August 14, 1971: Bob Gibson pitches his ‘greatest game,’ no-hits the Pirates

Bob Gibson predicted many times throughout his career that he would never throw a no-hitter.[1] Before taking the mound against the Pittsburgh Pirates on August 14, 1971, he still had never thrown one. Not in college. Not in the minors. Not even in the 1968, a season dubbed the “year of the pitcher,” in no small part due to Gibson’s dominance.

At Creighton University, Gibson once pitched a no-hitter into the sixth inning before the manager moved him to center field for the remainder of the game.[2] He recalled coming within one out of a no-hitter while pitching for the Cardinals’ Triple-A affiliate in Rochester in 1958, and had thrown one-hitters against the Philadelphia Phillies in 1965 and the San Diego Padres in 1970.

But by 1971, his third decade in the majors, Gibson had yet to throw a complete-game no-hitter. He and third baseman Joe Torre even joked about it half an hour before the start of the game, though the newspaper accounts of the conversation differed slightly.

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Gibson jokingly told third baseman Joe Torre, “I think I’ll throw a no-hitter.”

“Naw,” Torre replied. “You throw too many pitches.”[3]

The wire services reported that when Gibson told Torre, “I might pitch a no-hitter,” he reconsidered and said, “Nah, I don’t want to do it. It takes too many pitches.”[4]

Catcher Ted Simmons, however, was ready to believe.

“Just two nights ago, when we were eating, I said Gibson would pitch a no-hitter Saturday,” he said. “Go ask Chris Zachary if I’m not right. He was there too.”

Zachary confirmed Simmons’ tale with a nod.[5]

Meanwhile, there was no doubt that Pirates slugger Willie Stargell, who accounted for three of Gibson’s 10 strikeouts, including the final out of the ninth inning, was a believer.

“All those people who said that Gibson was washed up should have had to bat against him tonight,” he said.[6]

The Cardinals made sure that Gibson had a comfortable cushion before he even threw a pitch. After Matty Alou walked and Jose Cruz singled, Torre and Simmons hit back-to-back RBI singles. Right fielder Joe Hague followed with a three-run home run to center field that made it 5-0.

In the second inning, Gibson struck out May but the ball got past Simmons for a wild pitch, allowing May to reach first. Gibson then struck out Bob Robertson for his third strikeout of the inning, then got Bill Mazeroski to hit a foul pop fly into Alou’s glove at first base.

“Don’t ask me how fast he was,” Mazeroski said, “because I didn’t see a fastball all night. He gave me sliders, good sliders on the outside of the plate. I broke two bats the first two times up.”[7]

Gibson walked Jackie Hernandez to lead off the third before retiring the side in order, and issued a one-out walk to Stargell in the fourth. He then retired the next 10 batters, including May on a deep fly ball that forced Cruz to make a running, one-handed grab at the warning track.

“When I hit it, I thought it was going out,” May said. “I’ve only got one left-field homer in this park, and I thought the ball I hit tonight was harder than that one.”[8]

Gibson said, “It was a high fly ball, and I knew if it came down Cruz would catch it. If it didn’t come down, it was going out of the park. Somehow I always felt it was going to come down, though.”[9]

That play didn’t worry Gibson as much as a high chopper in the eighth inning off the bat of Dave Cash. Torre was playing in at third to defend against the bunt and Torre had to leap to keep the ball from bouncing into the outfield.

“That was the only play that really scared me,” Gibson said.[10]

Meanwhile, the Cardinals’ lineup continued to build its lead. In the fifth inning, Ted Kubiak hit a bases-loaded double that scored Torre and Simmons. Gibson hit a sacrifice fly into right field that made the score 8-0.

In the top of the eighth, Cardinals shortstop Dal Maxvill drew a bases-loaded walk and Gibson hit a two-run single to make the score 11-0.

At that point, the only drama lay in whether Gibson could complete his bid for a no-hitter.

