The 1959 Pittsburgh Pirates were a disappointing team. They weren’t bad, just not as good as people thought they would be going into the season. They finished 84-70 in 1958 after averaging almost 100 losses per season during the first eight years of the decade. As you already know, the 1960 Pirates won the World Series, bringing Pittsburgh their third title. However, the 1959 team finished with a 78-76 record, putting them in fourth place. Somehow on a team that finished just two games over .500, their All-Star reliever ended up with a remarkable and record-setting 18-1 record. Here’s the breakdown of Roy Face’s wins during the 1959 season.
Face posted his best ERA over his first five seasons in 1958, compiling a 5-2, 2.89 record in 57 relief appearances. He saved 20 games (not an official stat at the time) and pitched 84 innings, which was his career low to that point. Face wasn’t an All-Star until the 1959 season, but the MVP voters gave him some recognition after his 1958 season. He finished 17th in the voting.
Face had three scoreless appearances before he picked up his first win in 1959. He allowed one run over two innings against the Cincinnati Reds on April 22nd. He entered with a 7-7 tie in the eighth after the Pirates scored seven runs in the seventh. Face was taken out for a pinch-hitter, but he was still the pitcher of record when Rocky Nelson won the game with a walk-off single in the ninth.
His second win was a blown save. Up 4-3 in the eighth, he allowed two runs to the Philadelphia Phillies on April 24th. The Pirates came back with four runs in the ninth for the win.
On May 3rd, Face won in extra innings by throwing three perfect innings against the St Louis Cardinals.
Four days later he got a second extra innings win. This time it took just one scoreless frame before the Pirates beat the Phillies 4-3.
The fifth win for Face was three scoreless innings against the Los Angeles Dodgers on May 13th. The Pirates scored three runs in the eighth off of Don Drysdale to overcome a 4-3 deficit.
The very next day, Face allowed the tying run in the eighth inning against the Dodgers, only to see the Pirates score one in the ninth for the win. Face pitched a scoreless ninth.
The seventh win for Face was a wild game on May 31st. He came in during the seventh inning of an 11-11 tie and shut the Reds down for three innings. The Pirates scored three runs in the eighth to give him the win. This was the second game of a doubleheader. Face allowed one hit while striking out five batters.
Face put in work again for his eighth victory, throwing three shutout innings on June 8th, as the Pirates beat the San Francisco Giants 12-9 in 11 innings.
Three days later he won 12-9 against the Giants again, but this time was a vulture win. Face allowed the tying run in the eighth, then left the game after the inning. The Pirates scored four runs in the ninth and won. Vern Law picked up the save, despite allow a run in the ninth.
Face moved to 10-0 with two scoreless innings against the Dodgers on June 14th. He came in with a 3-3 score and the Pirates scored three times in the eighth.
Four days later against the Chicago Cubs, Face had his best performance. He came in during the ninth inning of a 2-2 games and he threw five scoreless frames. The Pirates scored two in the 13th inning for the win.
On June 25th against the Giants, Face tossed three shutout frames for his 12th victory. The Pirates scored two runs in the 12th inning on a Roman Mejias home run to break a 1-1 tie.
On July 9th, Vern Law couldn’t close out a 3-1 lead in the ninth for a complete game win. Face recorded the final out, but not before he allowed the tying (inherited) run to score. He then won in the 10th on a walk-off single by Harry Bright. Three days earlier, Face allowed three runs during the All-Star game and couldn’t finish his only inning of work.
Face vultured another win three days later against the Cardinals. He came into a jam in the eighth and kept it a 5-4 game, but he allowed a ninth inning run to tie the score. The Pirates won it in the tenth on a walk-off bases loaded single by Roberto Clemente and Face’s record now stood at 14-0.
Face went nearly a month without another decision. His July 12th win was followed up on August 9th by three innings of work with one unearned run allowed. The Pirates scored twice in the ninth to tie the game and twice in the tenth to win.
Win #16 on August 23rd was another loss for Don Drysdale. The Pirates scored one in the ninth and one in the tenth for the win, while Face threw two shutout innings. Dick Groat won the game with a bases loaded two-out single in the tenth.
Face narrowly avoided a loss on August 30th. He came on in the tenth and gave up a run to the Phillies, only to see the Pirates score twice in the bottom of the inning for his 17th win. Dick Stuart won the game with a two-run walk-off double.
On September 11th, the streak came to a halt. Face had a one-run lead in the bottom of the ninth against the Dodgers. Los Angeles picked up a single, out, triple and walk-off single to win game one of a doubleheader. Face came on in the eighth and stranded an inherited runner by recording the final two outs.
Face did some work for his 18th and final victory of the season. He almost picked up his second loss. Facing the Reds on September 19th, he tossed three shutout innings to send the game into the 12th inning. Face gave up a run in the top of the frame, then the Pirates bailed him out in the bottom, with a two-out triple by Bill Mazeroski that scored Dick Stuart and Don Hoak.
Face pitched twice more and picked up his tenth save in his final game of the season. He ended up posting a 2.60 ERA in 93.1 innings. He had a 2.60 ERA at home, 2.61 on the road. The interesting part about his season is that he really didn’t pitch well during the second half. He had a 1.13 ERA at the midway point, but he put up a 4.82 mark in the second half and saw significantly less work. From May 17th until July 9th, he allowed one run in 32.2 innings.
Face posted a .947 winning percentage that season. His career record in his other 15 seasons combined stands at 86-94. That winning percentage is an all-time record for a single season. It eclipsed the previous record of 15-1 (.938) by Johnny Allen in 1937. The Pirates team record at the time was Deacon Phillippe, who went 14-2 in 1910. Face got his best MVP support this season, finishing seventh in the voting, which was tops among all Pirates.
Here are the previous articles in this series:
Carson Bigbee, 1922