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It was nothing more than a midseason Tuesday-night game between two teams essentially going nowhere, played before a modest crowd of 15,921 at Candlestick Park. But that game on July 2, 1963, between the San Francisco Giants and the Milwaukee Braves remains for me, 30 years later, an unforgettable baseball experience.
I have always preferred watching my baseball in the daylight, especially at the sometimes inhospitable Candlestick; and I was writing news then, not sports, for the San Francisco Chronicle. But I suspect I was lured to the ballpark that night by the announced pitching matchup: Warren Spahn versus Juan Marichal. There are fans, I am told, who prefer ugly slugfests to artful pitching duels. I am not among them. When two pitchers are at the top of their form, every play, every swing of the bat takes on added meaning. The rise in tension as the innings progress represents to me what baseball is all about. And on July 2, 1963, I got more than I could possibly have bargained for.
It would be hard to imagine two pitchers more unalike than the left handed Spahn and the righthanded Marichal. Spahn was 42 in 1963. He had started his career in 1942, when major league baseball was exclusively an American white man's game. He was, 21 years later, a crusty old-timer, but one who was on his way to winning 23 games that year, the last of his 13 remarkable 20-win seasons. Marichal, only 25 then, was part of a new breed of big leaguer, one of a number of talented young Latinos from the Caribbean.
As dissimilar as their backgrounds may have been, Spahn and Marichal were virtually mirror images of each other on the mound. Both utilized high-kick windups. Both had complete mastery of vast pitching repertoires. Spahn was 11-3 going into that July 2 game; Marichal, who would win 25 that year, was 12-3.
The Braves, who were to be sixth-place finishers in '63, and the Giants, who would finish a distant third, were known more for power than for pitching. These were the Braves of Henry Aaron and Eddie Mathews and the Giants of Willie Mays, Willie McCovey and Orlando Cepeda. But this was no night for sluggers. After eight innings the two teams were scoreless. Then, with one out in the bottom of the ninth, McCovey hit a tape-measure shot to rightfield that looked like a game-winner—until the umpire called it foul.
On and on these Hall of Fame pitchers went. Then, in the 14th, the Giants loaded the bases on a bloop double, an intentional walk and an error. But Spahn got Ed Bailey to line out to center for the third out. He retired the side in order in the 15th.
Giant manager Alvin Dark had considered taking Marichal out of the game in the ninth, but the pitcher protested that if that old man on the other side could keep going, so could he. So for the next eight innings he allowed just two hits; over one stretch he retired 17 batters in succession.
It was past midnight when the Giants came to bat in the 16th, but hardly a soul had left his seat. Spahn retired Harvey Kuenn leading off the inning and then faced Mays. Spahn's first pitch was a screwball, and Mays connected, the ball describing a high arc to left-field, where, after hanging in the night sky for what seemed an eternity, it landed beyond the fence. With one blow the game had ended. Spahn, his long night over, walked slump-shouldered from the mound. "That pitch didn't break worth a damn," he muttered in the clubhouse afterward. Mays agreed: "I creamed it." Marichal was in pain. "Oh, my back," he moaned. "But tonight was beautiful."
My newspaper concurred: JUAN BEATS SPAHN, read the next day's front-page headline. There were lesser Page One stories that day—something about a nuclear test ban and the FBI "smashing a Soviet spy ring." But for one day at least, an epic pitching duel dominated the news. It was, I told the guys in the office, a rare exercise of sound editorial judgment.
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