It stands alone, 21 strikeouts, the most by a pitcher in a game, even if it meant that Tom Cheney extended himself to 16 innings to get it accomplished. The number of hitters he sent away talking to themselves, plus the longevity of the intense effort, adds to the luster of what qualifies as a momentous occasion in baseball history.
Cheney went the distance for the Washington Senators on that September night in 1962 while he waited for Bud Zipfel (who drove in both of his team's runs) to homer off Dick Hall in the opening half of the 16th inning. That ended it and the Senators, one-minute shy of four hours, took away a 2-1 victory over the Baltimore Orioles.
The Cheney curve was mesmerizing. He struck out every Oriole, excluding John "Boog" Powell, and completed the performance with a called third strike past pinch-hitter Dick Williams. In between, he wiped out Jim Gentile, Dave Nicholson, Marv Breeding and Hall three times each.
Russ Snyder and the late Jerry Adair were the only Orioles to get two hits. When it was over, Snyder said, "That's easily the best curve any of us have seen all year." Manager Billy Hitchcock shook his head and uttered, "Just too much Tom Cheney."
On Friday night, when the Orioles commemorate another epic moment in the annals of Memorial Stadium, they'll have Cheney as the guest of honor. He's now owner of a propane business in Cordele, Ga., and will bring with him his wife, Jackie, and a college roommate from Abraham Baldwin Junior College in Tifton, Ga., one Ted Jones, a lawyer in Baton Rouge, La.
Proving true love always finds a way, Tom and Jackie were married for 13 1/2 years, divorced for 19 years, but remarried in 1989. What transpired in Baltimore for Cheney was that rare occasion that offers a deserving athlete the opportunity to enjoy the spotlight of fame, even if that damsel, known as fickle fate, permits only one trip around the dance floor.
Cheney taxed his arm by throwing 228 pitches, gave up 10 hits and walked four. "When Zipfel homered, I was about ready for it," he said. "I believe a cousin of mine from Baltimore, a man named Arthur Cheney, was in the stands, which was kind of nice. I remember the Zipfel home run as being well hit, the kind you know is going all the way."
The most astonishing aspect of the never-to-be-forgotten game is after warming up with the pitching coach, George "Good Kid" Susce (so nicknamed be
cause he called everyone "Good Kid"), he was foretold good things were about to happen. "I remember him saying, 'Good Kid, you ought to throw a no-hitter.' I knew I felt good and the curve made my fastball that much better."
From the eighth inning until the 16th, the Orioles were hitless. Then Nicholson singled but Cheney disposed of pinch-batters Jack Brandt and Williams. Milt Pappas went seven innings for the Orioles. Hall relieved for a superb 8 1/3 , before giving way to Billy Hoeft and Wes Stock.
After public address announcer Roger Griswold notified the friendly little crowd of 4,098 that Cheney had tied the major-league marks of Jack Coombs and Warren Spahn with 18 strikeouts in an extra-inning game, the Baltimore audience was cheering every pitch. He was to add three more to the total, which put his name in bold newspaper headlines and in the record book.
Cheney's next start came six days later in Washington, when 16,284 turned out to see what he could do against the New York Yankees. Tom fanned leadoff man Tony Kubek, walked Bobby Richardson and Tom Tresh, then got to 3-and-0 on Mickey Mantle when thunder boomed. Mantle hit it over the scoreboard in right-center and, after three innings, seven hits, six runs and five strikeouts, Cheney was removed.
"Mantle drove that ball so hard," remembered Tom. "Thank God he usually pulled and didn't hit many through the box or pitchers would have been killed. I remember kidding with one of our outfielders, Jim King, and telling him he should have jumped for the ball. But King said, 'If I had backhanded it then it would have choked me to death'."
Cheney marvels at the 20 strikeouts Roger Clemens recorded for the nine-inning high in 1986. But there's no way to detract from what the veteran righthander, then 27, delivered in his 16 innings of combat. He concluded an eight-year major-league career with overall totals of 19 wins, 29 losses and a 3.77 earned run average, which is all rather modest.
But Tom Cheney, appropriately, reached out to touch the stars on a September evening and has quietly reveled in the afterglow.