It wasn’t your typical August day in San Diego. With temperatures in the 70s and a lot of clouds, it wasn’t the picture-perfect setting for baseball. For the Padres, it was their first year under the ownership of Ray Kroc, and the team was struggling. The Padres were 44-65 and in the midst of a four-game losing streak heading into a Sunday doubleheader against the Cincinnati Reds. The Padres lost the first game of the doubleheader 7-2 with the Reds collecting 10 hits and the Padres defense committing three errors. Randy Jones took the loss for the Padres, dropping his record to 7-15 for the season.1
For the second game of the doubleheader, Dave Freisleben took the mound and he had a new batterymate that day. The Padres’ backup catcher, Bob Barton, had broken his finger and would miss the rest of the season. The Padres swung a deal with the Astros on August 1 and brought back a familiar face to Padres fans in Chris Cannizarro. Cannizarro was the Padres’ first All-Star in 1969 and had his career-best season with the Padres in 1970. With Fred Kendall catching the first game, it would be up to Cannizarro to guide rookie Freisleben against a Reds team that featured Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, and Ken Griffey Sr.
Starting for the Reds was another familiar face to Padres fans, pitcher Clay “The Kid” Kirby. Kirby had been with the Padres from their inaugural season of 1969 until he was traded on November 9, 1973, to the Reds for Bobby Tolan and Mike Tomlin. Kirby held almost every Padres pitching record to date and was looking to extend the Reds’ four-game winning streak at the expense of his former club and to also defeat the man who was currently wearing the number 43 that he wore as a Padres player: Dave Freisleben. 2
Both pitchers struggled out of the gate, but each got out of the first inning stranding a runner at third base. Freisleben retired 15 of the next 17 Reds he faced, only giving up a hit to Dave Concepcion in the second inning and a single to Pete Rose in the sixth3 Things seemed to be clicking with his new batterymate, Chris Cannizzaro. “I got more comfortable with Chris calling the game later in the game, where I trusted him,” said Freisleben in an interview about the game. “I didn’t shake him off much during the game. If he called for a fastball, I threw it there. If he called for a curve ball, I threw it there.”4
Clay Kirby settled in and was pitching a great game himself. The Padres managed to get two runners to second base during the same period of time, but couldn’t manage to drive in a run off their former ace. So heading into the eighth inning, the score was tied 0-0.
The Reds started the eighth with a single by Dave Concepcion to shortstop followed by a bunt single by Ken Griffey Sr. With runners at first and second and no one out, the Reds had Kirby at the plate in an obvious bunting situation. Freisleben recalled the events in an interview: “We all got together on the mound to run a certain play. I had to throw a strike on the first pitch, because the pitcher is going to bunt it down the third base line and make the third baseman field the ball.”5
The play was to have the shortstop Enzo Hernandez bluff a pickoff attempt at second base causing Concepcion to head back toward second, while Freisleben threw a fastball to Clay. “I ran straight toward third and Clay bunted it right to me. I fielded it, like we had done a thousand times in spring training, spun and threw to third and then Dave Roberts threw to first for the double play.”6
Cesar Geronimo followed with a fly ball to left fielder Gene Locklear for the final out. Freisleben walked off the mound and felt like “I caught my second wind.” The Padres were held scoreless in the bottom of the eighth, and neither team scored in the ninth. Freisleben started the 10th inning by easily retiring Dan Driessen and Dave Concepcion. Ken Griffey Sr. tripled to right-center field but was stranded when Terry Crowley (pinch hitting for Clay Kirby) grounded out to first. Clay Kirby was now officially done for the day after nine innings pitched, allowing four hits, no runs, three walks and five strikeouts. 7
The Kid had pitched a great game, but his old number 43 was still on the mound for San Diego, pitching a greater game shutting down the Big Red Machine.
The Reds looked like they were finally going to score off Freisleben in the 11th. Pete Rose hit a one-out double and the Padres intentionally walked Joe Morgan to pitch to Bill Plummer, who had replaced Johnny Bench earlier in the game. Freisleben struck out Plummer and got Tony Perez to fly out to Cito Gaston in right to end the threat.
Meanwhile, the Padres were continuing to struggle against reliever Clay Carroll. Freisleben , however, was up to the task. He stranded two more Reds runners in the 12th and set down in order Rose, Morgan and Plummer in the 13th inning. As Freisleben walked off the mound, he saw the next batter, Tony Perez, standing by home plate. Tony whistled to Dave and tipped his hat to him in recognition of a job well done. “I got goosebumps all over me when he [Perez] did that.”8
Freisleben batted in the 13th and bunted pinch-runner Lowell Palmer over to second, but the Padres failed to get the run across. John McNamara, Padres manager, decided that even though Freisleben was still pitching well, he was done. “I could have gone back out for the 14th inning. It was one of those days you just wanted to stay out there. I think back at times and wonder why I didn’t tell McNamara to stick it and let me go back up to bat and this is my game to finish. I was getting a little tired, but I was ok.”
Freisleben listened to the rest of the game on the radio in the clubhouse while “icing down my arm and downing a couple of beers.”9
His friend Rusty Gerhardt came on in the fourteenth and struck out Tony Perez looking, Darrel Chaney swinging, and retired Dave Concepcion on a fly to center fielder Dave Winfield. The Padres offense finally came to life off of Pedro Bourbon. Nate Colbert doubled, and Dave Winfield was intentionally walked. Cito Gaston grounded out to short to move the runners over. Dave Roberts was intentionally walked and Fred Kendall (who replaced Cannizarro to start the top of the fourteenth) hit a sacrifice fly that scored Nate Colbert from third.
That was it: Padres 1, Reds 0. Rusty Gerhardt earned his first major league win while Pedro Borbon suffered the loss.
Freisleben’s final stats for the game read: 13 innings pitched, eight hits allowed, three walks, and seven strikeouts. He faced 49 batters and was told after the game he had thrown 230 pitches! The San Diego Tribune said the crowd that day gave Freisleben two standing ovations during the game for his incredible performance. Even though he didn’t get the win, “I was glad we won, especially against those guys, the Big Red Machine.”10
Freisleben tied the record for the most consecutive shutout innings a Padres starter has pitched in one game. The person whose record he tied that day? Clay Kirby, who on June 7, 1972, tossed 13 innings of shutout baseball against the Pittsburgh Pirates.11
Pitching for perennially weak teams in San Diego and later in Cleveland and Toronto, Dave Freisleben concluded his career with a record of 34-60 and a 4.30 ERA. His rookie year was probably his best as he managed a 9-14 slate with a 3.66 ERA and a career-high 130 strikeouts. On August 4, 1974, he had the day in the sun that every player dreams of.
1 Phil Collier, “Padres win in 14th 1-0 to gain split with Reds,” San Diego Union Tribune, August 5, 1974, C-1.
3 Baseball-Reference. Sunday, August 4, 1974, San Diego Stadium. Retrieved from http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/SDN/SDN197408042.shtml
4 Interview with Dave Freisleben, March 6, 2014.
5 Freisleben interview.
8 Freisleben interview.
11 Baseball-Reference, Wednesday, June 7, 1972, San Diego Stadium. Retrieved from http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/SDN/SDN197206072.shtml