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Long-Forgotten or Never-Remembered Moments in Washington Baseball History, Vol. II (4/9/62)

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Does time begin on Opening Day? Not always. In a sense, hope is timeless, and time serves to quash hope.

The clock started on the 1962 Washington Senators on April 14. However, for five days and 4:19 of game-time, including just under three hours' worth of bliss on April 9, hope existed. Without knowing this, it would be easy to assume that hope never existed for the '62 Senators, who finished 60-101, 35.5 games behind the pennant-winning Yankees and 11.5 games behind the Yankees' functional equivalent of a Triple-A team, the next-to-last Kansas City Athletics. Yet, for these subsequently moribund Senators, Opening Day was as glorious as the rest of the season was to be squalid.

As they took the field on April 9, the Senators' prospects looked ugly---perhaps not as ugly as opposing starter Don Mossi, commonly considered one of the homeliest players to lace 'em up---

---but rather ugly, or at least bleak. Mossi's team, the Detroit Tigers, had won 101 games in 1961, missing out on a pennant solely by the misfortune of competing in the same league as the 109-win Yankees of Maris and the Mick. The Senators, by comparison, were coming off a 100-loss season, the first for the so-called Senators II. Plus, as homely as he was, Mossi had cut a fine figure on the mound the previous season; although he was essentially Detroit's third starter (behind Frank Lary and Jim Bunning), he led the starting staff with a 2.96 ERA in 240.1 innings pitched, finishing with a 15-7 record.

Washington sent to the mound 29-year old Bennie Daniels, a 20-game winner---for his career. Daniels was a career 8-17 pitcher for the Pirates prior to being acquired by the Senators for the '61 season. He proceeded to be something of the staff ace---Dick Donovan actually led the American League with a 2.40 ERA, but in about 50 fewer innings---leading the staff with 12 wins and posting a decent enough 3.44 ERA. After the '61 season, Daniels reverted to your basic 8-17 pitcher, compiling subsequent seasons of:

  • 7-16;
  • 5-10;
  • 8-10;
  • 5-13; and
  • 8-16.
That Daniels pitched all of these seasons in Washington, mainly from the starting rotation, tells you essentially all you need to know about Senators baseball in the 1960s---or most every other decade, really. In a nine-year career, Daniels won 45 games, more than a quarter of them in a single season, and finished up a tidy 31 games below break-even.

On April 9, 1962, however, Bennie Daniels was Cy Young---or, at least, John Patterson. Daniels twirled a complete game, allowing one run on five hits, walking two and striking out seven. The Senators provided Daniels with all the offense he need in the fourth inning. Left fielder Willie Tasby, who tied for second on the club in homers the previous season with 17, one behind catcher Gene Green, drew a one-out walk. The next batter, shortstop Bob Johnson, touched Mossi for a two-run homer. This Bob Johnson is not to be confused with old-timer "Indian" Bob Johnson, who himself was a former Senator. (Indian Bob, a standout for the Philadelphia A's of the 1930s and early 40s, spent one lackluster season with the Senators I, then proceeded to enjoy a superb wartime resurgence for the 1944 Red Sox, posting a .959 OPS at the age of 38.) This Bob Johnson came 244 homers short of matching Indian Bob's career total, but he was good for 12 in 1962, primarily as a third baseman. The first of these 12 was the main blemish on Mossi's otherwise-respectable linescore (6 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 6 K), but it was sufficient.

In the top of the sixth, the Tigers pushed across their lone run on an Al Kaline groundout, which scored Jake Wood. However, the Senators bounced back in the bottom of the seventh, roughing up Ron Kline, who on this day pitched like the 2005 version of Steve Kline. Chuck Cottier led off with an infield single; Kline compounded the situation by making an error, advancing Cottier to second. Catcher Bob Schmidt then singled to right, scoring Cottier and advancing to second on Kaline's error. Daniels, helping his own cause, brought home Schmidt on a single to left. Jimmy Piersall's 6-4-3 double-play stifled the rally; but for the twin-killing, the Senators could have blown the Tigers straight out of D.C. Stadium. As it were, Danny O'Connell's double and Chuck Hinton's single chased Kline, who allowed five hits and recorded two outs. Doug Gallagher smashed the threat, as it were, inducing an inning-ending groundout.

And that was essentially that. Did manager Mickey Vernon entrust a three-run, ninth-inning lead to his closer? Of course not. For one, one-inning closers were about 25 years away from existing, much less being mainstream; for another, Vernon barely even had a "fireman." Jim Hannan, who led the team in retroactively-applied saves with four, walked 49 men in 68 innings. Marty Kutyna, who led the team with 54 appearances (all in relief), didn't exactly make bats miss---he allowed 83 hits in 78 innings, striking out but 25 batters. Suffering through a poor season and later banished to the 'pen, Daniels was credited with two of the team's 13 saves. Thus, it was somewhat appropriate that Daniels finished what he started. On this day, he did it well, working out of a bases-loaded jam in the seventh and then allowing only one baserunner the rest of the way.

And so, the second edition of Senators II did what the final edition of Senators I did: win its opener. A crowd of over 44,000 (humorously, the figure cited by the Sporting News was about 2,000 more than that cited by the Senators themselves) witnessed some measure of history. It would take nine years, until the final edition of Senators II, in 1971, to do so again. In fact, for the first and only time, the Senators II started the season 2-0. Four days later, on April 13, 1962, the Senators won again, 5-2, in a rain-shortened, six-inning affair in Cleveland. Washington, at 2-0, stood alone atop the American League. (To my knowledge, the District's nine would not again enjoy sole possession of first until April 11, 1969, when the 3-1 Senators led the AL East by a half-game.)

Hope, indeed.

Hope, short-lived. The '62 Senators. after jumping out to a 2-0 start, lost 13 consecutive games. They did not register another win in April.