The recent passing of Hall of Fame manager Dick Williams at 82 may not have registered with many local fans. Williams won pennants with Boston, Oakland and San Diego, and managed the Nationals' predecessors, the Montreal Expos, for five seasons, 1977-81.
As a player, Williams, a super-utility guy, did three separate stints with the Baltimore Orioles. It was there he earned a footnote to a magic moment in Washington baseball history.
On Wednesday night, Sept. 12, 1962, the second-year expansion Senators were playing a somewhat meaningless late-season game against the Orioles at Memorial Stadium. After nine innings it was a 1-1 tie, but there was something else going on. Washington starter Tom Cheney, a prematurely bald 28-year-old right-hander they'd acquired from Pittsburgh a year earlier, was mowing down Orioles hitters like no one had ever seen before. Pitch counts weren't critical in those days and Cheney stayed in the game through 10, then 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15 innings, notching strikeout after strikeout. Through 15 innings he'd struck out 20 hitters.
In the top of the 16th inning, Senators' first baseman Marion "Bud" Zipfel connected for a solo home run off of Orioles' reliever Dick Hall, who was in his ninth inning of work. Cheney trudged out to the mound for the bottom of the 16th and got Boog Powell to ground back to the mound. But Dave Nicholson, who'd struck out three times already, singled to right. Jackie Brandt then flied out to center after pinch-hitting for catcher Hobie Landrith - two outs. Then, Williams was called upon to bat for second baseman Marv Breeding.
When the count reached two strikes, I suspect a lot of the 4,098 fans still at the ballpark knew what was coming. Home plate umpire Bill McKinley called a third strike, and Williams became Cheney's 21st strikeout victim in a 2-1 Washington victory. It's a record that still stands and is likely to stay in the books a long, long time. Cheney's pitch count exceeded 200 that night, but these days, we know a starter would get the hook well before that.
Williams didn't argue the call, and I've always wondered what he did with the bat he used that night. I doubt anyone bothered to save it, but it would've been nice if someone had suggested he give it to Cheney 49 years ago.