May 1, 1968 – Sam McDowell 16K Complete Game
1968 is often referred to as the ‘Year of the Pitcher.” The strike zone had been expanded after 1961, and ERAs fell throughout the mid-60s. 1968 was the last season before the mound was lowered from 15 inches to 10. Twenty-two pitchers had sub-2.00 ERAs. Red Sox outfielder Carl Yastrzemski won the 1968 batting title with a mark of .301, and was the only player to bat over .300 that year.
Enter Sam McDowell in to the Year of the Pitcher. The As (just recently moved to Oakland) were in town for a Wednesday night matchup. Sudden Sam would face off against Blue Moon Odom. McDowell was a fastball pitcher with a wild streak. His lack of command could be an issue at time, but was usually overcome with pure speed.
True to form, McDowell hit Ted Kubiak to lead off the game. He then retired Reggie Jackson and Sal Bando on strikeouts. Danny Cater singled to left field, advancing Kubiak to second. But John Donaldson was cut down by McDowell’s fastball to end the inning.
McDowell recorded two more strikeouts in the top of the 2nd. In the top of the third, Reggie Jackson tripled to left field. Catcher Duke Sims dropped a Sal Blando popup, allowing Jackson to score on the error.
McDowell and Odom continued to duel through the middle innings. Neither pitcher allowed a hit from this point through the top of the sixth.
In the bottom of the sixth, the Indians offense finally showed some life. Chico Salmon led off with a single, then stole second. Salmon advanced to third on a groundout by Larry Brown. Then McDowell helped out his own cause, dropping a single into center field which scored Salmon to tie the game.
McDowell retired the side in the 7th, recording two more strikeouts.
Leon Wagner led off the bottom of the 7th with a strikeout. Tony Horton then singled to left field. Duke Sims singled to right field, sending Horton to third base. Horton scored the go-ahead run on a passed ball. Then Chico Salmon poked a single to right field, scoring Sims.
McDowell recorded another three strikeouts in the 8th and 9th. His final stat line was a three-hit complete game, no walks, sixteen strikeouts.
Sudden Sam finished the year with a 1.81 ERA and 283 strikeouts. The fact that McDowell was second on the Indians in ERA–to Luis Tiant’s 1.60 belies just how dominant pitchers were in the late 1960s. McDowell, Tiant, and Sonny Siebert led the Indians to an 86-75 record–one of the best of the decade.