Drysdale’s scoreless streak in ’68 ended in an unlikely way

Don Drysdale

Baseball shines the light on the fringe player like no other sport

Every sport celebrates its stars. More than any other pastime, baseball provides opportunities for fringe players to become part of the game’s fabric. Howie Bedell is one such man.

In his 67-game big league playing career, Bedell had three runs batted in, the last of which links him to one of the most memorable streaks in the history of the game.

The story begins with the 1913 performance of perhaps the greatest pitcher of all time, Walter Johnson. One of five in Cooperstown’s inaugural class, Johnson threw 55 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings that year. The majestic run set a record that Johnson held for the rest of his life.

Fifty-five years later another Hall of Fame hurler began a streak of his own. On May 14th, 1968 Dodger hurler Don Drysdale beat Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins with a 2-hit blanking of the Chicago Cubs. Four days later he twirled a 5-hit shutout against the Astros. The Dodgers then headed to St. Louis where Drysdale bested Cooperstown’s Bob Gibson 2-0 on May 22nd.

His next start came at the Astrodome against the Houston team he shut out eight days earlier. In the top of the third inning the Dodger pitcher came to bat with a runner on second. He slapped a single to right to drive in the game’s first run. The Dodgers added four more with Drysdale touching the plate for the final run in the 5-0 victory.

After four complete games without allowing a run, Drysdale’s scoreless streak stood at 36 innings. A shutout in his next start would tie Doc White’s 1904 record of 5 consecutive whitewashes. It would also put him within a single out of the National League record of 45 1/3 straight innings without allowing a run set by Carl Hubbell in 1933.

Controversy abounds against San Francisco

To break Hubbell’s mark, Drysdale had to vanquish the first-place Giants with a lineup that included Willie Mays and Willie McCovey. He did his part. The Los Angeles offense also did theirs, scoring single runs in the 2nd, 3rd, and 8th innings.

In the final frame the Dodger pitcher immediately ran into trouble. After walking McCovey, Drysdale gave up a single to Jim Ray Hart. Dave Marshall walked to load the bases with nobody out. San Francisco catcher Dick Deitz came to the plate hoping to put the Giants on the board and end the streak.

On a 2-ball, 2-strike pitch, Drysdale hit Deitz. It appeared the streak was over. Then fate intervened. Home plate umpire Harry Wendelstedt ruled that Deitz did not attempt to avoid getting stuck by the pitch. The ump called the pitch a ball and ordered Deitz back in the box.

The Giants howled in protest to no avail.

On the next pitch Deitz lifted a fly ball to shallow left that was caught by Jim Fairy for the first out. Drysdale retired the next two hitters to complete his fifth straight shutout and tie Doc White’s record.

Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell & the Pirates stand in the way

With 45 consecutive shutout innings, Drysdale needed 11 more for his ultimate goal – topping Walter Johnson to set a new big league mark. The climb would be steep with the Pirates and Phillies up next at Chavez Ravine.

Facing Hall of Fame hitters Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell in a potent Pittsburgh lineup, Drysdale was dominant. He retired the first two Pirates hitters to top Hubbell’s National League record. The Pirates waited until Don Clenendon’s 5th-inning opposite-field flare for their first hit. Drysdale quickly erased him by getting the next batter Bill Mazeroski to ground into a double play.

With one out in the sixth, pinch hitter Gary Kolb hit a double to right. Drysdale retired the next two men to quiet the threat. He didn’t allow another hit until Maury Wills’ soft liner found the centerfield grass with two out in the ninth. Drysdale then induced a Stargell groundout to end the game.

The big right-hander’s feat of six-consecutive shutouts was a baseball first. It has not been equaled since.

Hall of Famer Drysdale sets the record

By the time Drysdale took the mound against the Phillies on June 8th opponents hadn’t touched home plate in nearly a month. Big D was now just six outs away from owning baseball’s longest run of consecutive scoreless innings.

On a warm night on the 8th of June before a sellout crowd of 50,060 Drysdale took the hill. The Dodger faithful were abuzz in anticipation.

In the Phillies dugout sat recently called up 32-year old journeyman Howie Bedell. Just days removed from Double-A Reading, Bedell was a veteran of more than 1,300 professional games. All but 7 of them came in the minor leagues. While playing pepper before the game at Chavez Ravine Bedell was called back to the dugout by Phillies skipper Gene Mauch.

“I thought, here it comes – the ticket back to Reading,” Bedell recalled. “To my surprise Gene told me how happy he was to have me with the team.”

Before the call up, the last time Bedell saw action in the majors was six years earlier in 1962. That season he faced Drysdale in two games, going 1-for-5 with a double and three strikeouts. Mauch told the left-handed hitting Bedell to be ready as the first pinch hitter off of the bench.

After holding the Phillies scoreless in the first, the Dodgers pushed across a run in the bottom half of the inning. Drysdale retired the first two Phillies batters in the second. The man who stood in his way was Clay Dalrymple. Drysdale owned him, having previously faced him 96 times, yielding just 16 hits. Predictably, Drysdale struck him out. The record was his.

The sellout crowd came to its feet and gave their pitcher a standing ovation as teammates congratulated him.

“I had never seen anything like that,” Bedell said later. “I played in hundreds of games, but nothing like that ever happens in the minors.”

Bedell becomes the unlikely man to stop the scoreless run

Drysdale continued the streak, holding the Phillies without a run in the 3rd and 4th innings. The Dodger offense came to life in the home half of the 4th, collecting three runs off of Philadelphia starter Larry Jackson.

The six, seven, and eight hitters in the lineup were due to bat for the Phillies in the 5th. Third baseman Tony Taylor poked a single to right. Dalrymple’s single to center – his last career hit off of Drysdale – pushed Taylor to third. Shortstop Roberto Pena whiffed for the first out of the inning.

With the pitcher due up, Mauch stayed true to his promise and called on Bedell as the pinch hitter. The matchup didn’t look good for Howie. With 59 big league games and 2 career RBIs to his credit, the 32-year old Bedell faced the biggest moment of his baseball life against a pitcher who hadn’t allowed a run in nearly a month.

On the first pitch, Drysdale brushed back Bedell with a fastball up and in. Bedell stood firm and made good contact two pitches later.

“The pitch was on the middle half, out over the plate,” Bedell said. “I was able to get my bat on it and drive it to left center.”

Bedell’s former Milwaukee Braves teammate Len Gabrielson caught the ball and Taylor tagged up. The left fielder fired the ball home but Taylor beat the throw. With his final big league RBI, Bedell ended Drysdale’s scoreless streak at 58 2/3 innings.

“As I made my turn at first base and headed back to the dugout our first baseman Bill White met me at the top step. He shook my hand and said, ‘That was the best fly ball you will ever hit.’ He sure was right.”

Drysdale and Bedell both retired after the following season

Philadelphia tacked on two more runs but lost the game 6-3. When it was over, the Phillie players quietly got dressed while reporters mobbed Drysdale.

“I wanted the record so bad but I’m relieved that it’s over,” Drysdale said in a postgame interview. “I could feel myself go ‘blah’ when the run scored. I just let down completely. I’m sure it was the mental strain.”

Drysdale finished the season with 14 wins and a 2.15 ERA. It was his 10th straight campaign with at least 30 starts. From 1957-1968 he averaged 243 innings per year. In 1969 the workload took its toll. He suffered a torn rotator cuff and retired in the middle of the season.

The pitcher left the field with 209 wins, a 2.95 ERA, 2,468 strikeouts, and 49 shutouts. Drysdale struck out at least 200 batters six times. Feared at the plate, he also slugged 29 homers. The eight-time All Star was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1984.

Bedell had just six more big league at bats after driving in the run that stopped Drysdale’s streak. His final season of his 13-year professional playing career came in a four-game stint with Double-A Reading in 1969. He time in the majors included 67 games, two doubles, a triple, and those three runs batted in. Bedell amassed more than 1,500 hits in the minors. In 1961 with Triple-A Louisville Bedell tied the American Association record by recording a base hit in 43 consecutive games. The league left affiliated baseball in 1997 with Bedell still tied atop the list.

The pair remained close to the game for decades

Drysdale became a TV color man for the Expos, Rangers, Angels, and White Sox before returning to the Dodgers in 1988. That season he was in the booth when Orel Hershiser broke his scoreless streak. Drysdale remained with the Dodgers until his death in 1993.

After his playing career ended, Bedell worked as a coach and the front office for the Royals and Mariners. He worked in the minors as a skipper in the Phillies and Rockies chains. Bedell earned World Series rings as farm director of the Phillies in 1980 and with the Reds a decade later.

Though his greatest contributions to the game came in the decades after his playing career was over, Howie fondly recalls the last of his three big league runs batted in.

“After we ended Don’s scoreless inning streak, we played one more game in LA then flew back to Philadelphia to open a home stand,” Bedell recalled. “On the flight I couldn’t help but feel that the moment never really happened. It felt like a dream.

“I enjoyed that time in my life. I enjoyed playing every single day. Baseball is the greatest game ever invented.”

Reach Jim Smiley, the author of this story, CooperstownExpert@gmail.com

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In The Collection:

Walter Johnson set the mark for consecutive scoreless innings in 1913 and held it for 55 years

Walter Johnson set the mark for consecutive scoreless innings in 1913 and held it for 55 years

Walter Johnson is one of the greatest pitchers of all time. His 110 shutouts are the most in big league history while his 417 victories rank second only to Cy Young&

Carl Hubbell set the NL mark with 45 1/3 straight scoreless innings in 1933; Drysdale broke it

Carl Hubbell set the NL mark with 45 1/3 straight scoreless innings in 1933; Drysdale broke it

Hall of Fame hurler Carl Hubbell won 20 or more games every season from 1933-1937. The five-year, 115-victory run started with one of his finest seasons. His 1933 campaign included a league-leading 308 2/3 innings in which he po

When Drysdale completed his 6th straight shutout, he broke Doc White's 1904 record

When Drysdale completed his 6th straight shutout, he broke Doc White's 1904 record

In 1968 Don Drysdale threw six straight complete-game shutouts. The feat has never been matched in big league history.

The previous record of five consecutive shutouts was set by southpaw Doc White. Born in 1879, White pl

Howie Bedell writes about his last career RBI that ended Drysdale's streak

Howie Bedell writes about his last career RBI that ended Drysdale's streak

Don Drysdale dominated National League hitters in the early part of the 1968 season, throwing six straight shutouts. That set a still-standing record. He also established a mark – since broken – for consecutive score

Drysdale was there when Orel Hershiser kept the record in the Dodger family

Drysdale was there when Orel Hershiser kept the record in the Dodger family

Don Drysdale retired as a player the year after breaking Walter Johnson’s record for consecutive scoreless innings. He immediately went into the broadcast booth, working for four teams before returning to the Dodgers in 19

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