The Philadelphia Phillies franchise record for strikeouts by a right-handed pitcher in one game is 17 by Art Mahaffey.
It was April of 1961, and my parents had just lost in stillbirth what was to be their first child, a son, five months earlier. The doctor advised them to try again as soon as possible. They did, and in that month of April the 21-year old couple would learn that they had another child on the way, due to arrive in late November. That child would be yours truly.
Around that same time, on Sunday, April 23rd to be exact, the Philadelphia Phillies were scheduled to play in a doubleheader at home in aged Connie Mack Stadium against the Cincinnati Reds.
The Fightin’ Phils were not putting up much of a fight against anyone in those days. The last vestiges of the 1950 NL champion ‘Whiz Kids’ had finished at .500 in both 1955 and 1957. But since that 77-77 season of ’57, the Phils had steadily declined to 69 and 64 and 59 wins from 1958-60.
These 1961 Phillies were destined to become the bottom-out team of that era. The club would finish a dismal 47-107. The 1961 Phillies’ .362 win percentage remains the worst in franchise history since the end of World War II. It would get better in the next couple of years, much better. But not until the fans suffered through this 1961 misery.
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Sunday was a beautiful day in Philadelphia. Sunny with pleasantly warm temperatures reaching into the upper 60’s, and with a modest breeze blowing around the outfield in the old ballpark at 21st and Lehigh.
To that early point in the season, the Phils had already dropped seven of their first nine games, sinking quickly to the bottom of the National League standings, where they would remain for all but four days of that dismal 1961 season.
The Phillies were being managed that year by 35-year old Gene Mauch, who had taken over early in the 1960 campaign, and who was thus in his first full season as a big league skipper.
This would prove to be a rare great day on the field for the team and 16,027 fans who chose to show up to watch on such a gorgeous early spring afternoon.
In the opener, the Phils gained a walkoff victory before that term was fashionable. Left fielder Bobby Smith blasted a leadoff home run deep down the left field line in the bottom of the 9th off Cubs’ starter Dick Ellsworth to give Phils’ starter Frank Sullivan a hard-earned 1-0 shutout victory.
For the 2nd game, Mauch sent 22-year old righthander Art Mahaffey out to the mound. In his rookie season the year before, Mahaffey had been one of the club’s few bright spots. He put up a 7-3 record with a 2.31 ERA in 1960, allowing just 78 hits in 93.1 innings, and finished 3rd in the National League Rookie of the Year voting.
“…that day I was throwing so hard it was unbelievable. I don’t know how hard it was, but they just couldn’t hit me the whole day. It was unreal.” ~ Mahaffey
Nine days earlier, in his first start of the 1961 season, Mahaffey had tossed a gem, mostly shutting down a great San Francisco Giants team at Candlestick Park. That Giants team featured a near-Murderer’s Row of Harvey Kuenn, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, and Orlando Cepeda. Mahaffey held them to just two runs and three hits, but lost 2-0 to Mike McCormick, with an 8th inning Mays homer providing a clinching run.
On this beautiful Sunday afternoon, Mahaffey knew that the competition wasn’t nearly as fierce. The Cubs were in the midst of their own dry spell as a franchise, having finished just ahead of the Phillies in 7th place during 1960. The two teams would eventually repeat those positions in the standings once again in this 1961 season.
Those Cubbies weren’t as deep as the Giants, but they did have a formidable middle-of-the-order trio in the lineup. Both 3rd baseman Ron Santo and shortstop Ernie Banks would become Baseball Hall of Famers, while left fielder Frank Thomas would bash 27 homers in that 1961 season.
With one out in the top of the first, Mahaffey struck out Cubs’ 2nd baseman Don Zimmer, his first punch out of the afternoon. It would be far from his last on this day. In fact, he followed by striking out right fielder Bob Will, retiring the Cubs in order.
The Phillies spotted Mahaffey an early lead in their half of the first as 3rd baseman Bob Sadowski reached base on a Santo error to lead things off, moved to 2nd on a Tony Taylor sacrifice bunt, and then scored on a sacrifice fly line out off the bat of right fielder Johnny Callison.
In the top of the 2nd, Mahaffey plowed through the Santo, Banks, Thomas trio, striking each of them out to give him five consecutive K’s at that point. In their half of the 2nd, the Phils would scrape together yet another unearned run thanks to poor Cubs defense.
With one out, 1st baseman Pancho Herrera lashed a double to right. Then with two outs, shortstop Ruben Amaro‘s grounder was mishandled by Santo. The second error of the day by the Chicago 3rd sacker allowed Herrera to score, giving the Phillies a 2-0 lead.
