Joe Morgan’s Six Pack

 

Lights Out! – Houston Rookie Joe Morgan Goes 6 for 6.

When: July 8, 1965

Where:  County Stadium, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Game Time: 3:40

Attendance: 2,522

The Houston Astros opened the 1965 season with a major transition in the heart of their infield. In 1964, second base was patrolled by Nellie Fox, a future Hall of Famer who came to Houston after 14 years with the Chicago White Sox. In those 14 years, Fox had been an All-Star 12 times, won three Gold Gloves, hit .300 or better six times, led the American League in hits four times, and was the American League’s Most Valuable Player in 1959. By 1964, Fox was near the end of his exceptional career, hitting .265 and noticeably slower in the field.

Fortunately for Houston, an infield prospect named Joe Morgan was ready to step in on an everyday basis. In two minor league seasons, Morgan had hit for a combined .316. In 1964, he led the Texas League with 42 doubles and drove in 90 runs while batting .323. On Opening Day of 1965, he was the Astros’ starting second baseman (and collected half of the team’s four hits that day against Philadelphia’s Chris Short).

With the 1965 arrival of Joe Morgan (left) and his emergence as the team’s regular second baseman, the Houston Astros replaced one future Hall of Famer (Nellie Fox – right) with another.

With the 1965 arrival of Joe Morgan (left) and his emergence as the team’s regular second baseman, the Houston Astros replaced one future Hall of Famer (Nellie Fox – right) with another.

Morgan struggled at first, but improved his batting average steadily as the season progressed.  He was hitting .226 by the end of May, but had raised his average to .249 by the end of June. As he entered the July 8 contest against the Milwaukee Braves, Morgan was hitting .259.

His average would jump up considerably after that game.

The game pitted Don Nottebart (1-6) against the Braves ace, Tony Cloninger (10-7). Neither starter made it past the fifth inning. Nottebart allowed 4 runs in his 5 innings of work, serving up solo home runs to Hank Aaron, Rico Carty and a pair of 1-run blasts to Felipe Alou. Though he would win 24 games on the season, Cloninger lasted only 4 innings today, giving up 5 runs on 8 hits, and Morgan played a big role in Cloninger’s early departure.

Morgan led off the game with his seventh home run of the season. He singled in the second inning but was caught stealing. In the fifth inning, Morgan’s eighth home run of the year sent Cloninger to the showers and put the Astros ahead 5-3. Leading off the seventh inning, Morgan doubled off reliever Dick Kelley and scored on Jim Gentile’s single. In the ninth inning, Morgan singled again and scored on a Rusty Staub hit to put the Astros on top by a score of 8-5 going into the bottom of the ninth.

It was a lead Houston couldn’t hold. Against reliever Mike Cuellar, an RBI double by Carty and a 2-run single by Mike de la Hoz tied the game at 8-8 and sent it into extra innings. Neither team scored in the tenth inning, and Morgan singled off Phil Niekro in the eleventh inning. He stole second and was stranded at third when the inning ended. Morgan didn’t have an opportunity to bat again, as the Braves scored a run in the bottom of the twelfth inning to win the game.

His best game as an Astro came in 1965, when Joe Morgan went six for six with a pair of home runs and three RBIs.

His best game as an Astro came in 1965, when Joe Morgan went six for six with a pair of home runs and three RBIs.

Morgan ended the day hitting six for six with four runs scored and three RBIs. In that single game, he raised his batting average 15 points to .274. He would finish his rookie season hitting .271 and lead the National League in bases on balls with 97.

The Astros would release Nellie Fox by the end of July, having replaced one future Hall of Fame second baseman with another.

Sly Fox

 

The Glove Club: Nellie Fox

No player of his era could out-hustle Hall of Fame second baseman Nellie Fox. Or out-compete him. That was true in the batter’s box or in the field, where Fox established himself over a decade as a workhorse firebrand with a glove of gold.

Nellie Fox won three of the first four Gold Gloves awarded to second basemen, starting in 1957.

Nellie Fox won three of the first four Gold Gloves awarded to second basemen, starting in 1957.

Nellie Fox signed with the Philadelphia Athletics as a 16-year-old, 5-foot 6-inch first baseman, but was moved immediately to second base, where his size and agility eventually made him one of the American League’s best. After four seasons in the minor leagues and three seasons with the A’s, where he played a total of 98 games, Fox was traded to the Chicago White Sox in 1949 and was the team’s starting second baseman by season’s end, hitting .247. Over the next 13 seasons, Fox would hit for a combined .294 average, batting .300 or better six times. His best season at the plate would come in 1959, when he batted .306 with 71 RBIs. That season he was the American League’s Most Valuable Player in leading the White Sox to their first pennant in 40 years.

