Phillies fans very recently saw firsthand what it’s like for a pitcher to strike out 16 guys batters in a game. Back in April 2016, Vince Velasquez put himself on the map by sitting down 16 Padre hitters. The young right-hander was dotting his fastball on the black, throwing it by hitters, and using his off-speed pitches to make a fool of others. One has to have special “stuff” to be able to strike out at least 16 in a single game.
Why is this relevant? As Phillies Nation continues to serve up history pieces during the dog days of January, we find that Velasquez took a page out of Art Mahaffey’s book, all the way back in 1961.
After three-straight losing seasons from 1958-60, Gene Mauch was put at the helm with the hopes of making the Phillies a winner again. In 1960 Mauch’s Phils went 58-94, and 1961 was rocky, to say the least. The Phillies finished a league-worst 47-107, dead last in the National League and a full 46 games behind the NL champion Cincinnati Reds.
Though 1961 was a year to forget, there always seems to be that flurry of greatness that takes place at some point during the season. In 2015, one flurry came from Cole Hamels in his last start as a Phillie. In 2016, Vinny from Philly struck out a sweet 16. And on April 23, 1961, Art Mahaffey struck out a sweeter 17.
The Phillies were playing the Chicago Cubs, who finished second-to-last in the league, in the second game of a typical Sunday doubleheader. The Phils, already in last place just 11 games in, won game one behind the brilliance of Frank Sullivan, who tossed a complete-game shutout in the 1-0 win.
Game two featured Phillies’ ace Mahaffey in hopes of sweeping the doubleheader. And they did. The Phils won behind the offensive efforts of Johnny Callison, who knocked in four of the six runs the Phils scored on the day. The rest belonged to the right arm of Mahaffey.
Though the Cubs were bad in ‘61, they still had two hall of famers in the meat of their order. One being Ron Santo and the other, Ernie Banks. Mahaffery’s response? He struck out those stars three times apiece, each going 0-for-4. Mahaffey would make quick work of other Cubs hitters, striking out 11 more. Out of the 17 strikeouts the right-hander tallied, nine came in the looking variety. He only allowed four hits and one walk en route to a two-hour, 16-minute game and an easy doubleheader sweep.
Mahaffey finished 1961 as the Phillies’ best pitcher with a record of 11-19 and an ERA of 4.10. Both ‘61 and ‘62, when the righty was a 19-game winner, resulted in all-star appearances. Mahaffey went on to play six seasons with the Phillies, compiling a 58-60 record with a career 4.17 ERA.