Former Detroit Tigers pitcher Les Mueller, who died earlier this week at age 93, had an unremarkable Major League career.
He posted a 6-8 record during his two seasons with the Tigers (1941, 1945), started 18 games and had a career earned-run average of 3.78. Yet, there’s no questioning that on at least one day he was nothing short of spectacular.
On July 21, 1945, Mueller started against the then-Philadelphia Athletics and pitched the first 19-2/3 innings, giving up just a single run.
That’s the equivalent of more than two complete games, impressive when one considers that Justin Verlander of Detroit led the entire Major Leagues in complete games this past season with six.
The Tigers and Athletics ended up playing to a 1-1 tie in 24 innings on that special day in 1945. Mueller gave up 13 hits and five walks during his ironman effort, and Tigers’ standout Dizzy Trout came in for the final 4-1/3 innings.
When Tigers manager Steve O’Neill took Mueller out of the game, the pitcher said, “Gee, Steve, the game isn’t over, is it?” according to the book Baseball’s Unforgettable Games, by Joe Reichler and Ben Olan.
The Athletics’ pitchers did themselves proud, as well, as starter Russ Christopher went 13 innings and Joe Berry the final 11.
In today’s game where the starter looks to get through six innings so the manager can bring in a middle reliever, followed by a setup man, followed by the closer, it’s hard to imagine a game where three pitchers tossed 11 or more innings.
To demonstrate how much baseball has changed since Mueller’s time, there were nine teams this past season that had two or fewer complete games during the entire year.
The game, which lasted an American League-record 4 hours and 48 minutes, was called by umpire Bill Summers because “he couldn’t see the ball.”
No pitcher has topped Mueller’s effort in terms of innings pitched in a game, and it’s unlikely anyone has come close. It’s safe to say no one will ever beat Mueller’s mark.
Mueller was out of Major League baseball after the 1945 season, but not before obtaining a rather nice memento.
He played on the 1945 World Series winning team, pitched two scoreless innings in Game 1, and took home a championship ring as the Tigers beat the Chicago Cubs in seven games.