1-0 Ball Games: Oh, Those 1-0 Ball Games!

This article was written by Warren Wilbert

This article was published in 2003 Baseball Research Journal

If you’re the loser it’s a trip down Heartbreak Boulevard, but if you’re the winner you’re on cloud nine. Missed opportunities, errors, home run pitches, fluke hits, walk-off homers, and those unintentional bases on balls with the bases loaded all have a way of haunting both ballplayers and fans long after the game goes into the record books. It leaves them limp, ecstatic, grousing, or high-fiving, depending on who got the win or who took it on the chin. Here’s a sampling.

It’s the bottom of the 13th at Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, September 2, 2001. 23,475 are on hand. There is nothing but goose eggs on the board. Padres manager Bruce Bochy and Bob Brenly, the Arizona Diamondbacks skipper, have successfully maneuvered their clubs through 12-plus innings, having made 11 pitching changes, a number of batting order and lineup changes, and have otherwise made the moves that have kept their clubs even-up. One more change was needed. It was time for Brenly to bring on his closer, Byung-Hyun Kim. Kim would face lefty-hitting Ryan Klesko, brought into the game as the Padres’ third first baseman, and slated to be the leadoff hitter in the bottom of the 13th. 

The inning didn’t take long. Klesko pulverized a Kim offering for a walk-off homer that beat the Diamondbacks. Klesko’s blow made starter Randy Johnson’s 14 K’s, the brilliant relief work of four relievers, and everything else that Brenly & Co. did to forestall defeat irrelevant.

Between May 11, 1875, the date of the first professional 1-0 baseball game, and the final game of the 2000 World Series, 174,901 professional games were played in seven different leagues and in regular season, All-Star, and championship play. Over the course of those years, there have been 4,001 games played where the final score was 1-0. That amounts to a minuscule .0229%.

But that is precisely what makes the one-run game the thriller that it is, a rarity in baseball. Granted, 2-1 and 2-0 games can be just as exciting. But there is something about this minimalist, one-score-takes-it-all kind of contest that sets it apart as something special. No-hitters, one-hitters, games with brilliant fielding gems that have prevented scores, heads-up defensive play and audacity on the base paths are just some of the many factors that come into play as these spine-tingling nail-biters unfold. If nip-and-tuck baseball is your thing, this is the kind of game you want to see.

The chronological listing in this article presents some noteworthy 1-to-0 ball games. These only scratch the surface, or course, but they historical or individual significance should not go by without mention. I expect the reader could add a few more. 

Because pitchers play such a dominating role in most of these contests it is interesting to note who among the many moundsmen in the game’s history are most successful. Two lists are presented, one feature Hall of Famers in Table 2 and another listing the lesser lights in Table 3, some of whose names may just surprise you.

The Peerless One, Walter Johnson, is also peerless when it comes to getting involved in 1-to-0 ball games. The Big Train piled up a staggering 64 1-0 decisions, winning 38 of them, or, about three out of every five. Considering the Washington teams usually behind him, that 60% reading overall is next to extraordinary. His record of 38 career 1-0 shutout victories is one of the untouchables among baseball records, and is more than twice those of his closest rival, Pete Alexander, who accomplished the feat 16 times. Walter Johnson, Alexander, Mathewson, and Nolan Ryan form an olym­pian quartet atop this distinguished list.

Among non-Hall of Famers Dean Chance deserves special mention, having won 15 games by 1-0 scores. In 1964 he was victorious at that barest of winning margins no less than six times, and dressed up his shutout list that season with additional 2-0, 3-0, 4-0 (twice) and two 7-0 outings. Bert Blyleven with 13 for several clubs and three southpaws, Guy “Doc” White, of the champion 1906 Chisox, Nap Rucker ofthe old Brooklyn Robins, and the more recent Jerry Koosman follow with 11 each.

An imposing array of hurlers, 53 all told (25 Famers and 28 non-Famers), make up the two lists. The listing’s arbitrary cutoff number of eight leaves behind quite a number who did it seven times, many of them Hall of Fame hurlers.

If your hunch is that the World Series might be a rich course of exciting 1-0 games, it’s right on the money.

A few examples follow:

  • In that famous 1906 Series won by Chicago’s Hitless Wonders, Mordecai Brown fired a two-hit­ter in Game Four to keep the Cubs in contention.

  • Little Artie Nehf beat Waite Hoyt in the decid­ing game of the 1921 World Series. The game’s outcome was decided in the first inning on an unearned run, and Nehf made it stand up as the Giants beat Miller Huggins’ Yankees. 

  • Between 1948 and 1950 three consecutive World Series featured a first game ending in a 1-0 score. In Game One of the 1949 fall classic, the Yankees’ Tommy Henrich hit the first Series walk-off blast to beat the Dodgers.

