On August 18, 1965, the Pittsburgh Pirates were playing in the Astrodome on a Wednesday night in front of 30,740 fans. The Pirates had a 62-60 record going into the game, while the Houston Astros were struggling along in their fourth year of existence, putting up a 49-70 record at the time. This game was a one-sided contest that turned into a nail-biter, complete with a position-switch that you don’t see often.
The Pirates lineup had two Hall of Famers in it on this day, with Willie Stargell batting fourth and playing left field, while Bill Mazeroski was at his familiar second base, hitting sixth. Roberto Clemente had the day off and Manny Mota took his place in right field. The pitcher was Bob Veale, who was in the process of setting a career high with 276 strikeouts. He wasn’t far removed from his first All-Star selection as well.
On the Houston side, they had a lineup with some great names, despite the record. Hall of Famer Joe Morgan was at second base. Center fielder Jim Wynn was batting third behind Morgan. The original Frank Thomas, the former Pirates slugger, was in the cleanup spot. In the sixth hole, the great Rusty Staub was early in his career. Later in the game, slugger Jim Gentile came off of the bench to hit in an important spot. He had five straight seasons with 21+ homers before falling just short in 1965. Their pitcher was 29-year-old right-hander Don Nottebart, who had a 3-10 record at the time.
I usually don’t skip ahead in these games, but the first four innings were quiet for both sides. Veale had five strikeouts and the closest anyone came to scoring was in the second inning when Ron Brand of the Astros singled, moved to second on an error and got to third with two outs on a ground out. The first 11 batters for the Pirates were retired in order before Manny Mota drew a two-out walk in the fourth inning. They went to the fifth with a 0-0 score and that’s where this game got interesting.
Nottebart struck out Donn Clendenon for the first out of the fifth, then the fun started for the Pirates. They got consecutive singles from Mazeroski, Gene Alley, Del Crandall and Veale to make it a 2-0 game. A walk to Bob Bailey loaded the bases, but Nottebart had a chance to limit the damage when he got Bill Virdon on an infield pop up for the second out. Instead, Manny Mota proved to be a worthy replacement for Roberto Clemente on this day. He doubled to clear the bases. That timely hit made it 5-0 and it knocked Nottebart out of the game. His day really fell apart quickly, going from retiring 13 of the first 14 batters, to giving up five runs while record just one out. Danny Coombs came on to face Stargell and he got a grounder right back to him for the final out.
Rusty Staub walked to start the bottom of the fifth, but Veale made easy work of the bottom of the order, getting a fly ball and two strikeouts to end the inning. The Pirates had a lead-off single in the sixth from Clendenon, which was followed by a fly out from Mazeroski and a double play ball off of the bat of Alley.
The Astros got on the board in the bottom of the sixth. After recording the first out, Veale walked Joe Morgan, then gave up a double to Jim Wynn. He gave up a run, trading it for an out, when Frank Thomas grounded out to third base for the second out. An important play happened here when Wynn stayed at second base on the ground out. That’s because Veale threw a wild pitch to the next batter, allowing Wynn to go to third. Veale ended the frame there with his eighth strikeout.
The seventh inning saw the Pirates get a lead-off single from Del Crandall, who made it to third base with one out, but neither Bailey nor Virdon could get him in. Veale worked quickly through the bottom of the inning, getting two ground outs and a fly ball for a 1-2-3 inning.
In the eighth, the Pirates made it a 6-1 game when Manny Mota walked to start the inning, then scored from first base on a double by Clendenon. Veale worked around a one-out walk to keep the lead at five runs, and the Pirates went to the ninth inning with their pitcher cruising.
It didn’t feel like they needed it, but the Pirates added some insurance runs anyway in the ninth, with all of the damage coming with two outs. Bailey got things started with a double, after Crandall and Veale were retired. Bailey scored on a Virdon double and then Virdon scored on a Mota single, the fourth RBI of the game for Mota. Stargell reached on a hit-by-pitch, his only time on base in the game. Clendenon recorded the final out, sending the game to the bottom of the ninth with an 8-1 score.
Veale allowed three hits in the first eight innings, then that number doubled before he could record an out. The Astros showed little offense before the ninth, then Frank Thomas singled, Ron Brand homered, Staub walked and Bob Lillis doubled. Veale was pulled for Al McBean, who needed to record three outs, while holding an 8-3 lead, with two men on base.
Things didn’t get any better with the new pitcher. McBean allowed a double, single and single, without recording an out. It was 8-6 with two men on base and still no outs. Pirates manager Harry Walker came out to the mound and took the ball from McBean. Instead of sending him to the dugout though, Walker sent McBean to left field, taking out Stargell. Southpaw Frank Carpin came on to face the lefty hitting Joe Morgan. Carpin got the count full before striking out the future Hall of Famer. Walker then came out, removed Carpin, sent Bob Bailey to left field from third base, and inserted Jose Pagan into the lineup.
That was a bold move by Walker. He was removing a big bat from the lineup, but doing it to keep a pitcher in the game who didn’t retire any of the three batters he faced. Walker said afterwards that he knew McBean could make the play in the outfield if necessary. He also noted that he did the same position switch in the minors as a manager and it worked.
McBean returned to the mound and it felt like the Pirates were just delaying a loss by all of the movement. McBean allowed a double to Jim Wynn, which made it an 8-7 game and put two runners in scoring position. The ball hit by Wynn was a bloop to shallow center and Bill Virdon almost made an outstanding diving catch on the play, but it fell in and the Pirates were in real trouble.
The Astros pinch-hit for Thomas, who started the inning with a single. They brought in Jim Gentile, and with a base open, he was walked. His run didn’t matter, but there was also one out and now a walk could force in the tying run. All of Walker’s moves and his trust in McBean paid off when Ron Brand hit an easy grounder to Gene Alley, who flipped to Mazeroski, on to the outstretched glove of Clendenon for a game-ending double play. The Pirates had them all the way!
This game was a one-sided contest that saw both starting pitchers completely lose it after cruising through their start. For the Pirates, they got to Don Nottebart four innings earlier than the Astros got to Bob Veale. For Veale, his line of one run over eight innings turned into five runs over 8+ innings, yet he still picked up his 13th win of the season, while recording eight strikeouts. In fact, his strikeout of Ron Brand in the sixth inning was his 200th strikeout of the season. At the time, it was just the fourth 200+ strikeout season in franchise history. Ed Morris had the first two way back in 1885-86, followed by Veale in 1964-65.
Here’s the boxscore and play-by-play from Baseball-Reference.