Nineteen sixty four had been an almost magical year for the Philadelphia Phillies. They acquired Jim Bunning from the Detroit Tigers in exchange for Don Demeter to complement lefty ace Chris Short. On Father’s Day, Bunning hurled a perfect game against the New York Mets.
In the all-star game, Phillies’ outfielder Johnny Callison hit a ninth inning, game-winning home run off Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Dick “the Monster” Radatz.
Rookie Richie Allen, along with Callison, provided clutch offense until the last 12 days of the season..
There have been many fine first place teams that had seemingly “safe” leads late in the season only to be overtaken, but almost nothing compares to what happened to the 1964 Philadelphia Phillies.
At the height of the pennant race, the Phillies lost 10 consecutive games before finally getting a win. Some blamed manager Gene Mauch for starting Bunning and Short several times on only two days’ rest.
At the end of play on September 20, 1964, the Phillies led both the St. Louis Cardinals and the Cincinnati Reds, who were tied for second place, by six and one-half games. It only took seven days for things to change radically.
At the end of play on September 27, the Reds led the second place Phillies by a full game. The Phillies lost a six and one-half game lead and were never again in first place.
On September 28 the Pittsburgh Pirates shut out the Reds while the Cardinals beat the Phillies. The Cardinals and Reds were tied for the top spot with the reeling Phillies trailing each of them by one and one-half games.
The next day, the Pirates beat the Reds in sixteen innings, 1-0. Once the Reds reached first place, they didn’t score again until they were out of first place. The Phillies weren’t the only team feeling the pressure.
The Cardinals beat the Phillies again, to take over first place from the Reds.
On October 1, the Cardinals weren’t scheduled. The Reds finally scored as they beat the Pirates to pull within one half game of the Cardinals, who would be at home for the final three games of the season to face New York’s most beloved team, the Mets, losers of 108 games.
The Phillies trailed the Cards by 2 ½ games and were basically out of it.
Mets’ broadcaster Lindsey Nelson often told his viewers that late in the season, teams that are out of the pennant race can be extremely dangerous since they have nothing to lose and are loose. How right he was.
The Cardinals ace, Hall of Famer Bob Gibson, faced the Mets’ little lefty, Al Jackson, in what seemed to be a mismatch. Jackson was 10-16. Gibson was 18-11.
The Mets scored a run in the third inning when Ed Kranepool singled home George Altman with two outs. That turned out to be the game’s only run, as Jackson blanked the Cardinals on five hits.
The Phillies beat the Reds, so the Cardinals still led the Reds by one-half game and the Phillies by one and one-half games.
On the next to last day of the season, Cards 20 game winner Ray Sadecki faced Mets’ 17 game loser Jack Fisher. It was no contest as the Mets scored four times in the first inning and slowly pulled away for a 15-5 victory.
The Reds, who were idle, were again tied with the Cards for first place. The Phillies, surprisingly, were still in it, trailing by a mere game going into the last day of the season.
The Phillies won again behind Bunning’s shut out, 10-0, but they needed help they would never receive.
The Cardinals sent Curt Simmons to face the Mets’ 18 game loser, Galen Cisco, in a game they had to win in order to avoid a three team tie for the pennant.
The Mets took a 3-2 lead into the bottom of the fifth, knocking out Simmons.
Manager Johnny Keane brought in Bob Gibson, who had pitched eight innings on Friday. The Cardinals scored three runs in the bottom of the fifth, and went on to an 11-5 win to become National League champions.
The Phillies, the Cardinals, and the Reds all felt the pressure. It is often easier to withstand pressure when trying to get something than when trying to defend it.
When each of the three teams reached first place, they faltered. The Cardinals were fortunate that after they beat the Mets and the Phillies beat the Reds, the season ended.
The 1964 Phillies were an excellent team. Third baseman Richie Allen hit .318 with 29 home runs, outfielder Johnny Callison hit .274 with 31 home runs, Bunning won 19 games, and Short won 17. The problem was that the team lacked pitching depth, which explains why Mauch started Bunning and Short on two days rest.
It is ironic, but the only way the 1964 Phillies could be ranked among the best Philies’ teams would have been if they had not lost 10 consecutive games near the end of the season and had merely finished a consistent second or third.