• Sal Maiorana

Harvey Haddix may have pitched greatest game in history, yet he lost

MILWAUKEE - (May 26, 1959) – It was nothing unusual, something a starting pitcher does before every game he is scheduled to pitch. Harvey Haddix sat down in the clubhouse with his Pittsburgh Pirates teammates before their game with Milwaukee and went over the Braves’ lineup, discussing how he wanted to pitch to each batter. But on this particular night, Pirates third baseman Don Hoak was struck by how thoroughly prepared Haddix was. “That was a pretty good rundown,’’ Hoak told Haddix. “If you pitch that way, you’ll have a no-hitter.’’ Hoak was wrong. The Braves got one hit off the little 33-year-old lefthander, but it didn’t come until the 13th inning, after Haddix had thrown 12 innings of perfect baseball, thus becoming the first and only pitcher to carry a perfect game past the regulation nine innings. Unfortunately for Haddix, that one hit – Joe Adcock’s double – cost him and the Pirates the game, ruining one of the most brilliant pitching performances in history. “I called Harvey that night in the visiting clubhouse,’’ said Milwaukee pitcher Lew Burdette, who went all 13 innings, scattering 12 harmless singles to get the 1-0 shutout victory. “I told him, ‘I realize I got what I wanted, a win, but I’d really give it up because you pitched the greatest game that’s ever been pitched in the history of baseball. It was a damned shame you had to lose.’’’ After bouncing from the Cardinals (where he won 20 games in 1953 and 18 in 1954) to the Phillies to the Reds between 1952 and 1958, Haddix was part of a seven-player trade that sent him to the Pirates before 1959. In the first month and a half of his initial season in Pittsburgh, Haddix had won three games and lost two, so there wasn’t any reason to expect him to deliver such an astounding performance. The game began under a cloudy Milwaukee sky with the threat of rain looming, and the gloomy weather matched Haddix’s pre-game physical condition as he admitted “feeling a cold and sore throat coming on.’’

He mowed down the first six Braves easily, and in the bottom of the third, appeared to contribute to a Pittsburgh scoring threat when he lined a single off Burdette’s leg. However, Roman Mejias, who had reached first on a fielder’s choice, tried to advance to third and Milwaukee shortstop Johnny Logan threw him out easily. That mistake would be costly to Haddix because Dick Schofield followed with a single that would have scored Mejias from second had he stayed put. Two more innings passed without incident and it was at that point that Haddix realized he was throwing a no-hitter. “I knew I had a no-hitter because the scoreboard is in full view, but I wasn’t so certain about it being a perfect game,’’ he said. “Somewhere along the way I thought somebody may have gotten on base.’’ In the sixth, with a light rain starting to fall which sent some fans home, Logan again threatened to break up the gem when he slapped a grounder into the hole at short, but Schofield got to the ball and his long throw was just in time. The Braves went peacefully in the seventh and eighth, so for the second time in his career, Haddix took a no-hitter into the ninth. In 1953 while with the Cardinals, Haddix pitched eight hitless innings against Philadelphia. With Richie Ashburn at the plate, catcher Del Rice asked for a slider, Haddix shook him off and threw a curve, and Ashburn lined it to right for a single. Haddix wound up with a two-hit, 2-0 victory. He would have settled for that result against the Braves. This time, he survived the ninth inning intact, having thrown just 78 pitches in regulation time, but his teammates failed to score against Burdette so the game went into extra innings. Rice, now with the Braves, led off the 10th against Haddix with a deep fly ball that for a moment seemed destined to be a game-winning home run, but center fielder Bill Virdon tracked it down at the warning track. Virdon did the same to the next batter, Eddie Mathews, and then Hank Aaron grounded to Schofield to end the inning. The 11th and 12th were uneventful, except for the fact that Haddix now had also set a new record for the longest no-hitter in history. After Burdette retired the Pirates in the top of the 13th, Haddix’s dream game finally unraveled. Felix Mantilla led off and Haddix thought he had struck him out looking, but plate umpire Vinnie Smith called it a ball. On the next pitch, Mantilla hit a grounder to Hoak at third which Hoak handled, but his throw to first was low and first baseman Rocky Nelson couldn’t scoop it up. Hoak was charged with an error, spoiling the perfect game. “They gave Hoak the error, but Rocky could have stretched and caught the ball,’’ Burdette observed. “He opted to backhand it and trap it against the bag and the ball ran up his arm. That’s what lost the game for Haddix.’’ Mathews sacrificed Mantilla to second, so with first base open, Haddix was ordered to walk Aaron to set up a double play. Adcock then ripped a hanging Haddix slider to deep center and the ball just cleared the fence beyond Virdon’s reach for a three-run homer, the first Braves’ hit of the night, and the only one they needed. “It was a bad pitch,” Haddix said of the hanging slider he threw Adcock. “I made a few other mistakes, but I got away with them.” Aaron, unaware that the ball had gone over the fence, thought the game was over as soon as Mantilla scored, so he trotted across the diamond toward the Milwaukee dugout. Thus, when Adcock passed Aaron on the bases, he was ruled out. In the record books, his home run was recorded as a double, and the final score of the game was 1-0. “My main aim was to win,’’ Haddix said. “I was more tired than nervous (in the 13th inning). All I know is that we lost. What’s so historic about that? Didn’t anyone else ever lose a 13-inning shutout?’’ Yes, but no one had lost a perfect game in the 13th inning. “It was such a shame that we couldn’t score for him,’’ said Schofield.