Maddux masterful in 77-pitch complete game
It was Game 1 of a Tuesday afternoon doubleheader at Wrigley Field – a twin-bill necessitated by an April snow-out.
So Braves pitcher Greg Maddux decided to hurry things along.
Maddux needed only 77 pitches that day in a complete game win over the Cubs, earning his National League-leading 14th victory of the season in a 4-1 triumph over Chicago on July 22, 1997. The game took just two hours and seven minutes from first pitch until Sammy Sosa grounded out to second base to end the game.
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Sosa’s grounder marked the seventh time that a Cubs batter had been retired on the first pitch he saw in his at-bat.
“He’s a brilliant, brilliant pitcher,” Cubs first baseman – and Maddux’s former teammate – Mark Grace told the Associated Press. “If my life depended on one game, I’d want him to throw it.”
Grace was 1-for-4 against Maddux, recording one of five Cubs hits on the day and the only extra base hit (a double with two outs in the ninth).
Maddux did not walk a batter, and no Cubs hitter worked a count past two balls. Only two Chicago batters even reached a two-ball count.
The Cubs’ run came in the fourth inning when Shawon Dunston singled, stole second, moved to third on a Grace groundout and scored on a Sosa groundout.
The entire rally took seven pitches.
Maddux struck out six batters while throwing 63 of his 77 pitches for strikes.
On a day where the wind was blowing in at a 17-mph clip at Wrigley Field, Maddux recorded 12 ground ball outs (including a double play) as the Cubs tried to keep the ball out of the air.
Of the 31 batters Maddux faced, 26 saw first-pitch strikes.
“I thought (the Cubs) were aggressive and rightfully so,” Maddux told the Associated Press. “If you are going to get me, get me early in the count. When you are aggressive early in the count and the wind is blowing in like it is and the grass is the way it is here, you have a chance to do something like that.”
The 77 pitches were the fewest in a complete game since Bob Tewksbury of the Cardinals needed just 75 in a six-hitter against the Reds on Aug. 29, 1990. Individual pitcher pitch count records are largely incomplete prior to the 1990s, but only Andy Ashby would author another complete game with fewer than 77 pitches during the rest of the 90s – needing 75 pitches in his Padres’ 7-2 win over the Rockies on July 5, 1998.
In the 2000s, only four pitchers would record complete games with pitch counts less than 80 pitches.
Maddux would finish the 1997 season with a record of 19-4 with a 2.20 earned-run average. In 232.2 innings, he walked just 20 batters for an average of 0.774 walks per nine innings pitched. Only Tewksbury, who walked 0.773 batters per nine innings pitched in 1992, posted a better mark among pitchers working 200 innings from 1933-2009.
“He’s so good,” Dunston told the Chicago Tribune, “it’s pathetic.”
Maddux was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2014.
Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum