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Roberts' 17-inning outing defines illustrious career

Special to
* The following story was first published in 2000.

Robin Roberts had a lot of impressive outings during his career that led to the Hall of Fame.

One that stands out happened 60 years ago -- Sept. 6, 1952, to be specific. He pitched all 17 innings to beat the Boston Braves, 7-6, at Shibe Park before a scant 12,474 fans.

His pitching line: 17 innings, 16 hits, six runs, three walks, five strikeouts.

It was his 23rd win against seven losses, giving him the most victories in the Majors.

Complete games were nothing new for the Phillies right-hander. This one was part of his run of 28 consecutive complete games from Aug. 28, 1952 through July 5, 1953. That is a record that will never be broken.

In today's game, complete games are nearly extinct. Specialization and pitch counts have taken over. Starters are expected to go six innings, and then turn it over to a bullpen of relievers and closers to finish a game.

In Robbie's 14-year career with the Phillies, he averaged 18 complete games per season. He led the National League for five straight seasons, starting in 1952 when he had 30. His high was 33 in '53.

Back to his 17-inning marathon. The game was the first of a scheduled twi-night doubleheader. The second game was suspended by a 1:00 a.m. Sunday curfew with the Braves leading, 3-1, in the bottom of the eighth. It was completed the next day, and the Braves held on, 3-1.

"We won the game when Del Ennis hit a home run into the upper deck off Bob Chipman leading off our 17th inning," recalls Roberts.

"We didn't count pitches back then, so I don't know how many I threw. I do know I pitched better in the second game [last eight innings] than I did in the first game," Roberts chuckled. Roberts blanked the Braves from the ninth through the 17th inning.

Today, pitchers ice their shoulders and elbows after they pitch. That was different back then.

"I always took a hot shower and ran hot water on my arm," Roberts said. "I was told one time that it would increase circulation. I did the same thing my whole career. It's hard to say that was right and ice is wrong."

Nearly as impressive as Roberts' marathon performance was that of catcher Smoky Burgess. Burgess caught all 26 innings and went 5-for-11 at the plate.

Larry Shenk is the vice president of alumni relations for the Philadelphia Phillies.

Philadelphia Phillies