Gary Gentry’s Gem

This article was written by Rodney Johnson

This article was published in the Road Trips: SABR Convention Journal Articles


This article was originally published in “Mining Towns to Major Leagues,” the 1999 SABR convention journal.

 

On October 14, 1969, Gary Gentry pitched 6 2/3 shutout innings against the Orioles, and then got relief help from Nolan Ryan as New York beat Baltimore 5–0 to take a two-games-to-one lead in the World Series. Of course the Mets went on to shock Baltimore and win the Fall Classic in five games.

While that World Series victory 30 years ago may have represented the high point of Gentry’s career, the right-handed hurler performed a far more remarkable feat two years earlier in what was probably the greatest game in the history of Arizona baseball.

On Friday, May 19, Arizona State hosted the University of Arizona in the first game of a three game series that would decide the Western Athletic Conference Southern Division championship. The game, played at Mesa’s Rendezvous Park, was won by ASU behind a Gary Gentry shut out. It was the second time Gentry had shut out the Wildcats in the season, both times by identical 3-0 scores.

The next day the two teams split a double header with ASU winning the afternoon contest 3-0 and dropping the nightcap 7-2. The split left both clubs with 7-5 conference records and set up a one-game playoff for the division title. ASU’s overall record stood at 43-9 while U of A was at 35-14. Athletic directors Clyde Smith of ASU and Dick Clausen of Arizona tossed a coin to see which school would host the playoff. Smith won the toss for the Devils. With a day off on Sunday, the playoff was scheduled for Monday night at 8:00 p.m. at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. The winner of the game would go on to play Brigham Young University, the northern division champ, for the WAC title and a district 7 playoff bid that could lead to the College World Series.

Sun Devil’s coach Bobby Winkles tabbed Gentry to start the game on the mound even though it had been only two days since his complete game four-hitter against the ‘Cats. Arizona’s Frank Sancet named John Hosmer, a lefty with a 7-1 record, to oppose Gentry.

An overflow crowd of 8,314 was shoehorned into Phoenix Muni to watch the longtime rivals play for the league crown. Coming into the game, Arizona was ranked ninth nationally and ASU was number 11. The Arizona Republic reported that, “Since Gentry has had only two days rest, coach Bobby Winkles may be forced to use either Tom Burgess or Jeff Pentland, if help is needed in the later innings.” Gentry, now a Phoenix businessman, said he had other ideas. “I didn’t believe in relief pitchers. I always thought you should finish what you started. Today they talk about quality starts. What the hell is that? A guy goes six innings then they go to a setup man, then to the closer. When I pitched, your starter would go until he couldn’t go anymore. There was no way I was coming out of that game with Arizona until it was decided.” What Gentry didn’t know was that the game would last more than four hours and go on for 15 innings.

Arizona jumped out on top 1-0 in the first inning when outfielder Rich Hinton doubled to drive in Terry DeWald who had opened the game with a single and gone to second on a wild pitch. Hinton, a sophomore from Marana, was the hero of Saturday’s game as he pitched a one-hitter against the Devils to force the playoff game. The Wildcats struck for another run in the fifth inning with the help of an error.

Hosmer reached first base on a walk. DeWald hit a grounder to shortstop Jack Lind who stepped on second for the force and then threw wildly to first, hitting Hosmer in the head. The ball bounced into the stands and DeWald was awarded second. He then scored on Hinton’s single to right to make the score 2-0. The Sun Devils came back with a run in the bottom half of the inning when Gentry singled and scored on a triple by second baseman Fred Nelson

ASU tied the game in the sixth when Randy Bobb reached first on an error by third baseman Marty Hall, then went to second on a passed ball and scored on a double down the third base line by Dave Grangaard. Hosmer was done. He had pitched well, striking out the side in both the first Band second innings and finished with nine strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings. Steve Brasher came on to pitch for the Wildcats.

On they played into the night. Each inning Winkles would ask Gentry how he felt. Every inning the answer was the same. “Fine.” Before going out each inning, Gentry popped four sugar pills to give him a boost. “I don’t know if they really helped or not,” Gentry says today. “I thought they did at the time, so I guess that’s all that matters. One thing they did for certain was keep me awake. When I got home after the game, I didn’t get to sleep until about 5:00 a.m.” Gentry took the last three remaining sugar tablets before he went to the mound for the 15th inning. After issuing a leadoff walk to Eddie Leon, Gentry struck out the side bringing his total to 18 for the game, a new WAC record.

John Olson, now one of three official scorers for the Diamondbacks, was there that night. “Even though we (the fans) wanted ASU to win, there was a part of us that didn’t want to see the game end.” Olson said. “What a great game it was.”

In the bottom of the 15th, Randy Bobb opened the frame with a single to left and then went to second on Ralph Carpenter’s sacrifice bunt. Gentry sat in the dugout thinking about not having any more sugar pills and hoping that the Devils could end the game right there. “I was thinking that no matter what, I was going to finish that game. I didn’t want to have to go out there again, but I was ready to if it came to that,” remembered Gentry. Then at 17 minutes past midnight, Jack Lind smashed a drive to deep right field to score the winning run and end the greatest game in the history of ASU baseball. Bedlam broke loose as the Devils mobbed Lind. Winkles said “Considering the pressure, that has to be the greatest pitching performance I’ve ever seen. I’d have to say he’s (Gentry) the greatest pitcher I’ve ever had.”

That night Gentry threw 208 pitches, struck out 18, gave up two runs, one earned, on nine hits and walked five. He wasn’t through. The following Saturday, Gentry went the distance in a 4- 3 win against BYU to wrap up the WAC title.

He struck out 16 in that game. In the district 7 playoffs, Gentry won again, beating Air Force. In the College World Series he won two more games including another iron man performance in a complete game, 14-inning, 4-3 win against Stanford. The two marathon performances remain the longest outings for pitchers in ASU history. The Devils went on to win their second College World Series and Gentry was named to the CWS team as well as being named as an All-American and the 1967 Sporting News College Player of the Year. In all, Gentry went 17-1 with 13 complete games, six shut outs, a 1.14 ERA and a school record 229 strikeouts.

At Phoenix College in 1966, Gentry’s team won the Jr. College National Championship, then the title at ASU in 1967 followed by minor league titles at Williamsport of the Eastern League and Jacksonville of the International League. Of course he followed those up with the 1969 World Series victory with the Mets. And which was the biggest thrill? “Of course it’s nice to win, but none of them was really that big of a thrill,” said Gentry. “I always expected to win so it was more of a shock when I lost as opposed to a thrill when I won.”

Injuries finally ended his Major League career in 1975 but up until then, from his days at Camelback High School to pitching for the Atlanta Braves, Gentry was always ready to take the ball. While the Sun Devils were celebrating their dramatic win over Arizona, Gentry was in the shower. Finally Winkles called him out to be with the team. Clad only in a towel, Gary slyly smiled and said “What do you want coach? Want me to play a little catch with someone?” He was still ready.

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