September 13, 1951: Warren Spahn earns 20th win for Braves in rare three-team doubleheader
On September 13, 1951, Sportsman’s Park hosted an extremely rare event: a three-team doubleheader. In the first game, the third-place Cardinals defeated the second-place New York Giants, 6-4. In the second game, the Boston Braves’ Warren Spahn pitched a masterful one-hitter as the Braves blanked the Cardinals, 2-0.
This was the first time since June 25, 1899, that a team had played two different rivals on the same day.1 The Cardinals-Giants game scheduled for September 12 — the Giants’ last scheduled game at Sportsman’s Park in 1951 — had been rained out. The 13th had originally been an open date for the Cardinals, but the club had filled it by rescheduling a rained-out game against the Braves. Horace Stoneham, owner of the Giants, objected to the unusual doubleheader, but Ford Frick, the National League president, “gave his blessing to the arrangement because no other date was available”2 to fit the New York-St. Louis game into the two teams’ schedules. So “novel scheduling”3 meant that the Cardinals hosted the Giants in the afternoon before 4,160 fans. The Cardinals-Braves game, played under the lights, brought a mere 4,706 spectators to Sportsman’s Park.
In the afternoon opener, Monte Irvin led the Giants’ cause with a 3-for-3 day at the plate, scoring two runs and driving in three, but it wasn’t enough as St. Louis prevailed, 6-4. The Cardinals had a balanced attack with six different batters driving in runs, all in the second inning. The St. Louis lineup featured seven left-handed batters in a row.4 New York’s Sal Maglie had won his previous five starts, but “six hits and two walks figured in the Cardinals’ splurge” against Maglie and reliever Monty Kennedy.5 Harry Walker, batting seventh in the St. Louis lineup, went 3-for-4 with a run scored and a run batted in to lead his team.
At night, St. Louis sent Al Brazle to the mound to battle Boston’s Spahn. Brazle had a rough start, yielding singles to Sibby Sisti and Sam Jethroe to start the game. Then, in what should have been the start of a strike-’em-out, throw-’em-out double play, Earl Torgeson struck out. Jethroe was caught off first base but catcher Del Rice’s throw went past first baseman Stan Musial into right field. Sisti scored an unearned run on Rice’s throwing error and Jethroe ended up on third base. Cleanup batter Bob Elliott then hit a sharp grounder to second, and Red Schoendienst threw to Rice at home, nailing Jethroe at the plate. Sid Gordon flied out to center field, and the wild first frame had the Braves on top, 1-0.
With the one-run cushion, Spahn set down the first six batters he faced. Chuck Diering walked to lead off the third inning for the Redbirds. He advanced to second on a wild pitch by Spahn. Rice sent a hard line drive up the middle that caromed off Spahn’s pitching hand, but the pitcher snared the ball and threw to first baseman Torgeson for the out; Diering remained at second base. Spahn’s ring finger got the worst of it, but he shrugged it off. “Oddly enough, it didn’t bother me,” he said after the game.6 “I hold it against my ball for my fast one — and it was numb from the third inning on.” Spahn threw mostly fastballs in the game, mixing in an occasional curve, and he said the numbness was the reason why Cardinals batters popped out so much in the game.7 Spahn retired the next two hitters and stranded Diering at second. That was the farthest a St. Louis batter would get, as the left-hander pitched with precision and efficiency.
After the improbable first inning, Brazle also settled into a routine. He retired 12 Braves in a row before Willard Marshall singled in an unusual fifth inning that featured four straight hits by the Braves but no runs. On Roy Hartsfield’s single, Marshall tried for third but was gunned down by Cardinals center fielder Diering. With two outs, Spahn singled, putting runners at first and second. Sisti followed with the fourth consecutive single of the inning. However, Hartsfield fell rounding third base and Spahn, who had rounded second base too far, was tagged out at second before diving back to the base. Four straight hits but no runs for the Braves.
