The 4th of July on Which Hooks Wiltse Was Nearly Perfect

The Phillies came dragging into their July 4th matchup with the New York Giants in 1908. They had started the season well, but had lost four in a row and five of their last six. The Giants, on the other hand, were red hot, having won 16 of their past 21 games. They had knocked off the Phillies in 6 out of their 8 matchups so far that season, and had won the first two games of this 4-game tilt.

On the hill for the Giants for the first game of that day’s scheduled doubleheader was George “Hooks” Wiltse, who had acquired the nickname not for his curveball, which was devastating, but for his fielding prowess. He was in the midst of what would be a superlative year, as the 28-year old lefty would go 23-14 with a 2.24 ERA.

Wiltse had his famous curveball breaking on this holiday, and each and every Phillie who came to the plate headed right back to the dugout. Unfortunately for the Giants, Phillies pitcher George McQuillan was also in the zone, and through 8 innings the teams were deadlocked at zero.

In the top of the 9th, the first two Phillies went down. Up came McQuillan, who was having a career year (23-17 with a 1.53 ERA) but who would end his career with a pathetic .117 batting average. The count went to 1-2. Wiltse reached  back, fired, and threw a pitch right down the middle. McQuillan’s bat stayed on his shoulder…and umpire Cy Rigler’s hand stayed by his side. Ball two. Shaken, Wiltse would hit McQuillan with his next pitch. The perfect game was ruined. Wiltse got the next hitter out, and the game went to the bottom of the 9th. The Giants went down quietly, and out came Wiltse for the 10th. Once again the Phils went down 1-2-3, and finally, in the bottom of the 10th, the Giants pushed a run across the plate to take a 1-0 victory.

Wiltse is still one of only 3 men in MLB history to throw a 10-inning no-hitter (the others are Fred Toney in 1917 and Jim Maloney in 1965. Interestingly, both guys played for the Reds. In 1997, two Pirates combined to pitch a 10-inning no-hitter.), and one of only three men to throw a no-hitter on the 4th of July (along with Tigers’ pitcher George Mullin in 1912 and Yankees pitcher Dave Righetti in 1983). And if it wasn’t for Cy Rigler’s blown call, he would probably have thrown the only 10-inning perfect game in MLB history (unless, like me, you count Harvey Haddix’s 12 perfect innings. The MLB does not). It was not unlike the infamous Galarraga/Joyce game, as Rigler later apologized for blowing the call, and according to Wiltse’s bio on SABR, “spent years giving Wiltse cigars to atone for it.”

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