(c) Houston Astros
by Dick Peebles, Houston Chronicle
July 14, 1968 - Fireballing Don Wilson, who equaled two major league strikeout records in rainy and gloomy Crosley Field Sunday as the Astros swept a doubleheader from the Cincinnati Reds, 5-4 and 6-1, has regained new confidence in his fast ball.
The 23-year-old righthander who took a 5-11 record and an earned run average of 4.32 into the second game of the twinbill admitted he was beginning to doubt his ability to get batters out with his fast ball.
"But this restores my confidence," he said as he stripped off his sweat and rain drenched uniform. "If I threw as many as 180 pitches out there today, 155 of them were fast balls. I lost it for a couple of innings, then I got it back in the seventh and finished strong."
The first record that Wilson equaled was eight consecutive strikeouts from the first inning through the third.
Tied Surkont's Record
That tied the modern day mark that Max Surkont of Milwaukee set May 25, 1953, and which was tied by Johnny Podres of the Dodgers July 2, 1962, and Jim Maloney of the Reds May 31, 1963.
Big Don, who pitched a no-hit, no-run game against the Atlanta Braves June 18, 1967, then went on to fan 10 more Reds to match the major league record of 18 strikeouts in a nine-inning game.
That mark was set originally by "Rapid" Robert Feller of the Indians against the Detroit Tigers Oct. 2, 1938, and equaled twice by Sandy Koufax of the Dodgers Aug. 31, 1959, against San Francisco and April 24, 1962 against the Chicago Cubs.
So Wilson woke up this morning to find himself in baseball's record book alongside two of the greatest pitchers in the game's history.
Better Fast Ball
"I had a better fast ball today than I did in the no-hitter against the Braves," he admitted. "My curve and slider was working good too. And I was getting everything over the plate."
He allowed only two bases on balls, one in the first inning and another in the seventh, and set down the Reds with five hits.
Pitching coach Jim Owens went to the mound after Wilson walked pinch hitter Mack Jones in the seventh.
"I told him to relax and not try to throw the ball so hard," said Owens. "He was trying to muscle up and his pitches began to go high."
Wilson settled down and fanned Leo Cardenas for the second time to set a new Astro record for strikeouts at 16. He shared the former mark of 15 with Mike Cuellar.
With Lee Thomas and Nate Colbert keeping count on the bench, Wilson said he knew all along how many strikeouts he had.
In the seventh inning when Johnny Bench lofted a foul in front of the Reds' dugout, Wilson said he yelled to third baseman Doug Rader, "Drop it, Doug; drop it;" but Doug didn't and Wilson said he's glad he didn't. "Getting a put out was more important right then," he said.
Disturbed at Pinson
Wilson also said he was a little disturbed when Vada Pinson tried to bunt his way on base in the ninth, after he swung and missed at a fast ball. Denis Menke threw out Pinson at first.
Pinson had been a strikeout victim twice previously and Wilson felt he could have fanned him again.
When Bench came up with two out in the ninth and Wilson needing one more strikeout to tie the record, Big Don went to work like he did against Hank Aaron for the final out of his no-hitter.
He reached back and threw four straight fast balls -- two of them strikes, two of them balls. The fifth pitch was another high hard one that plate umpire Harry Wendlestedt didn't hesitate calling a strike.
Crowd Cheered Strikes
In the late innings, the crowd of 15,240 cheered Wilson's every strike.
Rain started falling with the Astros at bat in the eighth. Whipped by a strong wind out of the West, the rain swept in clouds across the field handicapping both pitcher and batter, but the umpires never gavy any indication of calling a halt.
Wilson said he feared the umpires might stop the game and he admitted saying prayerfully, "please don't, please don't."
Seven of the Reds were called out on strikes, the other 11 went down swinging.
'A Great Thrill'
"Sure this is a great thrill," Wilson said, "but not quite as big a one as the no-hitter, because that was a shutout. But this is what I need to get going again. I'm confident again I can get them out with my fast ball."
Wilson lost his shutout in the fourth when, with runners on first and third, Alex Johnson and Lee May worked a double steal, with Johnson scoring. John Bateman threw wild to Denis Menke on the play, allowing May to go on to third.
Wilson's strong-arm efforts overshadowed two other brilliant achievements by Astros, on the day they handed the Reds their first double setback of the season.
Bateman Ties Record
Nine straight putouts by Bateman in the first three innings equaled the major league record for catchers that Art Wilson of the New York Giants set against Brooklyn in the morning game of May 30, 1911.
And Steve Shea, making his first major league appearance, pitched one and one third innings of hitless ball in the opening game to gain credit for the victory.
Shea, a 25-year-old righthander, arrived in Cincinnati only two hours before the start of the doubleheader after being called up from Oklahoma City of the Pacific Coast League.
Used Six Pitchers
Until Shea ambled in from the bullpen with the bases loaded and two out in the ninth, the Astros had used up five pitchers trying to hold the Reds in check.
They had presented starter Dave Giusti with a 4-0 lead through the first four innings, one of the runs coming on Denis Menke's leadoff homer in the second. The towering drive came off Tony Cloninger, Menke's roommate for eight years while both were with the Braves.
But the Reds sent 10 men to the plate in the fourth to score four runs on four hits and three walks.
From then on it was a strategic battle between Harry Walker and Dave Bristol of the Reds. The rival managers pulled every trick in the book.
In the end, it was the pitching of Shea, some heads-up baserunning by Menke and Ron Brand's double that brought the Astros their first victory in four games.
Menke had led off the 10th with a single. He went to second after Doug Rader had skied out deep to left and was in position to score on Brand's liner over first base into right field.
Carroll Gets Loss
The loss was tagged on Clay Carroll, the fourth Reds' pitcher.
In the second game, the Astros backed up Wilson's performance with a solid nine-hit attack that included a one-run homer by Dick Simpson that opened the scoring in the third. It was his fifth of the season.
Jim Wynn and Bob Aspromonte singled in runs in the fifth, Hector Torres bunted Rader across on a suicide squeeze in the eighth and in the ninth with the rain sweeping across the field, Menke doubled home one run and later scored on Bateman's sacrifice fly.