Game Rewind: Pirates at Reds, July 21, 1956

In our “This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History” article for July 21st, I mentioned that there wasn’t much to look at there. Just two birthdays and a transaction of note. I also mentioned that I’d look to add a Game Rewind article from July 21st, which had me searching for a good game to include. I found one other date that I will do sometime in the future (before July 21st rolls around again), but for today’s article I decided on this mid-season contest from 1956 between the 50-34 Cincinnati Reds and the 38-45 Pittsburgh Pirates.

This game was a bit of a mismatch on paper, with the Reds well ahead of the Pirates in the standings and playing at home. It went beyond that though, as the Reds were sending 31-year-old right-hander Brooks Lawrence to the mound. That name probably isn’t familiar to most fans, but he was unbeatable during the first three months of the 1956 season, quite literally. He began the year with a 13-0 record. The Pirates were sending out their own ace. Bob Friend had a 12-8 record at the time, sporting a 3.21 ERA that was better than the 3.58 mark that Lawrence had going into the day. A total of 25,154 fans showed up at Crosley Field on a Saturday afternoon to watch a game that wrapped up in one hour and 51 minutes.

The Pirates got on the board early by playing some small ball. Bill Virdon singled to lead-off the game. He moved to second base on a Lee Walls sacrifice. Virdon went to third base on an error, then scored on a Frank Thomas single. Roberto Clemente was unable to tack on any extra runs. He hit into an inning ending double play.

The Reds came back in the bottom of the inning with a run of their own. Wally Post doubled, then scored on a single from former Pirate Gus Bell. The bottom of the frame ended just like the top, with the big hitter (Ted Kluszewski in this case) hitting into a double play.

The second inning saw a double by Bill Mazeroski and another inning double play by Friend, but nothing else, as they remained tied 1-1. In the third inning, the Pirates went down in order, then the Reds added a run, with Brooks Lawrence and Alex Grammas hitting back-to-back doubles.

The Pirates went down again in order in the fourth, while the Reds added to their lead. They made it 3-1 on two singles, an intentional walk and an RBI ground out by Roy McMillan.

Lawrence found his groove early in the game, settling into it in the second inning, but Bob Friend eventually joined him in the fifth and they had a pitching duel. Just one batter reached base for each team in the fifth through eighth innings, both coming on walks. Friend retired ten in a row at one point, while Lawrence had a streak of 11 consecutive outs during those four innings. Elroy Face came on for the Pirates in the eighth and walked the first batter, before retiring the next three in a row. That sent the game into the ninth with a 3-1 Reds lead and Lawrence still on the mound, looking to start the season with a 14-0 record.

In the top of the ninth, the hope for the Pirates rested on the shoulders of Lee Walls, Dale Long and Frank Thomas. At least one of them had to reach base to give Roberto Clemente a chance to tie the game. The Pirates did one better than that, getting singles by Walls and Thomas. Clemente also did one better, sending the second pitch from Lawrence on a line drive over the right field fence to give the Pirates a 4-3 lead. Dale Long nearly tied the game two batters earlier, as he hit one to the wall in left-center.

Face remained on with the one-run lead and he struck out a rookie name Frank Robinson to begin the inning. After striking out catcher Ed Bailey, the Reds went to pinch-hitting extraordinaire Smoky Burgess. Face got him to ground out back to the mound for the final out, handing Lawrence a tough first loss.

At this point in Clemente’s career, he wasn’t much of a home run hitter. He hit just five homers during his rookie season in 1955, and this one was his fourth of the 1956 season. This was his third home run at Crosley Field and the first three-run homer of his career.

There’s an interesting side note to the attendance here. I listed it as 25,154 fans, but the game link below gives you a total of 8.859 fans. Both are correct. The paid fans (tickets sold) amounted to 8,859, and that’s the number that they went by back then. The rest of the crowd came from the Reds having a day where ladies and children entered for free, resulting in the large crowd.

Here’s the boxscore and play-by-play courtesy of Baseball-Reference.