The Milwaukee Braves were still in the hunt for a third straight National League pennant entering an Aug. 25, 1959 night game at St. Louis. San Francisco was in first place with a slim lead over second-place Los Angeles and third-place Milwaukee.
The Cardinals, destined for a seventh-place finish in the eight-team league, decided to start a young right-handed rookie pitcher named Bob Gibson. His opponent for the Braves would be legendary left-hander Warren Spahn. Gibson, an Omaha, Nebraska native and star athlete at Creighton University, had a record of 1-2.
Gibson ran into trouble in the Braves’ half of the first inning as Bobby Avila and Eddie Matthews singled and Joe Adcock drew a one-out walk to load the bases. But Gibson ended the inning after Braves’ catcher Frank Torre grounded into a double play.
Gibson got into a jam in the fifth as Spahn and Avila singled to put runners on first and third with one out. But Matthews lined out to the shortstop and Henry Aaron ended the inning by grounding into a force play.
The game remained scoreless until the bottom of the seventh when the Cardinals’ Bill White cracked a one-out double to left field off Spahn. After Spahn struck out Gino Cimoli, Curt Flood put St. Louis on the scoreboard with a double to score White.
The Braves and Cardinals went down in order in the eighth inning, giving Gibson the opportunity to win the game if he could keep Milwaukee off the scoreboard in the ninth.
He wasn’t successful, however, as pinch-hitter Mickey Vernon led off with a walk and was lifted for pinch-runner Felix Mantilla. Johnny Logan sacrificed Mantilla to second to put the tying run in scoring position.
Braves manager Bobby Bragan sent Ray Boone to the plate to pinch hit for Spahn, who left the game after surrendering just four hits and one earned run in eight innings.
Boone dumped a single to center field as Mantilla raced to the plate to score the tying run. Gibson walked Avila to put Milwaukee runners on first and second with Braves’ power hitter Matthews coming up. But Avila was thrown out trying to steal second and game remained tied 1-1.
Braves reliever Don McMahon got roughed up by the Cardinals’ bats in the bottom of the ninth as Ken Boyer blasted a one-out triple to put the winning run 90 feet away. White and Cimoli were intentionally walked to load the bases and set up a force play on any base. McMahon settled down and struck out St. Louis pinch hitter George Crowe and Stan Musial, batting for catcher Hal Smith, ended the threat with an unassisted ground out to first.
Gibson returned to the mound in the top of the 10th inning, hoping to keep the Braves at bay.
But Mathews led off with a double and one out later, Adcock drove in the tie-breaking run with a single to left field. St. Louis manager Solly Hemus then lifted Gibson, who left the game after seven strikeouts and five walks, and two earned runs allowed on 10 hits in 9.1 innings.
The Braves added another run off reliever Lindy McDaniel on an RBI single by Mantilla to give Milwaukee a 3-1 lead entering the Cardinals’ half of the 10th. McMahon fought back a St. Louis rally to give the Braves the victory.
Milwaukee would go on to tie Los Angeles for first place in the National League pennant race but lose in a best-of-three playoff to the Dodgers. Los Angeles would win the World Series over the Chicago White Sox in six games.
Future Hall of Famer
As for Gibson, his days of glory were still ahead of him. In 16 seasons with St. Louis, he had a record of 251-174 with 3,117 strikeouts. He was 19-12 in 1964 when the Cardinals won the National League pennant and then the World Series in seven games over the New York Yankees.
In 1967, Gibson was 13-7 as St. Louis returned to the World Series and beat Boston in seven games.
His best season would be in 1968 when he captured both the Cy Young Award and the Most Valuable Player award after posting a 22-9 record with an earned run average of 1.12. He led the league with 268 strikeouts and 13 shutouts as St. Louis took its third pennant in five years, but fell to Detroit in seven games. Gibson won his second Cy Young Award in 1970 after a record of 23-7.
He remained with St. Louis until 1975 when he announced his retirement at age 39. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1981.
Gibson passed away Oct. 2 after a battle with pancreatic cancer at age 84, but his accomplishments as one of baseball’s best pitchers will always be remembered.