Cubs’ 1st baseman Ed Bouchee led off the top of the 3rd with a double past Phils’ center fielder Tony Gonzalez for Chicago’s 1st hit of the game. They would get just three more all afternoon. Mahaffey left Bouchee stranded, striking out two more to raise his total over the first three innings to seven.
A leadoff single by Zimmer in the 4th inning? No problem, Mahaffey strikes out two more. When he struck out Thomas to lead off the Cubs’ 5th, Mahaffey had his 10th strikeout of the game. He was already just four short of Si Johnson‘s 1941 franchise record of 14 strikeouts in a game.
That inning would prove the Cubs one real shot at Mahaffey, who walked Bouchee to follow the Thomas leadoff ‘K’, then allowed a two-out single to opposition pitcher Bob Anderson. But he got out of the inning unscathed, and the Phillies bats would put the game away in their half.
Amaro led off the bottom of the Phillies’ 5th inning with a triple to right field. When the next two batters grounded out weakly, it appeared that he would be stranded at 3rd base. But then Taylor worked a four-pitch walk, bringing Callison to the plate. The 22-year old future NL All-Star drove a 1-2 pitch deep over the ‘Alpo’ dog food sign on the left-center field wall, pushing the Phillies lead out to 5-0 and giving Mahaffey plenty of breathing room.
Perhaps fired up by Callison’s big blast, Mahaffey went back to the mound for the 6th and stuck out the side for the 2nd time in the game, moving within one of tying the club record. He would tie it up quickly in the top of the 7th, striking out Banks as the leadoff man.
The next batter was Thomas. On a 2-2 pitch, Mahaffey froze the Cubs’ slugger for a 3rd strike looking, setting a new Phillies franchise record with his 15th strike out of the game.
In the top of the 8th, a Phillies old fan favorite would make an appearance. Leading off the inning as a pinch-hitter would be none other than future Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn, who had been dealt to Chicago prior to the 1960 season after a dozen glorious years in a Phillies uniform.
Ashburn scorched a line drive, but it was right at Callison for the first out. Mahaffey then followed by striking out another pinch-hitter, Sammy Drake, for his 16th of the day. In the top of the 9th, Mahaffey would punch out Zimmer leading off, giving him a 17th and final strikeout for the game.
Mahaffey finished up his first of what would be 11 victories on the season. He would finish that 1961 with a dozen complete games, allowing 205 hits in 219.1 innings while striking out 158 batters. He was honored with his first of back-to-back NL All-Star Game appearances as well.
Some great righties have come along to wear Phillies’ red pinstripes since that day. Five years later, future Hall of Famer Jim Bunning would ‘K’ 14 during the 1966 season. Roy Halladay struck out 14 batters twice during the 2011 season. Curt Schilling struck out 15 batters in a game during both the 1997 and 1998 seasons.
Schilling took the closest run at Mahaffey when he reached the 16 ‘K’ mark during a September 1997 game against the New York Yankees. But to this day, Mahaffey’s big afternoon of 17 strikeouts remains the most by any right-handed pitcher in Phillies franchise history.
In April of 2011, Joe Vallee of philly2philly.com quoted Mahaffey on the 50th anniversary of his feat:
“When I was warming up, I wasn’t throwing very well, but when I went out, I struck out the side in the first inning. I had been timed a couple times at 100 and 101 miles per hour on the old machines, and that day I was throwing so hard it was unbelievable. I don’t know how hard it was, but they just couldn’t hit me the whole day. It was unreal.”
Just one pitcher in club history has passed the 17-K mark. That was lefty Chris Short, who struck out 18 batters against the Mets in New York on October 2nd, 1965. However, Short set that record over 15 innings. Five of his punchouts came during the extra innings of a game that was suspended at 0-0 after 18 innings of play. As the final game of that season, it was never completed.
Mahaffey would pitch in parts of seven big league seasons, six of those with the Phillies. He finished with a 59-64 career record, and his last full season was for the disappointing 1964 team, for whom he went 12-9 over 34 games, 29 of them starts. After using him out of the rotation that entire season, Mauch gave Mahaffey no starts in the final week as the team infamously collapsed with Bunning and Short burned out.
The now 77-year old Mahaffey’s complete game shutout of the Cubs during that 17 strikeout effort in April of 1961 is certainly one of the most dominant starting pitching outings in the history of the Phillies franchise. And it certainly fits in perfectly with our presentation of Phillies History Month here at TBOH.