After Diering’s walk in the third inning, Spahn retired 10 batters in a row. But with one out in the sixth his no-hitter was broken up by, of all people, his mound opponent. Jack Barry of the Boston Globe wrote that “a soft hump-backed liner off the bat of Alpha Brazle … kept the Braves’ Warren Spahn from baseball glory tonight.”8 Brazle was stranded when the next two batters were retired, and Spahn finished the game by retiring 11 straight Cardinals.
Brazle kept the Braves in check until the top of the ninth. With one out, former Cardinals catcher Walker Cooper doubled and moved to third on a groundout by Marshall. Hartsfield was intentionally walked, bringing Spahn to the plate. The Braves’ hero singled to center, bringing home Cooper with the Braves’ second run. Spahn took the mound and retired the Cardinals in order in the bottom of the ninth, completing the one-hitter as Boston prevailed 2-0.
Facing only 29 batters, Spahn took just one hour and 48 minutes to defeat the Cards and earn his 20th victory of the season. He helped his own cause with a 2-for-3 performance plus a sacrifice and that RBI single for the insurance run in the ninth. Hartsfield and Sisti also recorded two hits each for Boston.
Both pitchers notched complete games.9 Spahn, using only 95 pitches, allowed just one hit, and he walked one while striking out two. Brazle scattered nine hits and three walks. The 37-year-old St. Louis left-hander struck out eight Boston batters, including Torgeson four times.
Spahn reached the 20-win plateau for the third straight season and fourth time in his career.10 He joined Maglie as the only National League pitchers at this point of the season with 20 wins.11 Spahn’s accomplishment was the 13th one-hitter of the season. After the game he told reporters about the experience. “This is the one I wanted. I wasn’t thinking in terms of a no-hitter. I just wanted the 20th. Even when I was warming up, I felt as though I had it.”12
For the season, 1951 featured four no-hitters: the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Cliff Chambers (versus the Braves, May 6), the Cleveland Indians’ Bob Feller (versus the Detroit Tigers, July 1 — his third career no-hitter), and two by the New York Yankees’ Allie Reynolds (versus the Cleveland Indians, July 12, and the Boston Red Sox, September 28).
With the conclusion of the unique three-team doubleheader, the Cardinals had a record of 73-66. The Giants fell to 84-57 and the loss dropped them to six games behind the league-leading Brooklyn Dodgers. However, the Giants went 14-2 to close the season, clinching the 1951 National League crown on Bobby Thomson’s legendary walk-off home run off the Dodgers’ Ralph Branca.13 Brazle and St. Louis finished the season in third place and Spahn and the Braves ended in fourth.
This article appears in “Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis: Home of the Browns and Cardinals at Grand and Dodier” (SABR, 2017), edited by Gregory H. Wolf. Click here to read more articles from this book online.
The author thanks Lisa Tuite from the Boston Globe for her valued assistance with sources.
1 According to Baseball-Reference.com, the National League’s St. Louis Perfectos played the New York Giants in Game One and the Cleveland Spiders in Game Two on June 25, 1899. The Perfectos lost both games.
2 Joseph M. Sheehan, “Cards Halt Polo Grounders, 6-4, Routing Maglie in 6-Run Second,” New York Times, September 14, 1951.
3 “Games of Thursday, September 13,” The Sporting News, September 26, 1951.
4 Jack Barry, “Spahn Allows One Hit, Scores 20th Victory, 2-0,” Boston Globe, September 14, 1951.
7 Spahn got 17 outs on balls hit in the air. Six of them were pop fouls (three to the catcher and three to the first baseman).
9 Spahn led the major leagues in 1951 with 26 complete games and seven shutouts. Brazle finished the 1951 season with five complete games.
10 Spahn finished the 1951 season with a 22-14 record, and he ended his career with 13 20-win seasons.
11 In 1951 Maglie tied his New York Giants teammate Larry Jansen for the major-league lead in wins with 23. Spahn’s 22 victories tied Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Preacher Roe and Cleveland Indians ace Bob Feller. Three other pitchers amassed 21 wins, and five more notched 20.
13 The Giants lost the 1951 World Series to the New York Yankees in six games.
Boston Braves 2
St. Louis Cardinals 0
Game 2, DH
St. Louis, MO
Box Score + PBP:
If you can help us improve this game story, contact us.