Game Rewind: Pirates at Braves, May 6, 1951

Whenever I do a Game Rewind article, it almost always matches up to a player you read about earlier in the day in our This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History article. Today (January 10th for those who read this later) is the birth date for lefty pitcher Cliff Chambers, so if the date in the title didn’t give away the highlight of this Game Rewind already, the name should be a great second clue. On May 6, 1951, the Pirates were in Boston at Braves Field for a doubleheader. Pittsburgh was off to a 7-8 start on the season, while Boston had already won 12 games going into this day. They won their 13th game behind the pitching of Warren Spahn in game one of the twinbill. He pitched a shutout, despite eight hits and two walks by the Pirates in the first game of a doubleheader.

This Sunday afternoon contest would be played in a brisk two hours and one minute, despite the two sides combining to draw 13 walks.  It helped out that not many runners reached base any other way. The first game was played in two hours and three minutes, so it was a rather quick doubleheader, especially if you go by today’s standards.

The Pirates were led by coach Milt Stock during this doubleheader. Regular manager Billy Meyer was laid up at a hotel battling the flu, which also got to a few of the other players on the team. The Pirates lineup in this game revolved around Ralph Kiner in the cleanup spot. He had three hits in the opener off of Spahn. Kiner hit behind Gus Bell and ahead of Wally Westlake in this contest, giving them a nice 3-5 in the lineup. However, the 6-8 hitters for the Pirates were all below the .200 mark, and not really that close to it either. The Boston lineup had Bob Elliott, who was a big hitter for the Pirates, before being traded to the Braves, where he turned into an MVP. The also had Sid Gordon, Sam Jethroe and Walker Cooper, who would all play for the Pirates by 1954.

Chambers was making his fifth straight road start to open the season. He was 2-2, 4.05, coming off of his best start on May 1st, when he allowed two runs in a complete game win over the Brooklyn Dodgers. He had success against Boston in 1950, throwing two shutouts, both of them coming at Braves Field. His mound opponent that day was George Estock, a 26-year-old rookie, who debuted 15 days earlier. He didn’t know it at the time, but Estock was making his first and only big league start on May 6th, in what turned out to be a memorable game for him for all of the wrong reasons.

This game started out with the Pirates getting on the board early. George Metkovich hit a one-out double in the top of the first. Gus Bell then made it 1-0 with an RBI single. Bell stole second base, but got stranded there when Kiner and Westlake made outs.

Chambers walked Roy Hartsfield to start the bottom of the first. That was followed by two strikeouts and a pop out to shortstop. That inning would be similar to many others, though not the strikeouts, as Chambers didn’t miss many bats on this day.

The Pirates had a semi-quiet second inning, receiving just a two-out single from catcher Ed Fitz Gerald, before Chambers grounded out to second base to end the inning. The Braves went down even quicker in the bottom of the inning, with two ground outs and a pop out to second base.

The Pirates got a one-out single from Metkovich in the third inning, but Bell and Kiner couldn’t do anything with Boston’s rookie pitcher and the game remained 1-0.  Chambers walked the lead-off batter in the third. George Estock moved him to second base on a bunt, then Chambers got a strikeout and a fly out to right field to end the frame.

Pittsburgh went down in order in the fourth. Chambers walked the lead-off batter in the bottom of the frame, his third lead-off walk. He still managed to face the minimum, as Bob Elliott grounded into a double play, then Sid Gordon grounded to shortstop George Strickland for the third out.

The fifth inning was very quick. Chambers reached on an error with one out, but lead-off man Bob Dillinger hit into a 5-4-3 double play. The Braves grounded out three times in the fifth. Through their first 15 outs, Boston got the ball out of the infield just once.

In the sixth, Metkovich doubled to start the frame. A walk to Bell put two men on with no outs. Estock looked like he would get out of the frame unscathed after getting fly balls from Kiner and Westlake for the first two outs. However, his own wildness hurt him. Estock walked Strickland and Monty Basgall to make it a 2-0 game. Fitz Gerald grounded out to keep the scoring to a minimum.

The bottom of the inning also contained some wild pitching. For the fourth time, Chambers walked the lead-off man, something you never want to do. To make things worse, it was the opposing pitcher, which never ends well. A wild pitch moved the runner to second base, then a bunt moved him to third. It was probably an attempt at a hit in that situation, but it was ruled a sacrifice. Estock had to hold at third base on a grounder to shortstop for the second out. Earl Torgeson walked on a full count pitch to put runners on the corners for Bob Elliott. According to the game report, the wind was blowing in from right field on this day and Elliott smacked one to the right-center gap, which the wind held up just long enough for Gus Bell to make a running catch to end the inning.

The Pirates really had a chance to break this game open a few times, but the middle of their lineup wasn’t coming through in big spots. That continued in the seventh when Dillinger walked and Metkovich singled ahead of Bell and Kiner. Both sluggers failed to get any runs home and this contest was still a close one at the stretch.

Chambers gave up his fifth lead-off walk in the seventh. Surely one of them would come back to bite him, right? It wasn’t this inning, as he got three straight fly balls from the bottom of the order to get out of the inning.

The Pirates played some small ball in the eighth to extend their lead. Westlake walked, then moved into scoring position on a Strickland bunt. An infield single by Monty Basgall was followed two batters later by a two-out single from Chambers to make it 3-0.

Chambers tempted fate in the eighth after striking out pinch-hitter Luis Marquez, another future Pirates player on the 1951 Braves. Chambers walked two batters to bring up Bob Elliott as the tying run. The slugger popped one up near the Pirates dugout, where Ftiz Gerald made a great catch, though there was fan interference on the play, so the home plate umpire said later on that Elliott would have been called out regardless.

Ralph Kiner picked up a two-out double in the ninth, but the other three batters in the inning all grounded out, and we went to the bottom of the ninth with a 3-0 game.

Sid Gordon led off the ninth for the Braves and he battled Chambers for seven pitches before grounding out to shortstop for the first out. The next two batters would not battle the Pirates southpaw. Walker Cooper and Luis Olmo each flew out to center fielder George Metkovich on the first pitch they saw, giving the Pirates a 3-0 win.

What I didn’t mention up until now because I didn’t want to jinx it is that Chambers threw a no-hitter. It was just the second nine-inning no-hitter in Pirates history. They also had two shortened no-hitters prior to Nick Maddox going nine innings in 1907. Chambers walked a total of eight batters and had just four strikeouts.

It’s interesting to note that the local papers also mentioned the 1915 no-hitter by Pittsburgh Rebels pitcher Frank Allen in some detail, ranking it right there with Maddox and Chambers. The Federal League was considered a Major League at the time, but it’s mostly forgotten today and the Allen no-hitter never gets mentioned now.

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