The Milwaukee Brewers came into the 1974 season collectively feeling a bit better about their fortunes. Coming off a much improved 74-88 record, the team was given 12-1 odds on winning the World Series by Reno oddsmakers. Even though it was a huge jump from the 100-1 odds in 1973, the team still had work to do, particularly with an uncertain bullpen.
Milwaukee opened the season in Boston and lost the first game 9-8. A young kid named Robin Yount made an error in his first fielding chance at shortstop that led to five Red Sox runs – and the play involved his future teammate Cecil Cooper. Both Cooper and Brewers manager Del Crandall said it wasn’t Yount’s fault.
Crandall said, “Sometimes we get the opinion that Luis Aparicio or somebody never threw a ball away. But he (Yount) is going to learn from that play.”
Yount had an errorless Saturday and the Brewers posted their first win, 5-4. Sunday was rained out and the Brewers traveled to Cleveland for the Indians home opener. Unfortunately, several inches of snow fell on Monday, and officials postponed the game until Wednesday. Milwaukee won both games of the shortened series, then returned home for three games with Baltimore.
After winning two of three games from the O’s, the Brewers welcomed in the Indians for a quick two game mid-week set. Former 20 game winners Jim Colborn and Jim Perry faced off in the first game. Perry and the Indians grabbed a 3-2 win. Just 7,295 were on hand to see the first game of the Perry brothers pitching tag team. Jim had been traded to the Indians as part of a three-team deal just prior to the season. Expectations ran high for the brothers and Cleveland fans.
Jim Perry said, I hope the brother combination can do a good job and get fans back to the park the way they used to come.”
While he meant Cleveland fans, Brewers fans didn’t notice when 35 year-old Gaylord took the hill on Wednesday night, April 17. Despite daytime temperatures in the 50’s, the nights were still chilly at County Stadium. The 6:00 p.m. game brought in 8,733 fans to see Perry pitch against Jim Slaton.
Both pitchers started with quick 1-2-3 first innings. Slaton allowed two baserunners in the second, but came back to retire Buddy Bell and Dave Duncan to get out of the jam. Slaton only allowed one baserunner until the sixth inning. But as good as Slaton pitched, Perry pitched just a bit better. He finally allowed a baserunner in the fifth when DH Bobby Mitchell walked, then stole second base.
Slaton hit the showers after giving up two runs on three hits and a walk in the sixth inning. Jerry Bell replaced Slaton and recorded the final two outs of the inning. With Perry cruising, the Brewers couldn’t afford to dig too deep of a hole. Bob Coluccio singled for the first Brewers hit off Perry with two outs in the bottom of the sixth. Robin Yount reached base earlier in the inning on an error, but he and Coluccio were stranded when Dave May grounded out to second base.
The Indians tacked on two runs off Bell in their next at bat and led 4-0. Perry quietly retired the Brewers 1-2-3 in the bottom of the seventh, right through the heart of the lineup. Sluggers George Scott and John Briggs were headed toward hitless nights in six and five at bats respectively. Someone else needed to step up and tag Perry. But who?
The answer came in the bottom of the eighth when second baseman Pedro Garcia led off with a triple, then scored on a Darrell Porter single to right field. Don Money singled Porter to second with one out, then Coluccio hit into a fielder’s choice with Money retired. May followed with a single to cut the Indians lead to 4-2. But Scott grounded out, leaving the Brewers with one last chance against Perry in the bottom of the ninth.
Eduardo Rodriguez came in to pitch for Milwaukee in the top of the ninth. Turned out that he’d spend more innings on the hill than starter Jim Slaton. By the time his night was over, Rodriguez would throw six innings, allowing just two hits and a walk while striking out two hitters.
Perry struck out Briggs leading off the bottom half of the ninth. He then walked Mitchell, and Garcia followed with his third homer of the season. Undaunted, Perry came back with a pair of strikeouts to send the game into extra innings.
After the game Perry said, “The biggest mistake I made was walking that guy (Mitchell) in the ninth. Then I gave Garcia a breaking pitch, not exactly where I wanted it.”
Perry went back to matching his opposing pitcher. While Rodriguez was throwing up zeros, so was Perry. He allowed just two hitters from the tenth through the 15th inning. Mitchell reached on a fielder’s choice in the eleventh inning, but was erased when he tried to steal second base. Porter led off the 12th inning with a single and pinch runner Bob Sheldon replaced him, but Don Money hit into a double play to end the inning.
Perry recorded nine of his 14 strikeouts from the ninth until the 15th inning, and by most accounts still had plenty of gas in the tank to keep going. Coluccio said “I’m sure he could have gone another five.” But manager Ken Aspromonte decided to remove Perry heading into the bottom of the 16th inning. Tom Murphy had pitched two innings of no-hit ball for the Brewers and was in line for the victory if only his team could score a run.
Former Brewers closer Ken Sanders relieved Perry, but only faced Coluccio. He threw four straight fast balls, then lost a slider over the heart of the plate that Coluccio crushed into the left field bleachers for a 5-4 Brewers victory.
In the end, Perry had lost a no-hitter and 4-0 lead, plus his team dropped the game. But his opposition respected his gritty effort. Brewers hitter said that they didn’t see any illegal spitballs that others claimed Perry used. Mitchell said, “With that forkball he had, he didn’t need any spitball.”
Perry refused to throw his manager under the bus over being removed from a game he wanted to stay in. He said it was the manager’s decision and that “when you work a lot of innings early in the year, maybe something can happen (physically).”
But it wasn’t the first time Perry pitched that far into a game. After 1960, there have been only three times that a pitcher went 16 innings: Tom Cheney in 1962, Juan Marichal in 1963, and Perry in 1967 when he was with the San Francisco Giants. Perry won that marathon 1-0 with his complete game effort.
The MLB record for most innings pitched in a single game is 26, and incredibly both The Dodgers’ Leon Cadore and the Braves’ Joe Oeschger did it in a game on May 1, 1920.
I think it’s pretty safe to say that we’ll never again see a pitcher turn in 15 innings like Gaylord Perry did on April 17, 1974.
*Note: In researching this post, I could not find any mention of how many pitches Perry threw that night.