April 18, 1960: Camilo Pascual sets Opening Day record with 15 strikeouts

This article was written by Lou Hernandez

In late December 1959, it was widely published that Senators owner Calvin Griffith “had looked one million dollars in the eye and expressed no interest.” It was an offer not for his Washington franchise but merely for two of his ballplayers, first baseman Harmon Killebrew and pitcher Camilo Pascual.. One of those published reports further explained the matter as follows: “The bidder was Gabe Paul, vice president of the Cincinnati Reds. ‘I offered Griffith $500,000 each for Killebrew and Pascual and it was a firm offer,’ Paul said. ‘I consider Pascual the best pitcher in the majors.’” 1

Entering the 1960 season, Pascual had been a pitching machine. Including the Cuban Winter League, during a ten-month period, from mid- April, 1959, and culminating with the Caribbean Series in February, 1960, Pascual threw a stupendous 410.1 innings, recorded 363 strikeouts and compiled a cumulative 34-15 record.

Griffith declined Paul’s offer, and on April 18, 1960, Pascual showed why he was such a prized commodity by his owner and such a coveted one by other baseball executives. “Camilo Pascual, the pitching Pearl of the Antilles,” read a Washington Post sportswriter’s lead the next day, “made the 60th opening day for the Senators a memorable one yesterday when he tossed a three-hitter and set a new club record of 15 strikeouts backed by four Washington home runs, which humiliated the Boston Red Sox, 10-1.” 2

Walter Johnson had first set the Opening Day record for strikeouts with 14 on August 31, 1910. In a scheduling oddity, the American League began its season six days after the National League, with Washington and Boston commencing one day ahead of the rest of the junior circuit. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was in attendance, threw out two first pitches. The first was caught by Kansas native (same as Ike) Bob Allison and the second by Senators pitcher Jack Kralick. It was Eisenhower’s seventh opening day toss in eight years. Vice-president Richard Nixon had pinch-hit for the Commander-in-Chief in 1959.

The club mark for strikeouts by Pascual also established a major league Opening Day record for strikeouts by a pitcher that has now stood for a longer period of time than the original set by the Big Train. Pascual’s mark has been threatened since, with a number of pitchers, including twice by another Johnson, the “Big Unit” Randy this time, totaling fourteen Opening Day whiffs.

Pascual said after the game that he would have liked to have met the president but his halting English played a role in his backing out at the opportunity. For Red Sox’ hitters, it was too late for any of them to back out of the game once the afternoon affair began. Pascual started the contest by retiring the first four Red Sox batters, two by strikeout. The fifth-place hitter, Ted Williams, smashed a 3-2 pitch over the 31-foot high centerfield wall between the 408 and 418 foot markers. It was reported to be the longest home run hit at Griffith Stadium since Mickey Mantle hit two home runs over the same wall on Opening Day, 1956. The home run by Williams was his 493rd lifetime, tying him with Lou Gehrig on the all-time home run list. 3

Following the home run, Pascual allowed a windblown double to Sox’ center fielder Gary Geiger. The Senators’ right-hander then struck out the next two Boston hitters to end the inning.

In their half of the second inning, the Senators scored three runs, the final tally being driven home by Pascual himself on a double to right field.

Now pitching with the lead, Pascual retired the Sox in order in the third, with opposing starter Tom Sturdivant his only strikeout victim. In the fourth, Pascual struck out the side for the second time, sandwiched around a walk to Williams.

The Senators scored five times in their half of the inning to take an 8-1 lead. Right fielder Bob Allison and catcher Earl Battey hit home runs against Sturdivant, sending the Red Sox right hander to the showers. Al Worthington relieved and surrendered Washington’s fourth round tripper to shortstop Billy Consolo, and another run on an error by third baseman Frank Malzone, before getting out of the inning.

In the fifth frame, Pascual recorded four outs, three officially. The second out of the inning was delayed when first baseman Don Mincher, who was making his major league debut, dropped a pop up in foul territory for an error. Pascual was forced to retire catcher Haywood Sullivan for a “second time” on a fly out to left. Worthington fanned to end the inning on a called strike three by home plate umpire Charlie Berry. In the sixth, showing he was in complete control, Pascual made quick work of three opposition batters. He racked up two more strikeouts, bringing his whiff total to 11.

Gene Stephens led off the seventh with a walk, snapping a string of seven in a row retired by Pascual. In a most unusual occurrence, Ted Williams then attempted to bunt. He was called out on interference when he ran into the batted ball. With one out, Stephens stole second and advanced to third on a throwing error by Battey. Pascual buckled down and struck out Geiger and retired shortstop Don Buddin on a ground out to third. Williams was taken out of the game, and watched from the bench as the Senators scored their final two runs of the contest in the bottom of the seventh inning against Worthington.

Leading off the opening half of the eighth, Sullivan again popped up to first base in foul ground. Mincher this time squeezed the ball for the out, no doubt amid some fretful level of fan derision. Ron Jackson pinch-hit for Worthington and took a called third strike, becoming Pascual’s 13th strike out casualty. The next batter, leadoff hitter Pumpsie Green notched the Red Sox’ third hit of the game, singling to right. Pete Runnels followed with a walk but third baseman Frank Malzone swung through a third strike to end the inning.

Stephens led off the ninth and struck out swinging for the third time – Pascual’s record-setting 15th punch out. Pascual had fallen behind 2-0, and then threw three straight strikes past the Boston right fielder. The 26-year-old hurler set down the next two hitters to close out the 10-1 victory.

Pascual pitched hitless ball from the third inning through the seventh, using a befuddling mixture of curve and fastballs. Beginning his seventh big league season, Pascual’s signature pitch was a rainbow curve, acknowledged as the best in baseball.

Williams and 1960 AL batting champ Pete Runnels were the only Red Sox starters not to succumb to Pascual’s strikeout pitch. The Cuban pitcher allowed three hits and walked three. The Senators defense made two errors behind him. “Nobody in this league can compare with that pitcher," said Williams postgame.

 

Author's Note

Pascual’s fifteen strikeouts would establish a career high, a total he would reach one other time over his eighteen year career. Beginning in 1961 he would lead the American League in strikeouts three consecutive seasons Pascual also led the AL three times in complete games and shutouts and was a five time All-Star. He is a member of the Latino Baseball Hall of Fame and was elected to the Minnesota Twins Hall of Fame in 2012.

 

Sources

Figueredo, Jorge, S. Cuban Baseball A Statistical History 1878-1961. (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co.,  2003).

Fogg, Sam. UPI, “Ike Watches as Pascual, Power Pace Senators 10-1 over Bosox.” Mason City Globe Gazette, April 19, 1960.

Wilks, Ed. AP, “Ike and Pascual Get Nats Away to Good AL Start.” Independent Record, April 19, 1960.

UPI. “Pascual Sets Whiff Record, 15; Nats Win Opener, 10-1.” Galveston Daily News, April 19, 1960.

 

Notes

1 Shirley Povich, “Reds’ Million Offer for Pair Nixed by Nats.” The Sporting News, December 23, 1959.

2 Bob Addie, “Cuban Fans 15, Aided by 4 Homers.” Washington Post, April 19, 1960.

3 Shirley Povich, “K-Man Camilo’s 15-Whiff Sendoff Lifts Nats Hopes.” The Sporting News, April 27, 1960.