The Cleveland Indians were on a hot streak. The Tribe had won seven in a row, and 10 of their last 11, when the last-place Washington Senators came a-calling for a six-game set beginning June 14 at Cleveland Stadium.
The Indians had swept the Senators in a three-game series at D.C. Park one week earlier to begin their latest run. But Cleveland’s good fortune did not come without a price. Detroit’s Hank Aguirre plunked Indians’ rookie center fielder Vic Davalillo in the right forearm. The result was a fracture that would sideline the first-year player up to two months.
As the Senators came to town, the first two games of the series were a twilight-night doubleheader with a fireworks show to follow. Although Cleveland’s record was just a game over .500 (27-26), the Indians were deadlocked with Kansas City (29-28) in sixth place. They were only four games out of first place in the American League.
The Senators had made a managerial change three weeks before they came to Cleveland. Gil Hodges had been traded from the New York Mets to Washington for Jim Piersall on May 23. In essence, he was brought to the Senators as a manager, not a player, and replaced Mickey Vernon, who had led the Nats to a 14-26 start.
Although Hodges’ entire career had been spent in the National League, with the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers and the Mets, he was confident in his ability that a smooth transition to the junior circuit, and as a manger, would not be a problem. “It takes a while to get to know the hitters and the pitchers,” said Hodges. “But that’s more of a problem for a player than a manager.”1
Hodges, like many other managers around the league, was in the need of an influx of runs. “Like some of the other teams, we just have to try and build with young ballplayers,” he said. “But right now what we need is runs.”2
The first game of the doubleheader featured a pitching matchup of Tom Cheney for the Nats and Barry Latman for Cleveland. Washington right fielder Jim King was a one-man wrecking crew as his team won, 5-2; he went 3-for-4 and drove in four runs. King hit two home runs off Latman, bringing his season total to nine.
The Indians got on the board with an unearned run in the bottom of the first inning. Washington shortstop Ed Brinkman booted a groundball off the bat of Dick Howser, who advanced to second base when Jerry Kindall laid down a bunt to third base. Al Luplow walked and was forced out at second base on a grounder to short by Joe Adcock. Willie Kirkland singled to left field to score Howser from third base.
The score stood 1-0, Tribe, until the sixth inning, when King hit his third home run of the day and 10th of the season, over the fence in right-center field. The 1-1 tie remained that way through nine innings. Both Osteen and Bell were stingy, snuffing out any threat that came up.
Bell gave way to relief pitcher Ted Abernathy in the 10th inning. Bell had struck out eight and walked one in nine innings of work. Washington reached Abernathy for a run in the top of the 11th. With two outs, Chuck Hinton walked and advanced to third base on Bobo Osborne’s single to right field. Dick Phillips, a left-handed batter, hit for Don Lock and came through with a double to left field. Hinton scored the go-ahead run. Osborne also tried to score, but was cut down, 7-5-2, as Cleveland left fielder Luplow threw to third baseman Max Alvis, who fired the relay throw to catcher Cal Neeman for the putout.
The putout at home turned out to be the play of the game. Osteen was still pitching for the Senators when Kirkland stepped up to the plate. With a mighty swing, Kirkland deposited Osteen’s offering into the right field seats to knot the score, 2-2.
And on it went. The two teams were right back where they started. Many of the 12,377 fans had departed, not willing to stick around for the final result and forgoing the postgame fireworks extravaganza.
Bob Allen relieved Abernathy in the top of the 13th inning. The left-hander pitched two scoreless innings before giving way to Jerry Walker. Jim Coates had relieved Osteen in the 12th. Osteen had walked three, struck out eight, and given up two runs, one unearned, in 11 innings of work.
In the 19th inning, with about a thousand fans still milling about, Kirkland led off the bottom of the frame and connected for his fifth home run of the year. As the ball exited the playing field over the fence in right-center field, the stadium clock showed 1:13 A.M. Kirkland was booed in the first game for a 1-for-4 showing at the plate and three infield popups. After he tied the game, he hit into two consecutive double plays and the crowd was on him again. Now, the wee gathering of Tribe fans cheered his heroics with gusto.
“You can’t let them get to you,” said Kirkland. “They want to see you throw the bat or something when they boo and you mustn’t do that because they’ll boo all the more. They’re funny. I hit into a double play and a guy in the stands yelled at me: ‘Why don’t you go to Jacksonville’ (Cleveland’s top farm team). Then I hit a homer in the 11th to tie the game and the same guy was yelling for me like I was Babe Ruth.”3
Coates was the loser, his record dropping to 2-3. Walker pitched five innings of scoreless relief to gain the win, improving to 5-1. “I gave him the same pitch three times in a row,” said Coates, “and the first two times he hits into double plays. Then he homers off the same pitch.”4
Cleveland took five out of six from the Senators. But they ended the season in the middle of the pack in the AL with a 70-83 record, 25½ games behind the Yankees. For Hodges’ team, the year was one to forget. They were stuck in the cellar for most of the year, finishing with a 56-106 record, 48½ games out of first place.
The author accessed Baseball-Reference.com for box scores/play-by-play information and other data (https://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/CLE/CLE196306142.shtml), as well as Retrosheet (http://www.retrosheet.org/boxesetc/1963/B06142CLE1963.htm).
1 Charles Heaton, “Run-Hungry Hodges and Nats in for 6-Game Series,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 14, 1963: 33.
2 Heaton: 35.
3 Robert Dolgan, “Batting Around,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 16, 1963: 4-C.
4 Regis McAuley, “Willie Leaves ’Em Cheering,” Cleveland Press, June 15, 1963: 14.