Tuesday, June 8, 2010

June 8, 1968: 58 in '68

LOS ANGELES - As the righthanded half of one of the best one-two pitching combos in baseball history, Don Drysdale was often overshadowed by his brilliant lefthanded teammate Sandy Koufax. Though Drysdale had great numbers of his own, they weren't other-worldly like Koufax's.

Then, after the 1966 World Series, Koufax abruptly retired, unable to deal with the pain from arthritis any longer, and Drysdale was left as the ace of the Dodgers. Coincidentally, that coincided with the best era since before Babe Ruth to be a pitcher in the Major Leagues.

1968 has become known as the Year of the Pitcher, and with good reason. It's the year Bob Gibson had a 1.12 ERA and the year Denny McLain won 31 games for the Tigers, the last 30-game winner. But Drysdale topped them all when he broke Walter Johnson's 55-year-old record for consecutive scoreless innings pitched.

Drysdale entered his start against Philadelphia on June 8 (6/8/68) having thrown six consecutive shutouts, putting his scoreless-innings streak at 53 2/3 innings, two short of Johnson's mark. Drysdale put his name in the record books in the third inning, striking out Cookie Rojas to pass Johnson. The Phillies finally got to Drysdale in the fifth inning, as a Howie Bedell sacrifice fly drove home the first run against Drysdale in 58 innings.

Three different pitchers had scoreless innings streaks of at least 40 innings in 1968, but Drysdale's mark lived on. It lasted for 20 years before another Dodger, Orel Hershiser, broke it in the team's run to the 1988 pennant. Drysdale's mark, though, was recognized throughout the country. When he died in 1993, among his possessions was a tape of a speech by Robert Kennedy, which Kennedy had given to Drysdale moments before his assassanation. In the speech, Kennedy had announced Drysdale's sixth straight shutout, to loud cheers from the crowd.

The scoreless innings streak was among Drysdale's last moments in the sun. He would win only 11 more games in his career before retiring with arm problems. When he retired, he was the last active Dodger who had played with the team in Brooklyn.

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