• Sal Maiorana

We will never see another game like the Spahn-Marichal 16-inning marathon

SAN FRANCISCO (July 2, 1963) – It couldn’t have happened in this day and age of pitch counts, set-up men, and closers fattening up their save totals and wallets by protecting a three-run lead in the ninth inning.

If any manager today pulled what Alvin Dark of the San Francisco Giants and Bobby Bragan of the Milwaukee Braves did on a chilly 1963 midsummer evening at Candlestick Park, they would probably be committed to an institution, or at the very least, be named in a grievance by the players’ union.

Juan Marichal of the Giants and Buffalo’s own Warren Spahn of the Braves each threw complete games which would be enough to stop the presses these days. However, this game went 16 innings and nary a reliever even stirred in the bullpens. Marichal endured the full 16 and the 42-year-old Spahn lasted a medically miraculous 15 1/3 before he gave up Willie Mays’ solo home run in the bottom of the 16th that ended the epic, never-to-be-matched pitching duel.

“I was a little tired, but my arm wasn’t stiff or sore,” said Spahn, the South Park High grad who faced 55 batters, walked only one (intentional), allowed nine hits, struck out two, and served up 201 pitches. “I wasn’t throwing as hard at the end, but I still felt strong. You know, once you get past the ninth inning, it’s sudden death. You’re not looking forward at all, just taking each hitter as he comes and thinking only about the present.”

Marichal, 17 years Spahn’s junior, also faced 55 batters, walked four, struck out 10, gave up eight hits, and delivered a mind-boggling 227 pitches.

“In extra innings you go out and say you’re gonna pitch one more inning, so you throw as hard as you can,” said Marichal, who was five years old when Spahn began his major league career in 1942 with the Boston Braves. “I said that three or four times and kept throwing hard. I didn’t get very tired.”

Dark could only marvel at his young pitcher. “Marichal never at any time appeared to be laboring,” Dark said. “He didn’t throw many breaking pitches, thus tiring his arm out. He just kept slipping across the fastball with a loose, fluid motion. He got stronger.”

He also got a strong dose of inspiration from his opponent.

Dark said he considered taking Marichal out in the ninth, but the pitcher didn’t want to exit, saying that if the old man on the other side could keep going, so could he.

During the first eight innings, Spahn pitched a better game. In the second inning, Orlando Cepeda singled, stole second and eventually reached third before being stranded. And in the seventh San Francisco put runners on first and second, but Spahn again wriggled out of danger.

Spahn was always a master of averting disaster, and he did it with that seemingly bionic left arm as well as a cerebrally superior approach to pitching.

“Spahn is the greatest pitcher I have ever seen, bar none,” said one-time Braves pitching coach Whit Wyatt. “I have seen others who had more stuff, but none had his savvy and his knack of setting up hitters. He knows how to pitch, he pitches to weaknesses.”

In the fourth, Marichal got into a jam when, with two outs, Norm Larker walked and Mack Jones singled. Del Crandall then followed with a single up the middle that sent Larker scurrying home, but he never made it as Mays’ throw gunned him down at the plate.

In the top of the seventh Crandall opened with a single but was thrown out stealing. With two outs Spahn came up and ripped a double that almost cleared the fence in right for a home run. It would have scored Crandall, even from first, but instead the Braves came away with nothing when Marichal retired Lee Maye.

Over the final nine innings Marichal allowed only two hits, four baserunners – none of which advanced past second base – and during one stretch the powerful right-hander retired 17 men in a row.

The game appeared to end in dramatic fashion in the bottom of the ninth when Willie McCovey sent a Spahn pitch soaring over the right field foul pole. To most observers the ball was fair, but umpire Chris Pelekoudas waived it foul, so the game wore on.

“Larry Jansen, who was right on the line, said it was at least four feet fair,” an angry Dark said.

In the 14th the Giants threatened to win it, but Spahn reached into his bag of tricks and again came out unscathed. Harvey Kuenn blooped a double into short center to open the inning, then Spahn walked Mays intentionally, ending a streak of 31 1/3 innings without allowing a free pass.

Spahn set down McCovey and Felipe Alou, but when third baseman Dennis Menke booted Cepeda’s ground ball, the bases were loaded. Bragan stayed in the dugout and let Spahn continue, and he was rewarded when Spahn induced Ed Bailey to line out to center.

In the bottom of the 16th Kuenn led off by flying out, but Mays – a meek 0-for-5 – took a mighty cut at Spahn’s next delivery and sent the ball soaring through the now bitterly chilly night and far over the left field fence for the game-winning homer.

“I creamed it,” Mays said.

“He hit a screwball that hung,” Spahn said. “It didn’t break at all. What makes me mad is that I had just gotten through throwing some real good ones to Kuenn. But this one ...”

Sitting in the press box watching the game was Carl Hubbell, the former great Giants pitcher who at this time was head of the Giants’ farm system. Thirty years earlier to the day Hubbell had thrown an 18-inning complete game shutout victory for the Giants, winning 1-0 over the Cardinals in the longest 1-0 game ever. But Hubbell was in his prime, while Spahn was far past his.

“He ought to will his body to medical science,” Hubbell said of Spahn. “The world should be told what that man is made of and how it all got together like it did. Here is a guy, 42 years old, who still has a fastball. He just kept busting them in on the hands of our guys and kept getting them out. My arm was tired and the fastball was gone and I was through at 40. Spahnie’s got me by two years and he’s still throwing 15-inning shutouts.”