The Pittsburgh Pirates and Boston Braves met up on September 22, 1949 in Pittsburgh. The game had very little significance at that time. The Pirates were closing out the decade with a 63-82 record through 145 games. The Braves were trying to get to .500 for the season, sitting at 72-74 at the time. It was a Thursday night at Forbes Field, with only 8,261 fans in attendance. The drawing card going into the night was Ralph Kiner’s pursuit of the National League home run record. With nine games left in the season, he was at 52 homers, four back of the record set in 1930 by Hack Wilson. Kiner didn’t homer on this night, but another Pirates legend had a big hit.
The Braves were sending out Johnny Sain, who had a 10-15 record. It was a rough season for Boston’s right-handed complement to Warren Spahn. Sain won 20+ games during the 1946-48 season and he had 20 wins in 1950, but 1949 wasn’t his year. It wasn’t just tough luck either. He finished the season with a 4.81 ERA in 243 innings. The Pirates were countering with Murray Dickson, who had a 9-14 record at the time, though his ERA was more than a full run under Sain’s mark.
Dickson worked a quick top of the first, then the Pirates had their chance to get an early lead in the bottom of the inning. Tom Saffell walked with one out, then moved up a base on a single by Kiner. However, Johnny Hopp followed and grounded back to the pitcher for the 1-6-3 inning ending double play.
Dickson got his own timely double play in the second frame, while the Pirates wasted a single by Monty Basgall in the bottom of the inning. The Braves threatened in the third inning with back-to-back one-out singles. Both runners moved into scoring position on a ground out, before Dickson got an inning ending strikeout of Al Dark. The Pirates got a single by Stan Rojek in the bottom of the third, but that was the end of their potential rally.
The Braves once again had their chance to score in the fourth, getting a single from former Pirates first baseman Elbie Fletcher to lead-off the inning. With two outs, Ed Sauer singled. Dickson settled down and got Connie Ryan on a fly out to end the inning. After the Pirates went down in order in the bottom of the fourth, the Braves made their next attempt to get on the board.
The fifth inning saw the Braves get a single, walk and two stolen bases. Despite two men on base and no outs, Dickson got a ground out from Sibby Sisti, a strikeout of Al Dark, and foul out to the catcher by Elbie Fletcher. The bottom of the Pittsburgh order went down 1-2-3 in the fifth, as the game remained scoreless.
The Braves got a single in the sixth, but the runner was cut down on a caught stealing. Stan Rojek led-off the bottom of the sixth with a double, the first extra-base hit of the game. He moved to third on a ground out, then Kiner walked to put men on the corners. Sain made his pitch though and got a double play from Johnny Hopp to end the threat.
Boston had two walks in the seventh, but they were unable to get the ball out of the infield. Dickson worked around the runners by getting three ground outs.
The Pirates went to the bench three times in the bottom of the seventh, twice for pinch-hitters and once for a pinch-runner. Pete Castiglione had a one-out single, followed by Dixie Walker coming off of the bench with a single in place of Monty Basgall. Sain retired the next two batters and the pitching duel continued scoreless into the next frame.
In the eighth, Dickson retired the side in order. The batters were Fletcher, Bob Elliott and Jim Russell, who were all teammates on the Pirates during the 1940s. The Pirates had one runner on in the eighth via walk, but he (Tom Saffell) was thrown out attempting to steal.
The ninth was a shaky one for Dickson and it was a bit surprising that manager Billy Meyer stayed with him the whole time late in the game. Dickson gave up a lead-off walk and single, followed by a two-out intentional walk to future Pirate Marv Rickert load the bases. The Braves sent up pinch-hitter Tommy Holmes, a career .302 hitter, who led the NL in homers four years earlier. He hit a long fly to right field, but it was caught to end the inning.
The bottom of the ninth saw a one-out single by Wally Westlake. Pete Castiglione fouled out to third base, then Westlake stole second base, beating a high throw by catcher Del Crandall, another future Pirates player on the Braves. With two outs and a full count, 31-year-old second baseman Danny Murtaugh singled into right field for the walk-off winner. Murtaugh came into the game as a defensive replacement late and this was his only at-bat of the night. He batted .203 with 24 RBIs in 1949, but in this game he was the hero at the plate.
This wasn’t the first time that Murtaugh had a big hit against Sain and the first time was very similar to his hit on this night. On May 5, 1948, Murtaugh singled home Westlake with two outs in the ninth for a 3-2 victory. On July 19, 1948, Murtaugh’s seventh inning single turned out to be the only run in a 1-0 win over Sain.
Dickson threw the complete game shutout despite 13 base runners. He gave up seven hits, though it helped that they were all singles. He walked six batters, although two were intentional walks.
Here’s the boxscore and play-by-play courtesy of Baseball-Reference.
Here are links to the previous Game Rewind articles: