It was this date, Oct. 2, in 1968. Game 1 of the World Series.
On the mound for the St. Louis Cardinals was a man who would later become known as the greatest athlete ever to emerge from the state of Nebraska. A right-hander out of Creighton University by way of Omaha Tech High School.
The Cardinals were squaring off with the Detroit Tigers — who would later rally from a 3-1 deficit to win the series. But in that opener in St. Louis, Gibson, coming off one of the best seasons in the history of the major leagues, would set a record that stands to this day — 17 strikeouts in a single World Series game.
Gibson’s 17 K’s bettered Sandy Koufax’s 15 set five years earlier to the day.
Who better to chronicle the occasion than Gibson himself, who wrote a piece in The World-Herald that appeared on Oct. 3, 1968.
Gibson worked alongside reporter Phil Pepe, who would also help Gibson write his autobiography: “From Ghetto to Glory: The Story of Bob Gibson.”
Here’s the story that Gibson wrote following his record performance in St. Louis:
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When the game was over, Butch Yatkeman, our clubhouse man, told me I had a telephone call from Vice President Humphrey.
The Vice President said he had watched the game on television and he wanted to call and congratulate me. He asked me how my family was and he said, “I’m with you all the way.”
I guess we talked for about five minutes. He remembered the few times we had met, once in Boston and last year at a dinner in the White House that President Johnson had given for the Premier of Japan. I was invited to the dinner and I talked with the Vice President at that time. He and I were the only ones wearing blue shirts with our tuxedos and he commented on that.
“You and I are the only ones around here who dress with any class,” he said.
Naturally, I’m happy about breaking the World Series record for strikeouts in a game. But I’d rather have the victory without the record than the record without the victory. Having both makes it nicer.
Puzzled by Shouting
I didn’t even know about the record. I couldn’t imagine what all the shouting was about. Then I happened to turn around and look at the scoreboard, and I saw something about 16 strikeouts and a World Series record. When I got Willie Horton for my 17th strikeout I was happy because the game was over.
I never try for strikeouts and I wasn’t trying for them Wednesday. The only thing about strikeouts is that when you’re getting a lot of them, naturally, you’re throwing a lot of pitches.
I’d rather get a man out with one pitch and save my strength. Wednesday I threw 144 pitches. That’s a lot of pitches, but I didn’t feel tired during the game or after it was over. I guess that’s because I was charged up pretty good and I suspect I’ll feel it a little Thursday.
I think the thing I had in my favor was that I was a pitcher they had never seen before. I think they were surprised with my breaking ball more than anything else. I had very good sliders and curves.
The same thing happened last year against Boston. I remember reading in the papers that the Red Sox scouting report on me was that I had a good fastball, but not much of a breaking ball. And I beat them with my breaking ball. The same thing might have happened Wednesday.
Lesson 6 Years Ago
Somebody asked me when I went to the curve ball. I said, half kiddingly, “Six years ago.” What I meant by that was I learned to throw a curveball six years ago and that’s what helped me become a winning pitcher. Howard Pollet, who was our pitching coach at the time, taught me the curve.
Nobody can win in the major leagues with just a fastball, I don’t care how hard he throws. The only time I was in trouble was in the sixth inning. With two out and one on, Al Kaline hit a ball inside the third base line for a double. He hit a good pitch, a slider away.
With Norm Cash coming up, Tim McCarver came out to talk to me. There was no big conference, no great strategy, no epic discussion out there.
Tim said, “Let’s go get the next guy.”
I said, “Okay.”
I struck Cash out.
Our guys were charged up Wednesday. I think the reason was McLain’s statement about humiliating us, if he really did make that statement.
I’d have to say McLain is a good pitcher. He shut us out for five innings, so be must be good. Whether he’d win 30 games in our league, I really couldn’t say.
I must confess the day didn’t start off very good for me. I went to bed at midnight, but I had trouble sleeping as I usually do. I woke up several times during the night.
I drove to the stadium alone and didn’t even eat breakfast until I got to the ballpark. Then I had a cup of coffee and a couple of doughnuts and a candy bar or two.
I don’t recommend that as a pregame meal before going out to pitch a ballgame, but if it works, I’m not going to complain.