Given a choice of facing Del Ennis or Stan Musial with runners in scoring position and the game on the line, Warren Spahn did what no other big-league pitcher had done before him: He opted to pitch to Musial.
It was the only time in Musial’s illustrious 22-year Cardinals career that a pitcher intentionally walked a batter in order to get to Musial.
It happened 60 years ago on a Saturday afternoon, Aug. 17, 1957, in a game between the Cardinals and Braves at Milwaukee’s County Stadium.
The slumping Cardinals, who had lost nine in a row, were fighting to remain in the 1957 National League pennant race when they went to Milwaukee for a four-game series in August. The Braves, riding a 10-game winning streak, were in first place, 7.5 games ahead of the Cardinals and Dodgers, who were tied for second.
St. Louis won the series opener, 6-2, behind the slugging of Ennis, who hit a three-run home run off Juan Pizarro.
Game 2 of the series matched Larry Jackson of the Cardinals against Lew Burdette.
The Cardinals jumped ahead with three runs in the first, but the Braves came back with two runs in the sixth and one in the eighth, tying the score at 3-3.
Don McMahon, a rookie, relieved Burdette in the ninth. After Eddie Kasko grounded out, Jackson, the pitcher, hit a broken-bat pop fly to right that fell safely in front of Bob Hazle for a single. The next batter, Ken Boyer, reached base when shortstop Felix Mantilla booted a grounder for an error.
With Wally Moon at the plate, McMahon’s first pitch to him eluded catcher Del Crandall for a passed ball. Jackson advanced to third on the play and Boyer to second.
Braves manager Fred Haney lifted McMahon and brought in Spahn, a left-hander, to face Moon, a left-handed batter, with the count at 1-and-0.
Two nights earlier, on Aug. 15, Spahn had started against the Reds at Cincinnati and pitched a complete game in an 8-1 Braves victory. With one day of rest, the Braves ace was making his fourth and final relief appearance of the season.
Cardinals manager Fred Hutchinson countered by bringing in Ennis, a right-handed batter, to hit for Moon.
Ennis, batting .275 with 17 home runs, was a threat, but he was no Musial. At 36, Musial was having a sensational season. He was batting .333 and would finish the year at .351, earning his seventh NL batting crown.
Still, with first base open, Spahn issued an intentional walk to Ennis, loading the bases with one out and bringing Musial, a left-handed batter, to the plate.
In his book “Stan Musial: The Man’s Own Story,” Musial said the sight of Spahn walking Ennis to face him is one “I’ll never forget.”
Musial fared well versus Spahn in his career _ .318 batting average and .412 on-base percentage _ but on this day the Braves pitcher won the showdown of future Hall of Famers.
Musial rapped a Spahn pitch on the ground to the second baseman _ Musial’s friend and former teammate, Red Schoendienst.
Schoendienst fielded the ball and flipped it to Mantilla for the force of Ennis at second. Mantilla’s relay throw to first baseman Frank Torre was in time to retire Musial, completing the inning-ending double play.
“He’s the only pitcher ever to walk a batter to face me,” Musial confirmed.
Back and forth
The drama wasn’t over. Another future Hall of Famer, Braves center fielder Hank Aaron, had a large role to play in the outcome.
In the 11th, with Spahn pitching, Don Blasingame led off for the Cardinals and stretched a routine single into a hustling double. Kasko grounded out to second, advancing Blasingame to third.
Jackson was due up next, but Hutchinson sent Walker Cooper, 42, to hit for the pitcher. Cooper lifted a long sacrifice fly to left, scoring Blasingame and giving the Cardinals a 4-3 lead.
Billy Muffett, a rookie, was Hutchinson’s choice to pitch the bottom half of the inning. Muffett retired the first batter, Schoendienst, on a pop-up.
The next batter, Frank Torre, hit a low line drive to left. Ennis lumbered in, got a glove on the ball and dropped it. Torre, credited with a single, was replaced by pinch-runner Hawk Taylor.
Eddie Mathews followed with a single to center. Boyer, playing center field, hesitated on his throw, enabling Taylor to reach third.
That brought Aaron to the plate.
Aaron was angry. In the ninth, Jackson had moved Aaron off the plate with a high, tight pitch. Aaron, in comments to the Associated Press, accused Jackson of “trying to stick one in my ear.”
“It’s on purpose,” Aaron said. “I can tell when they’re throwing at me.
“If that’s the only way they can win a ballgame, they ought to get other jobs. I don’t mind being brushed back _ you expect that _ but I don’t like them balls aimed at my head. We don’t knock Stan Musial down, so why do they do it to me?”
Aaron hit Muffett’s first pitch to him into right-center for a double. Taylor trotted home from third, tying the score at 4-4. Racing from first, Mathews headed toward the plate and barely beat Blasingame’s relay throw, giving the Braves a 5-4 victory and making a winner of Spahn. Boxscore
The Braves went on to clinch the pennant, finishing eight games ahead of the runner-up Cardinals.
Previously: Del Ennis provided power in Cardinals lineup