“Great Tom Seaver Moments” are so numerous that they deserve their own Trivial Pursuit set. The Hall of Fame pitcher, who passed away yesterday at the age of 75, ranks 13th all time in Major League wins and 6th all-time in strikeouts. He once struck out 10 batters in a row.
Like most baseball fans, my most treasured moments are the ones I witness live. That makes May 9, 1984 the date of my favorite Seaver moment. On that day at old Comiskey Park on Chicago’s South Side, he accomplished a feat that is far rarer than throwing a no-hitter.
He won two games in one night, one as a reliever and then one as a starter.
The circumstances that led to this accomplishment began innocently the night before. The White Sox game against the Brewers entered the 9th inning tied 1-1, a pitcher’s duel between future Hall of Famer Don Sutton and a White Sox rookie named Bob Fallon. In the top of the 9th, another future Hall of Famer, Robin Yount, seemingly sealed the win for Milwaukee. He doubled, stole third, and scored on a throwing error by Carlton Fisk. The Brewers tacked on an insurance run, and turned a 3-1 lead over the yet another future Hall of Famer, their relief ace Rollie Fingers.
Game over, right?
Well, it’s time for a quick aside. In the spring of 1984 I was sports editor for the Chicago Maroon, the University of Chicago newspaper. The public relations teams at the White Sox and Cubs granted the newspaper two media passes and two free tickets to the majority of home games. To respect that generosity, my guests and I stuck to one simple rule: Never ever leave a game before the final out.
And on May 8th, we were glad we stayed to witness every inning of history!
To make a very long story much shorter, Fingers blew the save, yielding two unearned runs. The game remained tied 3-3 until the umpires suspended action at 1 a.m. after 18 innings.
The next night, the game resumed. The Brewers took another commanding lead in the 21st inning on a 3-run homer. But the Sox wrapped three singles around an error and tied the game yet again. The score stayed at 6-6 until Harold Baines (yet another future Hall of Famer) lined a walk-off homer to lead off the bottom of the 25th. He ended the longest game by time in MLB history: 8 hours and 6 minutes.
Seaver had pitched the top of the 25th inning for Chicago and thus earned the victory. Less than an hour later, he took the mound again for the second game and pitched brilliantly, taking a two-hitter into the 9th inning. But after he gave up a homer to Yount in the 9th, manager Tony LaRussa lifted him, and the bullpen got the final two outs to secure another win for Seaver.
Two wins in one night – in this manner – is a feat that MLB may never witness again. A full-time reliever may do it every few years, but it’s hard to imagine a starter in today’s era doing what Seaver did that night.
One final note
Tom Seaver struck out 3,640 batters in his illustrious career. He was the prototypical power pitcher of the 1970’s. On May 9, 1984, he faced 33 batters in 9 1/3 innings over the two games. Guess how many batters he struck out?
The answer, surprisingly, is none at all.
For a full recap of the game, please see the amazing work at retrosheet.org
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