  • In 1959 at mammoth Los Angeles Coliseum the largest crowd to see a World Series game, 92,706, saw the White Sox threesome of Bob Shaw (WP), Billy Pierce, and Dick Donovan combine to edge Sandy Koufax and the Dodgers.

  • The 1966 four-game World Series showcased three shutouts, two of them by 1-0 scores. Both were won by Orioles; Wally Bunker beat Claude Osteen and Dave McNally defeated Don Drysdale. Jim Palmer threw the third goose-egg special. After scoring a run in the third inning of Game One, Baltimore pitching held the Dodgers scoreless the rest of the way, running up 33 straight scoreless innings on Walter Alston’s club. Incredible!

  • In one of the greatest classics in World Series history, Minnesota, behind the determined pitching of Jack Morris, beat Atlanta’s Braves, winning the Series-deciding game in the 10th inning at the Metrodome in 1991.

  • David Justice provided the game’s only run as Atlanta beat Cleveland in the final game of the 1995 World Series. His dinger in the sixth inning was all Tom Glavine needed as the Braves’ lean lefty stifled the Indians on one hit. Mark Wohlers came on in the ninth to preserve the one-hitter and get the save.

The seven games above are among the best of the 23 World Series 1-0 games played between 1903 and 2000. There’ll be more, rest assured. The following is by no means inclusive, but is a timeline of outstanding 1-0 contests played over the years.

May 11, 1875
Professional baseball’s first 1-0 game

The Chicago White Stockings won at St. Louis against the Red Stockings in a game that was played in a windstorm. Each team had six hits. George Zettlein was the winning pitcher.

June 12, 1880
The first ML perfect game

Host Worcester’s Ruby Legs, behind lefthander John Lee Richmond, won MLB’s first perfect 1-0 game over the Cleveland Spiders. Jim McCormick was the losing pitcher.

June 18, 1882
American Association and Union Association 1-0 games

The AA (1882-1891) played a modest 82-game schedule in its inaugural season. The league’s first champion was Cincinnati’s Reds, who also won the league’s first 1-0 game at Baltimore. The Union Association (five 1-0 games in 1884, its only season) and the Players League (1890) vied unsuccessfully with the NL as a major baseball league.

August 17, 1882
The first 1-0 game won by a walk-off homer

Hall of Famer Charley “Old Hoss” Radbourn, better known for his pitching, played the outfield in this 18-inning game and won it with his walk-off for Providence. Hall of Famer John Montgomery Ward was the WP against Detroit’s Wolverines that day.

June 21, 1890
The first 1-0 game in the Players League

Only two 1-0 games were played in the Players League’s one sea­son of play. One of them turned out to be a heartbreaker for the Brooklyn Wonders, whose “Silver” King no-hit Chicago’s Pirates but lost when the host Pirates scored a run in the bottom of the seventh. A rainstorm after the eighth halted play.

July 25, 1897
First 1-0 game won on a steal of home

After singling, Bill Dahlen of Chicago’s Colts moved around to third on a sacrifice and a throwing error. Dahlen stole home while losing pitcher Cunningham was recovering the ball at the mound.

October 13, 1905
McGinnity beats Plank in the first World Series 1-0 game

The Giants’ Joe McGinnity shut down Eddie Plank and the Athletics in Game Four, won on an unearned run in the fourth inning. The Giants went on to win the World Series over Connie Mack’s A’s.

July 24, 1909
Nap Rucker fans 16 in Brooklyn win over St. Louis

Lefty Nap Rucker, who lost 10 1-0 games in a 134-134, 10-year Brooklyn career, also won 11 of them. In this one he fanned 16.

September 22, 1911
Cy Young’s final win, number 511

Cy Young’s name will dress up any baseball listing, but it is espe­cially noteworthy that the great one’s last conquest, number 511, for the Boston Nationals, was a 1-0 gem.

April 14, 1914
The first Federal League 1-0 game

A total of 45 1-0 games were played during the two-year his­tory of the Federal League. The very first of these was Pittsburgh’s 1914 season opener. The visiting Brooklyn Tip-Tops, behind Tom Seaton, won. The losing Pittsburgh hurler was Elmer Knetzer. Both were back in the NL for the 1916 season after the Feds called it a day.

May 2, 1918
A double no-no winds up 1-0

Reds lefty Fred Toney and the Cubs’ Hippo Vaughn toiled relent­lessly through nine innings, neither giving up a bingo. But in the 10th the Reds tallied the unearned run that won it, two hits in that frame helping along. Toney got his no-hitter and big Jim Vaughn a two-hit loss.

May 15, 1918
Walter Johnson and Lefty Williams dueled 18 innings

Two weeks after the Toney-Vaughn spectacular, another Chicago team, the White Sox, were involved in a another tense 1-0 game. This time the crafty little southpaw Claude “Lefty” Williams matched zeroes with Walter Johnson through 17 innings, then gave up the winning run in the 18th on a wild pitch.

