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May 28, 2014

Dodgers pitchers were great but no Haddix

Memorial Day was a memorable day for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The night after Josh Beckett pitched a no-hitter in L.A.’s 6-0 victory against Philadelphia, Hyun-Jin Ryu took a perfect game into the eighth inning against the Cincinnati Reds.

Fans knew what was happening, but any dreams of their team recording back to back no-hitters – something that has never happened -- vanished when Cincinnati’s Todd Frazier doubled  to left field.

Dodger pitchers combined to retire 56 batters without a hit. That’s remarkable by any assessment, though it falls short of the effort by Pittsburgh’s Harvey Haddix on May 26, 1959 – 55 years ago.

In what has been described as perhaps the greatest game ever pitched, Haddix took a perfect game into the 13th inning. But a throwing  error by third baseman Don Hoak gave the Milwaukee Braves their first runner, which was followed by an intentional walk to Hank Aaron. Finally, a blast off Joe Adcock’s bat ended it. Oddly, the homer was later ruled a ground-rule double because of a base running blunder.

A run scored, however,  and the game was over. Suddenly Haddix - a 5-foot-9, 160-pound left-hander - was charged with the loss and left wondering what happened.

“My main aim was to win,” Haddix is quoted as saying in an account of the game in Baseball Almanac. “I was more tired than nervous. All I know is that we lost. What is so historic about that? Did anyone else ever lose a 13-inning shutout?”

One thing's for certain: No one ever lost one that way.

It was a strange game in many ways. The Pirates had plenty of opportunities but couldn’t score. They banged out 12 hits in the game, led by shortstop Dick Schofield, who had three.

Braves pitcher Lew Burdette kept finding a way to quell the Pirates every time it looked like Pittsburgh might break a scoreless tie.

After the game, Burdette said he felt sorry for Haddix. “I called Harvey that night in the visiting dugout. I told him that I got what I wanted, a win, but I’d really give it up because, ‘You just pitched the greatest game that’s ever been pitched in the history of baseball. It’s a damn shame you had to lose.’”

Haddix had been phenomenal, striking out eight and issuing no walks until the intentional one in the 13th. That came against a Braves lineup that included, besides Adcock and Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Wes Covington and Del Crandall. That night the Braves were 1 for 38 at the plate.

Burdette also was strong, walking none and striking out two.

Recalling that game serves as a reminder of how much baseball has changed. The marathon battle lasted only 2 hours, 54 minutes. That’s about the time it takes to play a nine-inning game today.

Even more striking was that both pitchers went the distance; no relievers were pressed into action. Today managers and pitching coaches count each pitch and limit their starters to about 100 throws, if all goes well.

Besides the crushing loss for Haddix, the game ended on a bizarre note. After Felix Mantilla reached base on Hoak’s throwing error and Aaron was walked, Adcock launched a drive that traveled 392 feet into the bleachers for an apparent home run. Not realizing the ball had left the park but knowing a run had scored, Adcock circled second and headed back to the dugout. He was called out by the umpires for passing a runner and was credited with a double.

The umpires said the final score was 2-0. The next day National League president Warren Giles said Aaron should have been returned to third, leaving the official and final score 1-0.

Suddenly all was lost – the no-hitter, the perfect game and the game, itself. According to reports, the classic pitching duel wasn’t televised but fans hung on each call over the radio. Haddix’s masterpiece was a hot topic for days, and became part of the game’s special lore.

Haddix pitched in the big leagues a total of 14 years before retiring in 1965. He started 286 games and compiled a 136-113 record. The season after just missing the gem of all gems the Pirates rewarded him with a new contract -- $25,000 per season.

Tom Lindley is a CNHI sports columnist. Reach him at tlindley@cnhi.com.

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