On June 17, 1956, the Cincinnati Redlegs moved into sole possession of first place as they won the second game of a double header against the New York Giants, 1-0, behind lefty Joe Nuxhall’s two-hit shutout. It’s the third time in less than two weeks that Nuxhall was the winning pitcher in games that either tied or gave the Redlegs sole possession of first place.
The first came on June 5, as Nuxhall went the distance and the Redlegs beat the Philadelphia Phillies, 9-4. The win moved the Redlegs into a virtual tie for first, percentage points over the St. Louis Cardinals. In a close race, the Redlegs were 25-18, the Cardinals 26-19, the Pittsburgh Pirates 24-18, the Milwaukee Braves 20-15, and the Brooklyn Dodgers 22-19. The five teams were all within two games of each other. The Dodgers, Braves, and Redlegs would continue the battle all season, with the Dodgers placing first, the Braves second (one game out), and the Redlegs third (two games out of first place).
The Redlegs had been doormats for the National League for several years. Before 1956, their last winning season had been during the World War II years in 1944. The Redlegs had flirted with winning in 1954, actually reaching first place for about three weeks in April and May, before fading. By 1956, the home run slugging Redlegs had arrived and they became the contending team that eventually made it to the 1961 World Series.
So, June 5 was a big day for Nuxhall and his teammates. The Redlegs led 4-0 after three innings and 9-2 after six, as Nuxhall scattered nine hits, while walking four. Wally Post did the most offensive damage with three hits (including two home runs) and four rbi, and rookie Frank Robinson had two hits and a homer.
Nuxhall was also the winning pitcher on June 7, pitching in relief of Hal Jeffcoat, in an 8-5 win over the same Phillies. Brooks Lawrence had pitched the Redlegs to a win the previous evening to maintain the virtual tie, but several teams were idle on the 7th and the Redlegs took a 1/2 game lead with the Thursday victory. The Phillies scored three times in the top of the first off Jeffcoat, but the Redlegs had tied it with three in the bottom of the second. Nuxhall entered the game in the top of the 8th with the score tied at 5-5 and allowed the bases to load with two singles and a walk before inducing former Red Frank Baumholtz to ground out and end the inning.
Nuxhall got the win when the Redlegs scored three times in the bottom of the eighth. Smoky Burgess led off the Redlegs’ half with a home run off reliever Bob Miller, giving the home team a 6-5 lead. Roy McMillan followed with a single, and Bob Thurman flied out, pinch hitting for Nuxhall. Johnny Temple tripled to score McMillan and Robinson hit a sacrifice fly, scoring Temple, to provide the final 8-5 margin. Hersh Freeman pitched a scoreless ninth to seal the win.
Nuxhall’s best game came on June 17. The Redlegs were playing a Sunday doubleheader against the New York Giants. The Redlegs entered the day in third place, one game behind the league leading Pirates, and 1/2 game behind the Dodgers. However, the Pirates were in the process of losing a doubleheader to the Cardinals, while the Dodgers were also being swept by the Braves in a doubleheader. The time was right for the Redlegs to move into first place.
The first game proved fruitless for the Redlegs, as they blew an early 6-2 lead, only to lose to the Giants, 7-6. The Giants won the game in the 7th inning when Willie Mays and Bill White connected for back to back home runs off off reliever Paul LaPalme to give them the victory.
The second game had far less offense as the pitchers dominated. Nuxhall pitched a two-hitter, only allowing a fourth inning single to Eddie Bressoud and a seventh inning single to Bill Sarni. He walked four Giants, striking out eight, and no Giant reached second base during the game. The Redlegs only mustered six hits off Giant pitching (including a Nuxhall double), but they scored the game’s only run in the second inning when Ted Kluszewski led off the second inning with a single, and then Giants starter Ruben Gomez hit Frank Robinson with a pitch (Robinson led the league his rookie season in being hit by pitches with 20). Smoky Burgess followed with a single, scoring Kluszewski and producing the game’s only run.
The Redlegs remained in the race for first place all season, never falling more than 5.5 games off the pace, before finishing in third, two games behind the league winning Dodgers. After Nuxhall’s June 17 pitching performance, they remained in first for only two more days, before dropping to third, and then fighting their way back into first place twice more during the season. Nuxhall had one of his better seasons, being named to his second consecutive all-star team and finishing the year 13-11 with a 3.72 ERA.