July 2, 1933
A 1-0 DH: Hubbell over the Cards’ Carleton in 18 innings

In a doubleheader of 1-0 games at the Polo Grounds, Carl Hubbell bested “Tex” Carleton in the first game. The “Meal Ticket” went the route, and Carleton logged 17 innings. St. Louis reliever Jess Haines lost the game in the 18th. In the nightcap Roy Parmalee beat Dizzy Dean 1-0.

April 16, 1940
Bob Feller’s Opening Day no-hitter

The only ML no-hitter on an opening day was thrown by “Rapid Robert” Feller at Comiskey Park. Eddie Smith, the Chicago hurler who was victimized by Feller, tossed a six-hitter in the 1-0 loss on a chilly 47° day in the Windy City.

August 6, 1952
46-year-old Satchel Paige beats the Tigers, 1-0

Ancient Leroy Paige, the oldest pitcher to hurl a 1-0 12-inning masterpiece, beat Virgil Trucks, who that same summer authored a pair of 1-0 no-hitters.

September 20, 1958
Wilhelm beats the Yankees

The first pitcher to enter Cooperstown as a reliever, Hoyt Wilhelm no-hit the Yanks in a 1-0 classic. The pitcher he beat, Don Larsen, knew something about no-nos, having tossed the only perfect game in World Series history in 1956.

May 26, 1959
Haddix nearly no-hits the Braves

Harvey Haddix of the Pirates pitched a perfect game against Milwaukee for 12 innings, only to lose in the 13th. An error, an intentional walk to Hank Aaron, and an apparent three-run homer by Joe Adcock ended the game. But Adcock passed Aaron on the basepaths, and both were called out as Mantilla scored. Lew Burdette went all 12 innings, scattering 12 hits. Making Haddix’s effort even more remarkable was the fact that the Braves hitter knew what was coming. In 1993, Bob Buhl admitted that the Braves pitchers were stealing the signs from Smoky Burgess, who could not crouch down all the way. They would place a towel on the bullpen fence in such a way to signal fastball or breaking ball.

July 2, 1963
Marichal and Spahn go 16

When asked by his manager if he could go another inning, Juan Marichal said, “If that old guy in the Braves dugout can do it, so can I,” and he went on to beat Warren Spahn in a 16-inning thriller on Willie Mays’ homer.

September 9, 1965
Koufax wins as only one hit is recorded by both teams

A number of no-hitters have been 1-0 scores, but none featured fewer hits in a game than this gem. Sandy Koufax’s record fourth no-hitter was a heartbreaker for Cubs pitcher Bob Hendley, who allowed just one Dodger hit and one unearned run

July 9, 1968
The NL beats the AL in All-Star play

To date, the only 1-0 game in the history of the All-Star game was played in Houston at the Astrodome. Don Drysdale got credit for the win.

October 5, 1969
The first 1-0 playoff win

MLB moved to its playoff system in 1969. That year Baltimore became the first 1-0 playoff game winner in game two of the best two-of-three series. Dave McNally’s complete-game victory in 11 innings beat Minnesota’s Twins, and the O’s ultimately moved on to the World Series, where the Miracle Mets stunned the baseball world with its victory.

July 1, 1975
Nolan’s fourth no-no

Nolan Ryan did his no-hit thing seven times. One of the seven was his 1-0 victory over the Orioles at Anaheim. It was Ryan’s 100th career win.

September 21, 1981
Ray Burris beats Steve Carlton in 17 stanzas

North of the border Ol’ Lefty and Ray Burris (and several of his stable mates) put on a 17-inning show that netted the Montreal Expos a win despite Carlton’s 12 K’s and 17 innings of frustration. In that 1-0 loss Lefty did, however, take over the fourth spot on the all-time strikeout list, moving Bob Gibson down to number five.

September 11, 1991
Mercker-Wohlers-Pena combine for a 1-0 no-hitter

In a “first-ever” three Atlanta pitchers combined to no-hit San Diego. The Padres’ Greg Harris was the unfortunate victim, and though he pitched well in a complete-game effort, he gave up the winning run in the fifth inning. Mercker got the win, Wohlers, a hold, and Pena, the save.

July 25, 1998
Toronto beats Montreal

In the first 1-0 game in interleague play, the Blue Jays beat the Expos in Montreal on a Woody Williams five-hitter at Olympic Stadium. It was Williams’ only complete game of the season.

May 29, 2001
18 innings, 5 hours and 63 minutes, and a 1-0 game

39,709 fans went home bleary-eyed in San Francisco as the Giants and Diamondbacks battled 18 innings and almost six hours before Arizona nudged home the winning run. Each club used seven pitchers, with the win going to Miguel Batista. Ryan Vogelsong, who went the last three innings, took the loss.

Fort Wayne sabermetrician WARREN WILBERT, a bleeding-heart White Sox fan, has published seven books about baseball, the latest on — you guessed it — the White Sox. His next book will feature the 26 best games played in the history of the World Series.