When Lefty Lost a 10-Inning Shutout

On Wednesday, April 18th, Cliff Lee threw a remarkable 10 inning shutout. He was the first Phillie to throw a 10 inning shutout in over 30 years, since Lefty did it in a game against the Expos in 1981. The Phillies also lost that game, 1-0. Here’s the story of that loss.

It’s impossible to overstate Steve Carlton’s greatness. His 1972 season is mentioned in the same breath as Bob Gibson’s 1968 and Doc Gooden’s 1985. He won 329 games and has the 4th most strikeouts in MLB history. He won 4 Cy Young’s and played in 10 All-Star games. Another testament to his greatness? The game he threw on September 21st, 1981, that was strikingly similar to Cliff Lee’s on Wednesday night, with perhaps an even crueler ending.

The 1981 season was cut in half by a contentious strike, and when play resumed the owners decided to split it into halves and declare winners from the first and second halves. (The result was disastrous, with Cincy and St. Louis sporting the two best records in the NL, but neither making the playoffs). The Phillies had won the first half, and thus had nothing to play for in the 2nd half. Therefore, it was no surprise that they went 34-21 in the first half, then went 25-27 in the 2nd half. One of those 27 losses was more painful than the others, however.

Carlton faced off against journeyman pitcher Ray Burris, who would throw for 6 teams over 15 season, winning more games than he lost only four times in his career. But on this day, he was unhittable, shutting down the Phillies frame after frame. Carlton was even more dominant. While Burris only recorded one K, Carlton, put up 12. After 9 innings, the two teams were tied at zero, and they went into extra frames. Burris came out for the 10th and sent the Phils down 1-2-3. Carlton came out in the bottom of the 10th and did the same. And so, after 10 innings, each pitcher had given up 3 hits and had nothing to show for it. They were both pulled for pinch hitters in the 11th.

The game went into the 17th inning, still scoreless. With two outs in the top of the 17th, the Expos sent in a young man named Bryn Smith who had pitched all of 8.2 innings in his career. After giving up a single to Manny Trillo, he induced Len Matuszek to fly out to left and end the inning. In the bottom of the 17th, Andre Dawson singled home Rodney Scott, and the Expos got the win. Bryn Smith faced two batters, retired one and got the win. Steve Carlton faced 35 batters, retired 29, struck out 12, and got an ND. Baseball can be a funny game.

Smith went on to have a very nice career, winning 108 games and finishing with a very respectable 3.53 ERA. But his first one came fairly cheap. Here’s the box score to that game. A very fun box score to look at, as both team had some all-time greats on their roster.

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