Did you ever have one of those days when it seemed as if everything went right? It was like some spiritual or universal force was guiding your every move. Would you call that a perfect day? All went well, nobody close to you was sick or dying.
Lew Burdette had two days which were similar to that. One was his and the other one he was watching. My father said Burdette was nicknamed “Fidgety Lew” because he never kept still for a moment. He was on the mound that Tuesday night, May 26, 1959 in old County Stadium when diminutive southpaw Harvey Haddix pitched 12 innings of baseball perfection. Seriously, 36 up and 36 down, no runs, no hits, no walks, no HBP, no errors. The man pitched a perfect game (for 12 innings, not 9), yet he lost 1-0 in the 13th inning.
You may have heard that at some point, but you probably were not told that the winner of the game pitched pretty well himself. Burdette won the game that night by going 13 hard innings for the Milwaukee Braves and staying until the end. His line that night showed 13 IP, 12 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 2 SO.
So, you may ask, what has that to do with Burdette and perfection? He watched his counterpart twirl 12 masterpiece innings and stayed the course for the win. He saw what it was like for someone to flirt with perfection.
Fast forward a year to August 18, 1960. The same venue as the last, Burdette’s home yard, County Stadium. This time it is the Philadelphia Phillies, fresh off a three-game losing streak at the hands of the Pirates at Forbes Field.
“Long” Gene Conley was slated to start against Burdette who was last seen four days earlier throwing a five-hit shutout against the San Francisco Giants.
Conley was also a power forward in the NBA with the Boston Celtics. He was huge in baseball terms.
Burdette had retired the first 13 Phillies he faced and was working in the fifth inning of a scoreless game. With one out and the bases empty, centerfielder Tony Gonzalez came to the plate. The only bad pitch of the game for Burdette, and one that shall live in infamy, hit Gonzalez and he was the first runner for the Phillies. Third-baseman Lee Walls came up next and hit a ball hard to Eddie Mathews. He threw the ball to Joe Adcock at first, who then fired to shortstop Johnny Logan who tagged Gonzalez.
Burdette never allowed another runner. In the home half of the eighth inning with the game still scoreless, Burdette leads off the inning. He hit a hard grounder down the left field line and raced to second with a leadoff double. Center-fielder Billy Bruton came up next and rifled a grounder down the right field line for a standup double which scored Burdette, and consequently the only run of the game.
In the top of the ninth Burdette had retired both Jimmy Coker and Ken Walters leaving only Gene Conley standing between Burdette and a no-hitter. Manager Gene Mauch pinch hits for Conley, sending Bobby Smith to bat for him. Smith hits an easy fly to right-fielder Hank Aaron who easily makes the catch to preserve the win, complete game shutout, no-hitter and nearly a perfect game for Burdette.
What a night! Not only did he pitch a masterpiece, he scored the only run of the game, and was 2 for 3 at the plate.
The box score will show that Burdette faced the minimum of 27 batters. The AB however, will reflect only 26 since Gonzalez HBP didn’t result in at AB and he was wiped clean with a twin killing.
I wonder how much thought he put into the game in ’59 when he was watching Haddix fiddle with baseball immortality.