On May 28, 1956, Dale Long of the Pittsburgh Pirates set a Major League record that has been tied, but never broken. It all started nine days earlier with a two-run homer against the Chicago Cubs. The Pirates played a doubleheader the next day and Long homered in both games, the second one coming against the great Warren Spahn. Long would homer in the next four games, leading up to this Monday night contest at Forbes Field against the Brooklyn Dodgers.
The Pirates looked heavily mismatched on paper in this game. They didn’t even have Roberto Clemente in the lineup, although early in his second season, he was far from being the all-time great player we know him as today. Bob Friend was on the mound with a 7-2 record, while the big names in the lineup were Bill Virdon, Dick Groat, Frank Thomas and Long. The Dodgers had Hall of Famers Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider, Roy Campanella and Jackie Robinson in their lineup, along with a guy who should be in the Hall of Fame batting in the middle, Gil Hodges. The Dodgers also happened to be the defending World Series champs, while the Pirates finished in last place in 1955. Early in the 1956 season, just a 1/2 game separated the two teams in the standings, and this time it was Pittsburgh on top.
The Dodgers got things started early in this game. Jim Gilliam drew a lead-off walk. Two batters later, Duke Snider followed with his seventh home run of the season. Bob Friend would have some control issues in this game, but the Dodgers had a hard time the rest of the way picking up hits.
The bottom of the first both started with a runner reaching first base and both half innings ended with just three batters coming to the plate. Bill Virdon had a lead-off single, then was quickly erased on a Dock Groat double play grounder hit right back to Brooklyn starter Carl Erskine. Jackie Robinson walked to start the second inning, then he was erased on a one-out grounder off of the bat of Carl Furillo for the 6-4-3 double play.
The Pirates got on the board in the bottom of the second. Lee Walls hit a one-out triple, then scored one batter later on a Gene Freese sacrifice fly, making it a 2-1 game.
In the third inning, Friend allowed a single to Jim Gilliam with one out, then retired Reese and Snider to keep it a one-run game. The Pirates were retired in order in the bottom of the frame on three straight grounders, though Dick Groat managed to battle for eight pitches before he ended the inning.
In the fourth, Friend issued a one-out walk to Gil Hodges, which ended up being harmless. That brought up Dale Long to lead-off the bottom of the fourth. He took a 1-2 pitch from Erskine and lined it deep into the right field bleachers. After the game, Long said the pitch was a low curve and he didn’t realize it was gone until he rounded first base. The crowd of 32,221 went wild, giving him a long (pun sort of intended) ovation, complete with a curtain call from the Pirates first baseman. Long had homered in eight straight games. Many of those fans were there to watch his streak, though the team’s hot start was also a huge draw. The Pirates were averaging approximately 6,500 more fans per game over the same point in 1955.
Erskine retired the next three batters in order, then the Dodgers went down 1-2-3 in the top of the fifth. The bottom of the fifth saw a lead-off triple from catcher Hank Foiles. The Pirates went to the bench early, bringing on Bob Skinner to hit for second baseman Johnny O’Brien. Skinner gave the Pirates a 3-2 lead with a single. Friend then reached base on a fielder’s choice, with no out being record, setting the Pirates up to add to their lead. The top of the order couldn’t do anything, as Erskine reached back and fired nine straight strikes to record three strikeouts.
The Dodgers got a lead-off walk in the sixth by Pee Wee Reese. He only made it as far as second base, as Friend recorded three straight ground outs to get out of the inning. The bottom of the sixth was an extremely quick inning, even with a lead-off single by Frank Thomas. Erskine retired the next three batters, while throwing a total of five pitches in the inning.
In the seventh, Jackie Robinson walked to start the frame, but he was thrown out trying to steal. Friend retired the next two batters on a ground out and strike out. Curt Roberts, who came in on defense at second base in the sixth, lined a double to center field to start the bottom of the seventh. Unfortunately for the Pirates, he got greedy and was gunned down at third base for the out. The next two batters went down in order.
Friend had a 1-2-3 inning in the eighth, though the last two batters managed to work the count full, running up his pitch count. The Pirates had their chances to score in the eighth after the first two batters made outs. Frank Thomas singled, then Roberto Clemente came on as a pinch-runner. Lee Walls reached on an error, but Gene Freese grounded out back to pitcher Clem Labine, who came out to start the eighth for the Dodgers.
Friend came out for the ninth with 100 pitches to his credit, Roberto Clemente playing right field, and a 3-2 lead. He had to face Duke Snider, Roy Campanella and Gil Hodges. Snider walked on sixth pitches, but Campanella grounded out to shortstop for a 6-4-3 double play. That left Hodges as Brooklyn’s last chance and he quickly ended any suspense by grounding out to third base to end the game.
While the big news was Dale Long’s homer, Bob Friend had a nice start. He allowed two runs before he could record the second out of the game. After that it he did a great job. He walked six batters total, but the last hit he allowed was a third-inning single. The Pirates moved up to third place in the standing, 1.5 games back of the St Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Braves. The Dodgers dropped down to fifth place in the standings. Long went 0-for-4 the next day to break his streak. He batted .214 with 13 homers over the final 114 games of the 1956 season.
Here’s the boxscore and play-by-play courtesy of Baseball-Reference.