My last At-Bat

Like most pitchers, I wasn’t much of a hitter. My career average was .159 – 82 hits, including 15 doubles, a triple, and two “historic” home runs (off Clyde Wright and Mike Cuellar).  I actually hit well my rookie season, 1966: .224, which was four points higher than a right fielder named Lou Clinton, a very nice man who was nearing the end of his career.  Of course my hitting career came to an end in 1973 when the AL adopted the Designated Hitter rule.  I was fine with that; it made it a little tougher when #9 in the order was no longer a pitcher, but fans liked the idea of some veteran hitters staying on a bit longer and so did I.   My last major league at-bat came on October 1, 1972, the first game of a Sunday double header against the Cleveland Indians at Yankee Stadium – my last start of the season because there was no post-season in the “Horace Clarke Era.”  It was one of the most memorable games of my career – an 11-inning complete game!  How many times has that happened?

Gaylord Perry was pitching for the Indians, and he was enjoying the best seasons of his career: 24-16, with a 1.92 ERA, 234 strikeouts, and winning the Cy Young Award.   He also pitched a complete game – his 29th of the season.  So I repeat my question: when was the last time two pitchers threw an 11-inning complete game in the same game?

This was not an inconsequential game.  The Yankees began the day tied for 3rd in the AL East with the Orioles, while the Red Sox and Tigers were in a down-to-the-wire battle for first.  We were five games out of first place, with five games remaining.  We were eliminated from winning the division since Boston and Detroit had three games left against each other.  But there was a scenario that could have had us in 2nd – not 4th, where we wound up – and that was worth trying for.

The Yankees scored in the fourth when Roy White scored on Bernie Allen’s ground rule double, and the Indians tied it in the fifth when Ray Fosse hit a leadoff Home Run against me.  The game remained 1-1 until the top of the eleventh.  Buddy Bell led off with a double to left, and moved to third on Jack Brohamer’s grounder to Ron Bloomberg at first.  Chris Chambliss hit a sacrifice fly to Bobby Murcer in center; Bell scored, and we were down 2-1.   I was supposed to lead off the bottom of the eleventh, but naturally Ralph Houk pinch hit for me.  Frank Tepedino struck out looking.  Then Horace Clarke filed out and Thurman Munson grounded out.  We lost 2-1.

I don’t presume to know anything about baseball compared to Houk, who was one of the smartest baseball strategists I ever knew.  But 43 years later, maybe it’s ok to wonder what he was thinking when he sent Tepedino, who was 0-8 as a September call up, to leadoff in the bottom of the eleventh, one run down. There were only two left-handed hitter on the bench: Tepedino and Johnny Callison, who was a .216 lifetime hitter against Perry but was hitting .280 vs. righties that season.  Would it have been better to take his chances with Johnny Ellis, a right-handed hitter with a .294 average and a .270 average against right-handed pitchers that season?  Or an experienced hitter, like Ron Swoboda?  We will never know.

Anyway, there was a point to this post, and finally I’m getting to it.  With the DH starting in 1973 – call it the Ron Bloomberg Lifetime of Fame Rule – this was the last time I would ever bat in a major league game.  I popped up to shortstop Frank Duffy in the fourth, and struck out in the fifth — I was one of Perry’s eleven strikeouts that game.  My final career At-Bat came in the eighth, with a ground out to second.  As I said earlier, Teppie pinch hit for me in the eleventh and struck out.  I think I could have done at least as well.

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