A Fierce Competitor

     We are experiencing in this major league baseball season of 2010 a return to dominance of the pitcher after 20 years of offense driven baseball.  Magnificent pitching performances have been the norm, with several no -hitters including a perfect game as well as a perfect game taken away on an umpire error returning the game to some semblance of balance between offense and defense.  As good as the pitching has been, it pales to the amazing 1968 season of one Bob Gibson of the St Louis Cardinals, who took the unique and isolated battle between batter and pitcher personally and considered an opponent scoring on him  an insult.

     For an entire season, Gibson was a hitter’s worst nightmare. In a season unlikely to be repeated, he went 22-9, pitched 13 complete game shutouts, had an Earned Run Average of 1.12 for the season, had one stretch of 47 straight innings without a run given up, pitched over 300 innings, and held opponent batters to a batting average of .184.  Of his nine losses, 5 were 1-0 losses with his team anemically scoring few runs behind him.  The dominance was so complete, that Major League Baseball determined as a consequence to lower the pitching mound six inches and take away pitcher’s leverage, thereby in my mind leading to a generation of pitchers with distorted mechanics and blown elbows, taking away the concept of the complete game, as pitch count and inning specialists became more important than mastery of the pitching art.

     Gibson continued his mastery in the World Series that year, one of the best ever played, by striking out 17 Detroit Tigers in the first game of the series, a record that stands today. He was ferocious, unyielding, intimidating,  in a dominant performance that ended in a ninth inning flourish we are lucky to have caught on tape. The video is of additional interest in  that the announcers included a young Harry Carey energetically announcing the game with Kurt Gowdy, and a look at the crowd shows almost all the men in shirts and ties on a sunny hot day in St Louis.   The fans understood they were part of a very special tradition and dressed the part.

     A complete game masterpiece with record setting strikeouts produced by maybe the best big game clutch pitcher ever, on a team with four Hall of Famers including the manager would be enough to intimidate any team. And the Tigers? They left the first game  unbowed and won one of the best played series ever, 4 games to 3.

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