On This Date in Sports June 8, 1968: Scoreless

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

Don Drysdale of the Los Angeles Dodgers breaks Walter Johnson’s record of consecutive 55 2/3  scoreless inning as he blanks the Philadelphia Phillies for the first four innings at Dodger Stadium. Drysdale’s streak would end at 58 2/3 inning on a sacrifice fly by Howie Bedell in the fifth. The Dodgers would win the game 5-3, with Don Drysdale improving his record to 8-3 on the season.

Don Drysdale was born July 23, 1936, in Van Nuys, California. Making his debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1956, Drysdale was a pitcher that fans gravitated to after the team moved to Los Angeles in 1958. Don Drysdale led the National League in shutouts in 1959, 1960, and 1962, winning the Cy Young award in 1962. The tall right-hander proved to be the perfect complement for Sandy Koufax as they won the World Series three times, 1959, 1963, and 1965. In 1966, Drysdale and Koufax also teamed up for a holdout that was key to bringing collective bargaining into the game, as the two became the first pitchers to make $100,000.

While Sandy Koufax retired after the 1966 World Series, Drysdale remained strong and steady, entering 1968, the year of the pitcher. Drysdale struggled early in 1968, losing three of his first four decisions before he started opposite Fergusson Jenkins and the Chicago Cubs at Dodger Stadium on May 14th. Allowing two hits and striking out seven, Don Drysdale went the distance as the Dodgers beat the Cubs 1-0. Four days later, Drysdale allowed five hits with six strikeouts in a complete game 1-0 win over the Houston Astros as Dave Giusti was the hard-luck loser. The streak reached 27 innings in Busch Stadium on May 22nd, as Don Drysdale outdueled Bob Gibson, allowing five hits with eight strikeouts in a 2-0 win over the St. Louis Cardinals. At the Astrodome on May 26th streak reached four straight complete games as the Dodgers beat Larry Dierker and the Astros 5-0.

The streak appeared to be over in the ninth inning of a game against the San Francisco Giants on May 31st. With the Dodgers scoring three runs off Mike McCormick, Don Drysdale went to the mound in the ninth inning at Dodger Stadium, holding a 3-0 lead. Willie McCovey led off the inning, Jim Ray Hart singled, and Dave Marshall walked to load the bases with nobody out. Dick Dietz stepped in and was hit by a pitch to score pinch-runner Nate Oliver. However, home plate umpire Harry Wendlestedt refused to allow Dietz to take his base, citing a rarely used rule that Dietz did not attempt to move out of the way of the ball. The Giants catcher proceeded to fly out to shallow left for the first out. Pinch-hitter Ty Cline then ground out to Ken Boyer at first, who forced out Oliver at home. Jack Hiatt then popped up to Boyer to end the game and preserve Drysdale’s streak at 45 innings, as he allowed six hits with seven strikeouts against the rival Giants. Don Drysdale inched closer with a complete-game three-hitter against the Pittsburgh Pirates, striking out eight as the Dodgers beat Jim Bunning and the Pittsburgh Pirates 5-0 on June 4th.

Entering his start on June 8th against the Philadelphia Phillies, Don Drysdale had six straight complete games and a scoreless streak of 54 innings, less than two innings away from the record of  55 2/3 scoreless innings set by Walter Johnson with the Washington Senators in 1913. After working around a walk in the first inning, Drysdale equaled the record with a pair of groundouts in the second inning. His strikeout of Clay Dalrymple to end the inning would break the record that most thought was unapproachable. The Phillies did not score in either the third or the fourth inning to extend to 58 innings. At the same time, Drysdale was accused of doctoring the baseball and ordered not to touch his head or risk ejection from Umpire Augie Donatelli. Tony Taylor and Dalrymple led off the inning with singles to set the Phillies up first and third with no outs as Los Angeles led 4-0. The streak was extended with a strikeout of Roberto Pena before pinch-hitter Howie Bedell stepped in. Drysdale got Bedell to fly out, but Taylor was able to tag and score, ending the streak at 58 2/3 innings. It would be the only RBI for Bedell, a minor league journeyman during 1968, and the third and final RBI of his major league career. The Dodgers would win the game 5-3.

Don Drysdale would make the All-Star team for the ninth time in his career. Injuries would force him to retire a year later, and he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1984. Don Drysdale’s record was nearly broken weeks later, as Bob Gibson made a serious run with a streak that began on June 2nd but only reached 47 innings when it ended on June 26th. The streak would be topped by another Dodgers hurler in 1988 when Orel Hershiser finished the 1988 season with 59 scoreless innings.