In the ninth, Gibson got Vic Davalillo to hit a ground ball to Maxvill at shortstop and Al Oliver to ground out to Kubiak at second base.

“Gibson threw the ball by me all four times at bat,” Oliver said. “He’s the first guy who has ever overpowered me. I just couldn’t get the bat around.”[11]

With two outs and Stargell at the plate, Gibson went to his slider for his 124th pitch of the game. Home plate umpire Harry Wendelstedt called it a strike for Gibson’s 10th strikeout of the day.

“I was looking for a fastball and then that slider cut over the plate at the last instant,” Stargell said.[12]

“That last pitch to Stargell exploded,” Cardinals manager Red Schoendienst said.[13]

It was Gibson’s 201st win and the 48th shutout of his career. Though the Pirates had four baserunners, none advanced past first base.

With the win, Gibson improved to 11-10 on the season and lowered his ERA to 3.22. It had been a challenging, injury-prone season for the veteran right-hander, including a three-week stint on the disabled list in June due to a torn thigh muscle.[14]

“This thrilled me, it really did,” Gibson said. “After it was over, I felt like we’d won the seventh game of the World Series.”[15]

It was an equal thrill for Simmons, who went 4-for-6 with a double and three runs scored, improving his batting average for the season to .314.

“That was the greatest thrill of my life, catching a no-hitter,” Simmons said. “Man, he was throwing fire.”[16]

Torre went 4-for-6 and drove in his 95th RBI, increasing his batting average to .360. Ted Sizemore, Hague, and Kubiak each added two hits. Despite a banner day for the offense, they were happy to hand the spotlight to Gibson.

“You keep looking up at that big scoreboard and see they don’t have any hits,” said Gibson, who admitted he was aware of the no-hit bid throughout the game.

“In the last two innings, I was bearing down extra hard. I was trying not to make bad pitches. Even when I was getting behind in the count, I was being careful not to groove the ball. I was throwing sliders and curves with the count 3 and 2.”[17]

After the reporters had asked all their postgame interviews, the 35-year-old Gibson offered high praise for his performance.

“This was the greatest game I’ve ever pitched anywhere,” he said.[18]


[1] Neal Russo, “Gibson Fires First No-Hitter,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 15, 1971: B1.

[2] Neal Russo, “Gibson Fires First No-Hitter,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 15, 1971: B1.

[3] Neal Russo, “Gibson Fires First No-Hitter,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 15, 1971: B6.

[4] Wire Services, “Bob Gibson No-Hits Bucs in ‘Best Game,’ Philadelphia Inquirer, August 15, 1971: Section 3, Page 1.

[5] Neal Russo, “Gibson Fires First No-Hitter,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 15, 1971: B6.

[6] Neal Russo, “Gibson Fires First No-Hitter,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 15, 1971: B1.

[7] Wire Services, “Bob Gibson No-Hits Bucs in ‘Best Game,’ Philadelphia Inquirer, August 15, 1971: Section 3, Page 1.

[8] “Bucs Scared Gibson In 8th,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 15, 1971: B1.

[9] “Bucs Scared Gibson In 8th,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 15, 1971: B1.

[10] “Bucs Scared Gibson In 8th,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 15, 1971: B1.

[11] Neal Russo, “Gibson’s Reward: A Party,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 16, 1971: C3.

[12] Neal Russo, “Gibson Fires First No-Hitter,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 15, 1971: B6.

[13] Neal Russo, “Gibson Fires First No-Hitter,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 15, 1971: B1.

[14] “Bucs Scared Gibson In 8th,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 15, 1971: B6.

[15] “Bucs Scared Gibson In 8th,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 15, 1971: B1.

[16] Neal Russo, “Gibson Fires First No-Hitter,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 15, 1971: B1.

[17] Neal Russo, “Gibson Fires First No-Hitter,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 15, 1971: B1.

[18] Neal Russo, “Gibson Fires First No-Hitter,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 15, 1971: B6.

 

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