Fox was the toughest strikeout in baseball. He never struck out more than 18 times in any season, and led the league 12 times in at-bats-to-strikeouts ratio.

From 1952 to 1962, Fox played in an average of 155 games per season. That kind of durability is especially impressive when you consider that the American League regular season was 154 games until 1961. So it is not surprising that Fox was consistently at the top in fielding chances and outs. He led the league in assists six times and was among the top three in that category every season from 1951 to 1961. He led the league in putouts every year from 1952-1961. He was first in fielding percentage six times and the leader among second basemen in double plays five times.

Nellie Fox was the America League Most Valuable Player in 1959.

Nellie Fox was the America League Most Valuable Player in 1959.

When the major leagues initiated the Gold Glove award in 1957, it was natural that the first one would go to Fox. After Frank Bolling won the award in 1958, Fox repeated as the Gold Glove winner in 1959 and 1960.

Following the 1963 season, Fox was traded to the Houston Colt .45s and played one full season in the National League before retiring in the midst of the 1965 season. Fox was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997.

Defense Done Him In

 

Lights Out: Ken Johnson’s No-Hit Loss

When: April 23, 1964

Where:  Colt Stadium, Houston, Texas

Game Time: 1:56

Attendance: 5,426

The first no-hitter of the 1964 season was also the first no-hitter in major league history to be thrown by the game’s losing pitcher.

Ken Johnson’s no-hitter on April 23, 1964 was the first in major league history to be thrown by the game’s losing pitcher.

Ken Johnson’s no-hitter on April 23, 1964 was the first in major league history to be thrown by the game’s losing pitcher.

Houston starting pitcher Ken Johnson came into the game having won his first two starts of the young season. Johnson had gone 6-2 for the Cincinnati Reds in 1961 before he was selected by the Houston Colt .45s as their twenty-ninth pick in the 1961 expansion draft.

Johnson went 7-16 in Houston’s inaugural season, though he pitched better than his won-loss record indicated: 3.84 ERA with 178 strikeouts in 197 innings. He also pitched five complete games and one shutout.

In the 1964 season, Johnson would go 11-17 despite lowering his ERA to 2.65. He would pitch six complete games this season and, again, a single shutout.

It should have been two shutouts.

The Cincinnati starter was Joe Nuxhall, the left-hander who, in his major league debut on June 10, 1944, set a record as the game’s youngest player at age 15. Nuxhall had struggled through the early 1960s but had embarked on a major comeback season in 1963, when he went 15-8 with a 2.62 ERA. For 1964, he would finish the season at 9-8 with a 4.07 ERA, but he would record four shutouts in an injury-abbreviated campaign.

The first of those shutouts would be needed today.

The winner of three Gold Gloves during his Hall of Fame career, <a rel=

The winner of three Gold Gloves during his Hall of Fame career, Nellie Fox committed the error that allowed Pete Rose to score, allowing the Reds to beat the Colts 1-0 without getting a hit.

Both Johnson and Nuxhall pitched scoreless ball through the first eight innings. Through those eight innings, Nuxhall scattered five hits and struck out four Houston batters.

Johnson was simply overpowering … and unhittable. Through the first eight innings, he struck out nine Reds batters and walked only two. And after eight innings, the Reds’ line score read zeroes in hits as well as runs.

The shutout ended in the top of the ninth. Nuxhall grounded out to open the inning. Then Pete Rose reached first base on an error by Johnson. His throw into the dirt squirted by first baseman Pete Runnels, allowing Rose to move to second base. Rose went to third on a ground out by Chico Ruiz, and then scored when Houston second baseman Nellie Fox bobbled a ground ball off the bat of Vada Pinson. Pinson was safe at first and the Reds were ahead 1-0 without the benefit of a hit. Frank Robinson flied out to left field to end the inning.

In the bottom of the ninth, Nuxhall struck out leadoff hitter Eddie Kasko and induced Fox to ground out to short. Runnels’ hot grounder to third was mishandled by Ruiz, putting Runnels on first with the tying run. Bob Lillis went into the game to run for Runnels, but to no avail. Nuxhall struck out Johnny Weekly to end the inning and the game.

Ken Johnson was 11-17 for the Houston Colt .45s in 1964 … despite a 2.65 ERA.

Ken Johnson was 11-17 for the Houston Colt .45s in 1964 … despite a 2.65 ERA.

Never before had a major league pitcher thrown a complete game no-hitter and lost. But it was the kind of frustration that Ken Johnson would experience in different ways during the 1964 season as a talented pitcher on a second-year expansion team.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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