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Almost perfect: No one could reach base against Harvey Haddix for 12 innings but a perfect game eluded him

Updated on August 9, 2012

No pitcher has ever been perfect longer than Harvey Haddix in 1959. For 12 innings he set down every batter he faced. But don’t look for his name among those who have thrown perfect games – he lost the game in the 13th inning on the only hit he allowed.

Haddix, nicknamed The Kitten, was a 33-year-old in his first season with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1959 after a respectable 83-68 record in seven seasons with St. Louis, Philadelphia and Cincinnati. But most of those wins had come in 1953 and ’54 when he went 20-9 and 18-13 with the Cardinals.

He started well with the Pirates, with a 4-2 record heading into the game at Milwaukee on May 26, 1959. He was squaring off against Lew Burdette, the ace of the Braves staff, and facing the heavy-hitting Braves lineup that included Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews and Joe Adcock. The Braves were 23-14 coming into the game.

Haddix is perfect but Pirates can't score off Burdette

Haddix got a ground out, line out and fly ball out in the first inning. And then inning after inning, he mowed down the powerful Braves lineup without much trouble. His biggest problem was that the Pirates hitters weren’t having much more success against Burdette.

In the third Don Hoak got the Pirates’ first hit of the game but was forced at second on a grounder by Roman Mejias. Haddix then singled but Mejias was thrown out at third. Dick Schofield followed with a single, but Bill Virdon flied out to end the inning. Three hits in one inning without a run scored.

Burdette benefited from three double plays in the game, which opponents said he induced with his well-known spitball. The elements also began to conspire against Haddix and the Pirates. In the seventh inning rain carried on a gusty wind hit the stadium. In that inning Bob Skinner smashed a ball off Burdette that appeared headed for the seats until it hit the wind and dropped into the rightfielder’s glove at the wall.

The Pirates put two runners on in the top of the ninth but couldn’t bring them across. Haddix, as usual, mowed through the Braves with a pair of strikeouts and a fly ball, sending the game to the 10th still tied at 0-0. They would go to the 13th inning before reaching a resolution to the game.

The Pirates got one single off Burdette in each of the four extra innings (yes, Burdette pitched all 13 innings) but couldn’t do any further damage. Haddix remained perfect, getting Burdette on a grounder to end the 12th.

A bizarre 13th inning ends the quest for perfection

Then things fell apart in the bottom of the 13th inning, and fell apart in a bizarre fashion. Felix Mantilla led off the 13th with an easy grounder to Don Hoak at third, but he threw the ball in the dirt and Mantilla was safe on the error. Eddie Mathews, who finished his career with 512 home runs, laid down a sacrifice bunt to move Mantilla to second. Haddix then intentionally walked Aaron to set up a force out. No longer perfect, but Haddix still had his no-hitter as he faced Joe Adcock, a power-hitting first baseman who would hit 25 homers in 1959.

Haddix’s second pitch was a high slider that Adcock crushed over the right-centerfield fence. But just to add an extra bit of absurdity to the evening, Adcock’s three-run homer turned into a one-run double. Aaron thought the ball had stayed in the park, so when he rounded second and saw that Mantilla had scored the winning run he peeled off the base paths and cut across the infield. Adcock trotted past Aaron and was called out for passing the baserunner in front of him.

Haddix had just pitched 12 perfect innings, only to lose 1-0 on the game’s only hit. The entire 13-inning contest took less than three hours (2:54).

Haddix had a long night after the game

Losing the game, though, proved a bigger disappointment than not getting the perfect game. Afterwards Haddix said, “My main aim all night long was to win. The perfect game would have meant something to me then. It’s just another loss, and that’s not good enough for myself or the club.”

Although pitch counts weren’t kept in those days, one estimate is that he pitched so efficiently that he threw only 115 pitches. The most he threw in any inning was 14 in the 12th. There was no estimate on Burdette’s pitch count, but he faced 47 batters. At a conservative three pitchers per batter that’s 141; at a more realistic four pitches per batter that’s 188.

Burdette allowed 12 hits in the game to Haddix’s one. After the game, Burdette told Haddix, “You have to learn how to spread your hits out.” Haddix couldn’t sleep after the game and reportedly walked the streets of Milwaukee until dawn.

Haddix bounces back

In his next start, Haddix tossed an eight-hit shutout against St. Louis. In 21-2/3 innings he had allowed nine hits and no earned runs but had one win and one loss to show for it.

Unfortunately, the rest of the season didn’t go well for Haddix. He finished the season with a 12-12 mark (the Pirates went 78-76) with a 3.13 ERA. He pitched six more seasons in the majors with the Pirates and the Orioles, going 41-33 during that time. Overall, he was 136-113.

Perhaps as a way for the baseball gods to give something back to Haddix, he was the winning pitcher of Game 7 of the 1960 World Series despite allowing the Yankees to score two runs in the ninth to tie the game. But Bill Mazeroski’s homer in the bottom of the ninth made him the winner. He also had a win in Game 5.

Even though perfect games have become a little more commonplace lately (six in the past 10 years, including two this season), there have been only 22 total going back to 1880. But in 1959 no one had pitched a perfect game during the regular season since 1922. Don Larsen had thrown a perfect game three years earlier, but in the World Series. So to not only pitch nine perfect innings but to be perfect for three more after that was a truly remarkable feat.

For many years Haddix (as well as several other pitchers) was credited with a perfect game but with an asterisk. Then in 1991 Major League baseball took that away from him as effectively as Adcock’s hit did when they ruled that a perfect game had to be a complete game win. But no one can ever take away the legendary performance that keeps Haddix famous more than 50 years after he was almost the most perfect pitcher in history.

Pitching Lines From May 26, 1959



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