June 29, 1968: On this day in Reds history, 20-year-old Gary Nolan fires his seventh career shut out and hits his only major league home run as the Reds beat the San Francisco Giants, 5-0, at Candlestick Park in San Francisco.
Nolan had the started the 1968 season on the disabled list and didn’t make his first start until May 31st after pitching 226 innings in his rookie year as a 19-year-old in 1967. Nolan had an amazing rookie season, going 14-8 with a 2.58 ERA, hurling five shutouts, and striking out 206 batters. He finished fourth in the league in strikeouts and earned run average, was first in strikeouts per nine innings pitched, second in shutouts, and was second amongst National League pitchers in wins above replacement level (WAR). Yet, he finished third in the rookie of the year voting behind the Mets’ 22-year-old Tom Seaver (16-13, 2.76 ERA, 170 strikeouts, 18 complete games) and the Cardinals’ 29-year-old Dick Hughes (16-6, 2.67 ERA, 6.6 hits per nine innings). Seaver and Hughes both also received MVP votes, with the Cardinals winning the World Championship and New York being located in the media capital of the world.
Seaver was the only Met named to the all-star team and earned a save, pitching a scoreless 15th inning to preserve a National League extra inning win. (The Reds’ Tony Perez provided the game winning home run in the top of the 15th). Seaver had been named to the team as a rookie with an 8-5 record and a 2.65 ERA at the time of the break. Nolan was 7-2 at the break with a 2.49 ERA and had already thrown three shutouts. His first start after the break was a 10-inning shut out, 1-0 win, over the Mets. (The Reds had three reserves named to the all-star team: Perez, Pete Rose, and Tommy Helms.) I suppose I’m saying that Nolan deserved an all-star spot in his rookie season. His most comparable player as a 19-year-old (based on similarity scores) was the Mets’ Dwight Gooden, who won Rookie of the Year and finished second in CY Young voting as a rookie. I would also say that Nolan deserved the Rookie of the Year Award, too.
Nolan was outstanding, but he was overpitched and it delayed the start of his 1968 season. He picked up right were he had left off. After shutting out the Giants on this June 29, 1968, day, Nolan’s record was 3-2 with a 1.69 ERA. For his sophomore season, Nolan finished 9-4 with a 2.40 ERA. He was limited to only 15 starts in 1969 due to injury, before coming back with a strong 1970 season where he went 18-7 with a 3.27 ERA and finishing sixth in the Cy Young Award voting for the National League champion Reds. He was a huge pitching talent.
On this day, the Giants did not have any baserunners advance past first base against Nolan until the ninth inning. Nolan had faced only 26 batters through the first eight innings, having walked only Dave Marshall and given up singles to Ty Cline and Ron Hunt, and Hunt had been caught stealing. It did get dicey in the ninth. Jesus Alou opened the Giants’ bottom half of the ninth with a pinch single. Hunt struck out and Cline forced Alou at second for the second out. Willie McCovey doubled into the right-center field gap with Cline stopping at third base. Nolan struck out Jim Ray Hart to end the game, however, and the Reds won, 5-0.
Oh, wait….Nolan did more than just pitch on this day. The Giants’ Ray Sadecki was also pitching well, having shut out the Reds through six innings. Nolan was never much of a hitter and had batted .104 as a rookie, striking out in about half of his plate appearances (career average was .138). Entering this game with an .083 average, the Giants were anxious to pitch to him. In Nolan’s first at bat, he reached first when Sadecki missed his ground ball, but was stranded later in the inning. In the seventh, the Reds started a two-out rally when Helms doubled to left field. The Giants intentionally walked .175 hitting Woody Woodward to get to Nolan, who connected for his only major league home run to give the Reds a 3-0 lead. Nolan did additional damage in the ninth inning. Don Pavletich reached on a one-out single and advanced to second on a ground out. Woodward was again intentionally walked to get to Nolan (Woodward was intentionally walked three times for the year, twice in this game). Nolan beat out an infield single to load the bases, and Pete Rose followed with a two-run single to provide the game’s final margin, 5-0.
Nolan had finished the day with a four-hit shut out, walking one, striking out six, while going 2-4 at the plate with a home run, and three runs batted in.