more for every baserunner you allow.

Turns out two pitchers have done it since 1920. Jack Scott of the New York Giants was the first, defeating Wilbur Cooper of the Pirates in a 12 inning game on August 19, 1923. Scott allowed three hits, a walk and a run, just making the cut with a 91 game score.

The other instance is far more fascinating. On August 11, 1942, Al Milnar of the Cleveland Indians and Tommy Bridges of the Detroit Tigers locked up in a pitchers duel. Milnar was, by far, the superior pitcher on the day. He entered the bottom of the ninth with a no-hitter going. Bridges, however, had also kept the Indians at bay, allowing a number of baserunners but not permitting any of them to score.

Milnar got the first two batters in the ninth but Doc Cramer singled to break up Milnar's no-hitter. The Indians were not able to table any runs in their half of the frame so the game went into extra innings.

Ten innings, eleven innings, twelve innings, thirteen innings. Neither team could score any runs. The game moved into the fourteenth inning with both Bridges and Milnar still on the mound. Once again, neither team scored. At this point, Milnar had allowed only one other hit. Even more impressive, he had more total bases than the Tigers, having hit a single and double himself.

At the end of the fourteenth inning, the game was called. I could understand that. That's a long game. It might have become dark, it might have begun raining, Bud Selig might have been in the stands and thought it was an All-Star game. Games get called. No problem.

So I'm looking at the Baseball-reference box score and I see at the top "First game of doubleheader". WAIT, WHAT?!?!?! You have two pitchers engaged in a matchup for the ages, a total of 28 innings of shutout baseball pitched by these two guys and you're going to stop the game because you have another game to play? What gives?

Turns out the game was called on account of darkness. There was an American League rule at the time that stated that a game started when the lights were off could not continue with the lights on. Night games were still rather new and three American League teams - the Yankees, the Red Sox and the Tigers - had not yet installed lights in their stadiums. The Milnar-Bridges duel was called, the lights were turned on, and the second game of the doubleheader began.

Throwing fourteen innings of shutout ball while allowing just two hits and four walks gives Milnar a game score of 104.

Somehow, through it all, Milnar never got any Tiger out on strikes. 42 outs, all made by guys in the field. The poor catcher, Gene Desautels, spent fourteen innings in a crouch and got credit for zero fielding chances. If, as Crash Davis said in the movie Bull Durham, strikeouts are fascist, Al Milnar is a bastion of democracy.

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