In 2018, if a pitcher nears 100 pitches in a game, it’s almost certain he’s near the end of his workday. There were some exceptions in 2017. Corey Kluber and Ervin Santana had 5 complete games each. (And 3 shutouts, as well.) Chris Sale had the most innings pitched (214.1).
But it wasn’t always this way. When professional baseball began, if you were scheduled to pitch, it was assumed you would pitch the whole game. It was a gradual evolution to a 5 man rotation with 7+ relievers available.
Take Will White as an example. In 1879, pitching for the Cincinnati Reds, he started and completed 75 games. He “completed” another game. (Who didn’t do their job that day?) Will pitched 680 innings, gave up 676 hits, threw 49 wild pitches, allowed 10 home runs (times have changed), and posted a 1.99 ERA. (The next season Will’s ERA “ballooned” to 2.14 and his W-L record showed it: 18 – 42. He pitched a mere 517.1 innings.)
In between then and now, a game was played on July 2, 1963 that fans remember as one of the last great pitching duels. Braves versus Giants. Warren Spahn versus Juan Marichal. Age versus Youth. Spahn (see above)was 42, a veteran of WWII’s Battle of the Bulge and the Bridge at Remagen. (He may have walked beside my Father on both occasions.) Now, he was on the way to pitching his 13th20 win season. Soon he would complete his 21stand final year, and win more games (363) than any lefty ever. Marichal, (see below)at 25, was having his first 20 win season. He pitched 18 complete games , while Spahn had a league-leadng 22. Both men are in baseball’s Hall of Fame.
On this day, they both pitched a complete game. And after 9 innings, the score was 0 – 0. Neither blinked. Five other Hall of Famers battled: Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda and Willie McCovey for the Giants; Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews for the Braves.
As the game wore on, Willie Mays (see above)told Marichal: “Just keep pitching; I’ll win it with a home run.” The Giants’ manager, Alvin Dark, asked Marichal if he wanted to stop. His pitcher’s response: “He’s 42and I’m 25, and you can’t take me out until that man is not pitching.”
At games end, Spahn had thrown 201 pitches, given up 9 hits, had one walk (intentional), and 2 strikeouts. Marichal threw 227 pitches, allowed 8 hits, walked 4, and struck out 10.
With one out in the bottom of the 16thinning, Mays came to bat. He was 0 for 5, with the intentional walk. On Spahn’s 201thpitch, Mays hit his promised home run. Final score: Giants 1, Braves 0.
After the game, a reporter said: “When Spahn arrived in the clubhouse, everyone stood, applauded, and lined up to shake his hand.”
Marichal, for the next 4 years, challenged Sandy Koufax as the NL’s finest pitcher. Juan’s record: 93 – 35, with 23 Shutouts, and 916 strikeouts. Koufax’s record: 97 – 27, with 31 shutouts, and 1,228 strikeouts…and 3 Cy Young awards.