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September 4, 1913: Hal Schwenk

On this date, 106 years ago, Hal Schwenk had one of the most unique pitching performances ever for a "cup of coffee" player. It's a story rooted in baseball's old nature and could simply never happen again. At 23 years old, he was called upon by the St. Louis Browns to be the starting pitcher against the Chicago White Sox.

Only 1,500 people were on hand at Sportsman's Park to see their 48-83 Browns try to move one step closer their 50th win of the season. Umpire Bill Dinneen was behind the plate calling balls and strikes. Dinneen himself was quite the accomplished big-league hurler. He won 170 games in his career and won three games in the first modern World Series in 1903 for the Boston Americans. In those three wins, he shut the Pittsburgh Pirates out twice, securing the first two World Series shutouts in major league history. Eventually, his prestige as an umpire would see him calling balls and strikes in baseball's first All-Star Game.

On this day, though, he was simply in for a long day. The White Sox were able to scratch across two runs in the second inning, but nobody scored for the next three innings. Schwenk gave up another run in the sixth inning, which put Chicago ahead 3-0. Buck Weaver and Ray Schalk were in the White Sox lineup, two men who would be banned from baseball seven years later for throwing the 1919 World Series.

It didn't look as if Schwenk would get any run support as his 6-7-8 hitters were all batting below .200, but magically the team strung some hits together and tagged Chicago hurler Reb Russell for four runs in the bottom of the sixth, to put Schwenk in line for the win. However, Schwenk was unable to seal the deal in the ninth inning, allowing the White Sox to tie it. St. Louis was unable to put the game away in the bottom half of the inning, so the teams headed for extras.

Nowadays, the starting pitcher would certainly be out by this point, but Schwenk was sent back out for the 10th inning. He threw up a zero, but his Browns were unable to walk it off in the bottom of the frame. Again, he was sent out for the 11th inning and again, he tossed a zero on the board. This time, St. Louis was able to get something going and Gus Williams provided the base hit that won it, sending the handful of fans at Sportsman's Park home happy.

The base knock gave Schwenk his first and last win in a big-league uniform as he had pitched 11 innings, allowing 12 hits, four runs, walking four and striking out three. His ERA was a respectable 3.27, but remarkably, after showing the grit to grind out 11 innings and earn his cellar dweller a win, he was never called upon again in St. Louis or elsewhere.

The lefty had proven himself a workhorse that season, tossing 331 innings in Class-D Saginaw alone (352 innings overall). He gave it one more go in 1914, pitching with Class-D Burlington for 128 more innings, but he was far less impressive with an ERA pushing on 6.00. Schwenk was out of baseball just over a year after he'd pitched an improbable 11-inning affair against the White Sox. Even the Browns decided they didn't need a second look at Schwenk after his performance, leaving him to wonder for the next 40 years of his life 'what if?'


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