Matthew Taylor: Revisiting a date ripe with significance

Thursday night’s Orioles game, a 7-6 loss to Toronto that extended the team’s losing streak to four games, isn’t much worth remembering. April 23 didn’t turn out so well for the O’s in 2015, so let’s look back to a more memorable game that fell on the same date. Today’s guest post revisits the Orioles’ 3-2 victory over the Detroit Tigers on April 23, 1969.

One reason that 1969 game is significant is that it featured the two pitchers who would tie for the Cy Young Award at the end of the season, Mike Cuellar of the Orioles and Denny McLain of the Tigers. It was the only time in baseball history that two pitchers tied for the Cy Young. As a result, baseball changed the way it voted for the award, which was introduced in 1956. A weighted scoring system was created rather than sticking with the existing one-point-per-vote arrangement that produced the tie.

Another significant element of the ‘69 matchup was that both pitchers recorded complete games in the 10-inning contest at Memorial Stadium. Cuellar picked up the win on the strength of 10 full innings of work, during which he gave up five hits and two runs while striking out three and walking two. McLain, meanwhile, tossed 9 1/3 innings, allowing five hits and three runs while striking out three and walking two.

These days you’re unlikely to see one starter record a complete game much less have both pitchers do so. A 2010 Baseball-Reference.com post puts the odds of both starters going the distance at less than 1 percent.

Here’s some more complete-game perspective. Last season, Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers led the majors with six complete games; Dallas Keuchel of the Astros topped the American League with five complete games. Back in 1969, those numbers would hardly have registered any significance.

Bob Gibson of the Cardinals led the majors with 28 complete games in ‘69 while Mel Stottlemyre of the Yankees led the American League with 24 complete games. Stottlemyre sandwiched his league-leading efforts between those of McLain, who led the AL with 28 complete games, in 1968 and Cuellar, who was topped in the AL with 21 complete games in 1970.

The first pitchers to claim the league lead in complete games with a single-digit total were Tom Glavine of the Braves and Dennis Martinez of the Expos. Glavine and Martinez tied atop the National League with nine complete games each in 1991.

As long as we’re talking rare feats, consider that Mark Belanger homered in that April 23 game. It was Belanger’s second and final home run of the 1969 season. It matched his career high, established the previous season and replicated once more in 1972, which stood until he busted out with five home runs in 1974.

Belanger also had all of the team’s RBIs that day as his 10th-inning single scored Elrod Hendricks with the winning run. Belanger’s 50 RBIs in 1969 were the most of any season in his career.

Two complete-game efforts of more than nine innings; a head-to-head duel featuring the only pitchers to ever tie for the Cy Young award; and a Mark Belanger offensive outburst. Rare feats that all occurred on April 23, 1969.

Matthew Taylor blogs about the Orioles at Roar from 34. Follow him on Twitter: @RoarFrom34. His ruminations about the Birds appear as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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