Friday, May 20, 2011
Vintage Fridays: Jerry Walker, 1961 Topps #85
If you're as foolhardy as I am, you may have stayed up and fretted through all 15 innings of the Orioles' wrenching loss to the rassumfrassum Yankees on Wednesday night (and on into Thursday morning). Even though rookie Zach Britton gave the O's seven solid innings, the bullpen was still tapped out and then some. All seven Baltimore relievers were used, and Buck Showalter even had to burn Thursday's starter Jeremy Guthrie. You can thank the putrid Mike Gonzalez and trigger-happy home plate umpire Dan Bellino, who ejected Gonzo for a presumably accidental beaning of Chris Dickerson. But if Buck had been managing the Birds 50 years ago, he might not have put himself through all of that trouble. Paul Richards certainly didn't.
The date was September 11, 1959, and the Orioles and White Sox met at Memorial Stadium for a Friday doubleheader. The O's took the opener 3-0, with Fat Jack Fisher tossing a complete game three-hitter in a tidy hour and 53 minutes to spare the bullpen. Billy Pierce also went the distance in a losing cause for Chicago, but Jerry Walker almost equaled the combined efforts of those two starters in the nightcap. The bats remained missing in action, with the Pale Hose managing five singles off of the 20-year-old Walker through nine scoreless innings. The home team was no better, scraping out two singles and a Bob Boyd double off of 23-year-old Sox starter Barry Latman through nine.
According to Walker, manager Paul Richards came to him in the eighth or ninth inning and asked how he felt. The righthander insisted that he felt good, and the skipper let him know that he was keeping him in the game. It looked like it might be over in the tenth when Billy Gardner hit a one-out single for the Birds. Walker followed with another single (his second of the night) to chase Latman, but Chicago reliever Gerry Staley struck out pinch hitter Bob Nieman and retired Al Pilarcik on a comebacker. If the O's pitcher was frustrated, he didn't let it show. Instead, he seemed to get stronger. From the ninth inning through the fourteenth, he retired 17 White Sox batters in a row. Earl Torgeson snapped the streak by drawing a two-out walk, but Gus Triandos promptly gunned him out at second base on an attempted steal.
With Richards checking on Walker every inning, the youngster kept convincing his manager that he was ship-shape. Improbably, he tossed a perfect fifteenth, and got two more outs in the sixteenth before yielding a Luis Aparicio single. Again, the inning ended on a caught stealing. This time, Richards drew the line in the sand, telling his pitcher that he was done. Fortunately, the White Sox flinched first. In the bottom of the sixteenth Staley (himself working on his seventh inning of relief) allowed a leadoff single to Pilarcik. Barry Shetrone bunted the runner to second, and Gene Woodling was intentionally walked to get to Bob Boyd, who grounded into a force play at second base. With two outs and runners on the corners, none other than Brooks Robinson brought an end to the stalemate with a game-winning single. Baltimore won 1-0 in 16 innings, with Jerry Walker getting one of the hardest-earned complete game shutouts you could imagine. His final line: 6 hits, 3 walks, 4 strikeouts, 0 runs in 16 innings pitched. That's a lot of balls in play!
Walker lowered his earned run average from 2.94 to 2.66 in earning the 11th win of his first full big league season. Unsurprisingly, he was hit hard in his final two starts of the year, yielding 9 runs in 13 innings to finish 11-10 with a 2.92 ERA. The former "bonus baby" had already peaked as a major leaguer, and injuries and ineffectiveness ended his career within five years. He retired with a 37-44 record and a 4.36 ERA, and tossed only one more shutout the rest of the way. Somewhat incredibly, Jerry still doesn't blame his shortened career on that 16-inning marathon, rationalizing that the few baserunners he allowed made it a relatively low-impact game. He estimates that he threw 170 pitches that day, or 11 per inning. That seems a little low, but he was there and I wasn't. Walker allows that he was "extremely sore" the following day (I should think so!), but maintains that the O's generally monitored his workload appropriately and that he didn't truly injure himself until the 1961 season, his first with the Kansas City Athletics.
Either way, it makes my arm hurt just thinking about it.