June 11, 1917: Bill Doak pitches 15 innings and Mike Gonzalez steals home in Cardinals’ extra-inning win

With just two hits in his previous 38 at-bats, Mike Gonzalez was an unlikely hero when he stepped to the plate in the 15th inning of the Cardinals’ June 11, 1917, game against the Philadelphia Phillies.

Even more unlikely was his two-out steal of home. Combined with “Spittin’” Bill Doak’s remarkable 15-inning performance, Gonzalez’s theft lifted the Cardinals to a 5-4 victory over the Phillies at Robison Field.

Doak, a 26-year-old spitballer from Pittsburgh, had been the Cardinals’ best pitcher since joining the rotation full-time in 1914. That season, he won 19 games and led the league with a 1.72 ERA.

The Phillies greeted Doak roughly in the first inning, scoring four runs on two hits, two walks, and an error. For the next 14 innings, however, Doak held the Phillies to just four hits, including two infield singles. During that span, he struck out 10 batters, walking just one.

“It was perfect pitching beautifully conceived and smartly executed,” W.J. O’Connor wrote for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “and Doak was so good at the finish that it did seem that he could have endured for another full game.”[1]

Doak’s pitching allowed the Cardinals to rally back from the early 4-0 deficit with one run in the fourth and three more in the sixth. For the next eight innings, the teams remained deadlocked as Doak and Phillies starter Joe Oeschger exchanged zeros on the scoreboard.

Finally, in the bottom of the 15th, the Cardinals found a way to get their fifth run across the plate. Gonzalez, a native of La Habana, Cuba, had been hitless through six at-bats in the game before he smacked a one-out double to right field. Dots Miller advanced Gonzalez to third on a ground ball, and with two outs, Oeschger intentionally walked Rogers Hornsby, who was already 4-for-6 with two runs scored on the day.

With left fielder Walton Cruise at the plate, Gonzalez made his move. As the Philadelphia Inquirer described it:

Oeschger stood on the rubber looking for the sign from (catcher Bill Killefer). Suddenly Gonzales tore away from third base. He was racing and cutting the dirt with his spikes toward home while Oeschger, apparently paralyzed, gripped the ball. Joe finally recovered from his astonishment at the Cuban’s audacity and made a hurried toss to the plate. The throw was high and on the outside, hit Killefer’s glove and dropped to the ground and the game was over – a clean steal of home for Gonzales.[2]

The stolen base just the 14th stolen of Gonzalez’s career.

“It was a proper finish to the best game of baseball played in St. Louis this season,” wrote J.B. Sheridan in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat.[3]

With the win, Doak improved to 7-4. Oeschger was the tough-luck loser, allowing three earned runs over 14 2/3 innings.

Though Gonzalez ended the game batting just .155, his double and game-winning stolen base seemed to help turn around his season. Over his next three games, he totaled seven hits. He finished the season with a .261 average.

Gonzalez enjoyed a 17-year major-league career that included eight seasons with the Cardinals. In addition to serving as one of the key figures in Cuban baseball history, where he was a player, manager, and owner in the Cuban League for 50 years, Gonzalez was a coach on the 1934 Gashouse Gang. In 1938, after Frankie Frisch was fired, he became the first Latin American manager in major league history when he served as interim manager for the Cardinals’ final 16 games.

Doak too had a lasting impact on the game. After baseball outlawed the spitball in 1920, Doak was one of just 17 pitchers allowed to continue throwing the pitch. The pitch proved a powerful weapon for the right-hander, as evidenced by his 32 career shutouts, which rank second only to Bob Gibson in franchise history.

In 1920, Doak recommended to Rawlings that it place a web between the index finger and thumb, creating a pocket for the ball. Doak’s glove model became a bestseller for Rawlings and soon became the standard across baseball.

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[1] W.J. O’Connor, “Gonzales’ Third Safety in 39 Tries Wins 15-Inning Game,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 12, 1917.

[2] “Steal Home Beat Phils in Fifteenth,” Philadelphia Inquirer, June 12, 1917.

[3] J.B. Sheridan, “Cardinals Beat Phillies in Great 15-Inning Battle, 5 to 4,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, June 12, 1917.

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