On September 27, 1968, Bob Gibson capped off his historical season by shutting out the Houston Astros 1-0 in front of 18,658 fans at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. The six-hit shutout was his 13th shutout of the season, as well as his 28th complete game of the campaign. Gibson’s ERA coming into his final start of the season was 1.16. After shutting the Astros down, Gibson’s ERA dropped to 1.12, which stands as the lowest earned run average during a single season in the live ball era.
The game played at Busch that September evening was looked at by many as a tune up for Gibson as the Cardinals were set to take on the Detroit Tigers in the World Series. Gibson looked at it like he looked at every other game he started… he came to win. He was a fierce competitor in start number one, and he was the same fierce competitor in start 34.
Houston skipper Harry “The Hat” Walker called on Larry Dierker to face Gibson. Dierker did a formidable job keeping the Birds off the board until the fifth when he opened the inning with a walk to Julian Javier. Dierker struck the next man out before Gibson sacrificed Javier to second with a bunt. Javier took third on a single by Lou Brock, then scored when Curt Flood singled him in. Brock was thrown out at home trying to score on the same play to end the inning, but the damage was done, Gibson had the run he would need, and he was on the way to victory.
Houston scattered a few hits along the way, however, they could not figure out a way to get a runner home. Gibson was doing what Gibson did that season, which was set men down. He sailed into the ninth with nine strikeouts under his belt. He struck out ten and eleven to begin the inning, then finished the game off with getting Rusty Staub to hit a pop fly to Javier at second base. Gibson walked off the mound a 22-game winner and the owner of an ERA of 1.12 that has not been matched since.
In the history of Major League Baseball only three pitchers have posted a season ERA that was below Gibson’s mark of 1.12. Tim O’Keefe posted a 0.86 ERA as a member of the National League’s Troy Trojans in 1880, Mordecai Brown posted a 1.04 ERA as a member of the Chicago Cubs in 1904, and Dutch Leonard posted a 0.96 ERA as a member of the Boston Red Sox in 1914. All three of those pitchers accomplished their feats during the dead ball era, making Gibson’s 1.12 an accomplishment like no other.
That year, “The Year of The Pitcher”, had a plethora of pitching stars. Denny McLain, who Gibson would face off against during the World Series won 31 games, making him the last hurler to win 30 or more. Cleveland’s Luis Tiant posted a 1.60 ERA to earn the American League’s earned run pitching title. Juan Marichal of the Giants led the National League with 26 wins. There were so many accomplishments by pitchers during that season that it looks absolutely ridiculous. 49 starting pitchers had an earned run average below 3.00 on the season and seven starters had an ERA under 2.00.
The dominance in pitching in 1968 caused Major League Baseball to bring changes to the game. The league lowered the mound from 15 to 10 inches in an effort to generate offense. Many in Cardinals Nation credit Bob Gibson for the mound being lowered, however, the fact of the matter is Gibson was one of many men who were responsible for the league choosing to make the change. Gibson simply led the pack.
Both Gibson and McLain took home MVP and Cy Young honors in their respective leagues. As mentioned before they would face off in the World Series. Gibson opened the series up by breaking a Fall Classic record striking out 17 men, and Gibby then went out and won game four, in a series that would go seven. Gibson started the seventh game and was beaten by Mickey Lolich. The World Series loss was a hard pill to swallow for that pennant winning club. Especially for Bob Gibson who carried that team so far.
As we take one more look back at this Celebrate ’68 series I am going to recap the numbers that Gibson posted during that 1968 season: In 34 starts Gibson won 22 games and lost 9. He completed 28 of his 34 starts and recorded 13 shutouts. In 304.2 innings he faced 1,161 men innings and struck out 268 of them. He was an All Star, a Gold Glove winner, the Cy Young winner, and the Most Valuable Player in the National League. With a wicked fastball and a slider that would send men packing, Gibson put together a year that is celebrated 50 years later and will likely be talked about 50 years from now. For the magic number of 1.12 will live forever and as it lives on Bob Gibson’s name will be right next to it.
Check out the box score here:
The Southeast Missourian, The Schenectady
Gazette, The Victoria Advocate, The Free Lance-Star, The Dispatch, The
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The Pittsburgh Press, Newsday, as well as a wide
variety of that I have utilized throughout this season.
I would like to thank each and every one of you that have taken the time to read these blogs. You doing so has made every minute that I have spent doing this well worth it. I would also like to thank Dan McLaughlin for showing support throughout the season. It has been fun to say the least.
I have always known the number 1.12. I have always appreciated and admired what Gibson accomplished that season and throughout his career as a Cardinal. With that said, by looking back at the ’68 season like we have done together here this year has made me appreciate it in a way that I could have never done without it. Therefore, I want to thank one more person in closing.
Thank you, Bob Gibson.