Saturday April 10th- an 8:05 pm game at Atlanta Stadium against the Atlanta Braves. Steve Blass on the mound for the Pirates against future Hall of Famer- knuckleballer Phil Niekro going for the Braves.
The Pirates fell victim to ‘Bad Henry.’ The Pirates were up 4-2 going into the bottom of the 9th inning. Steve Blass made the mistake of walking Ralph Garr- the next man up was one of the all time greats Henry Aaron. Aaron had been off to a slow start in the first week of the season but all it took was one swing of the bat- and the game was tied at 4. The Braves would win 12 innings when Ralph Garr led the 12th off with a triple off of Nellie Briles, Briles would then intentionally walk two future Hall of Famers- Aaron and Orlando Cepeda. Hal King then singled and the Braves had a walk off 5-4 victory handing the Pirates their first loss of the young season. The winning pitcher was reliever Cecil Upshaw who won his second game of the season. Nellie Briles was tagged with the loss.
Time of the game 2 hours 41 minutes- [today surely a 12 inning game would last 4 hours] Attendance 13, 079.
The Pirates left fielder and the Braves right fielder Henry Aaron- both hit home runs tonight it was Stargell’s 3rd and Aaron’s 2nd of the season. At seasons end- it would be a race between the two for the National League Home Run title- with Stargell edging Aaron out 48-47. It was the best home run seasons for both players. They were different kind of hitters- Aaron was a line drive hitter and his home runs for the most part were ones which cleared the fence. Stargell was a slugger- who struck out a lot more than Aaron did- but he would hit mammoth shots. All around the National League on televised games Pirates play by play man Bob Prince would point out ‘Stargell hit one- there”-and many times it would be the furthest home run in the history of the ballpark.
Another oddity tonight – a 12 inning game- three Pirate pitchers- Steve Blass, Mudcat Grant and Nellie Briles- recorded no strike outs.
The Braves starting pitcher tonight- Phil Niekro- was born and grew up just down the road 5 minutes from where I live. His younger brother Joe was just breaking into the majors in 1971 and would go on to become a successful pitcher also. In the neighborhood growing up near the Nierko’s was Hall of Fame Basketball star for the Boston Celtics- John Havlicek. In a nearby community growing up another future Hall of Famer Bill Mazeroski of the Pirates. There must have been something in the water in those days.
The final game of the three game series- Sunday afternoon with Dock Ellis going for the Pirates against Jim Nash for the Braves.