#TBT: Baseball's greatest pitching duel

Marichal put on one of the most memorable performances in MLB history

#TBT: Baseball's greatest pitching duel

The mention of the San Francisco Giants' encounter against the Milwaukee Braves on July 2, 1963, seemed to amuse Willie McCovey.

"You're bringing it back to life?" said the Hall of Fame first baseman.

Resuscitation isn't necessary. That game endures in all its glory 52 years later, and it most surely will remain as singular as long as baseball exists. Hall-of-Famers Juan Marichal and Warren Spahn saw to that with their pitching mastery.

On a typically cool night at Candlestick Park, the Giants prevailed 1-0 on a 16th-inning home run by Willie Mays. That in itself made the game suitable for framing. But Marichal and Spahn shaped it into a true historical keepsake. They recorded complete games, with Spahn throwing 201 pitches and Marichal totaling 227.

"I think that was way too many," Marichal said in a telephone interview, still a perfectionist 40 years after his final game.

It's safe to assume that this game never will be duplicated. Pitchers are treated differently than when Marichal and Spahn roamed the earth. Customs are unlikely to revert to that flannel jersey era when starters were expected to complete their assignments. The term 'seven-inning pitcher' was a pejorative one.

"I was my own middle reliever, my own set-up man and my own closer," Spahn said, who completed 382 of his 665 starts.

Nowadays, any pitcher averaging seven quality innings per start can command an eight-figure annual salary.

"A manager or a general manager would not allow any pitcher to go that far [in one game], with the money the players are making," Marichal said.

Though Marichal ranked among baseball's highest-paid pitchers, reaching a high of $140,000 in 1972 according to baseball-reference.com, he didn't pamper himself. He often threw batting practice between starts and made a relief appearance or two in nine different seasons, usually when the Giants needed to seal a victory.

Tale of the tape: The Giants knew what to expect from Spahn -- who was in his 19th Major League season -- on that fateful day.

"He probably threw 80 mph by that time," San Francisco right-hander Bob Bolin said of Spahn, who was then 42. "But he could 'turn it over' and throw a screwball. He had pinpoint control, a little slider, a little cutter."

Marichal had everything. He confounded hitters by changing speeds and altering his release points.

"We used to say kiddingly that he had 25 different pitches -- five from five different arm angles," Pirates broadcatser and former Pittsburgh right-hander Steve Blass said.

Initially, Marichal appeared more vulnerable than Spahn, allowing six runners to reach scoring position in the first eight innings. Mays threw out Norm Larker at home plate in the fourth inning to preserve the scoreless tie. The Braves' failed attempts to manufacture runs looked even more futile when juxtaposed with a ninth-inning swing by the mighty McCovey.

McCovey comes close: The quintessential power hitter, McCovey had terrorized pitchers since winning the NL Rookie of the Year Award in 1959. But he truly announced his presence in 1963, when he hit 44 homers to share the league lead with Hank Aaron. Many witnesses insist that McCovey's total should have been 45. The game nearly ended with one out in the ninth, as McCovey drove a hanging slider well beyond the right field foul pole. The crowd of 15,921 erupted -- except for a Braves stockholder hunched in the grandstand named Bud Selig -- until first base umpire Chris Pelekoudas signaled that McCovey's clout was nothing but a long foul ball.

McCovey might have connected too solidly. He hit Spahn's pitch so high, far and hard that Pelekoudas might have struggled to gauge its path as it soared over the foul pole. But the Giants had no doubts. And they still don't.

"Let me tell you -- that was a home run," Marichal insisted.

"Mac's ball was so far out of the ballpark, we all thought it was fair when it left the bat," Bolin said. "It was about 100 feet beyond the fence."

"After all these years, I still say it was fair," McCovey said. "I hit it as good as I can hit a ball. Everybody else knew it was fair. Spahn knew it was fair. We'd tease him about it when I used to see him at the Hall of Fame."

Ultimately, the evening was not about close calls, but pitching. Spahn refused to weaken. He allowed five hits in the first eight innings and four the rest of the way. Marichal surrendered eight hits overall and pitched the equivalent of a three-hit shutout in the final nine innings. Yet Giants manager Alvin Dark tried to remove him from the game on multiple occasions. Jim Kaplan's 2011 book, "The Greatest Game Ever Pitched," details the Marichal-Spahn standoff superbly, including Dark's attempts to relieve Marichal. The Dominican Dandy would have none of it. 

"Alvin, do you see that man pitching on the other side? He's 42 and I'm 25, and you can't take me out until that man's not pitching," Marichal told Dark in the 14th inning. 

"Alvin didn't feel too happy that I convinced him to let me stay in a little longer," Marichal said to MLB.com

One inning later, Marichal sensed that Dark was poised to summon a reliever. So Marichal grabbed his cap and glove and sprinted to the mound as if to guard his territory.

 "Alvin was really unhappy," Marichal said.

In Candlestick's undersized dugouts, everybody could hear the drama unfolding.

"Juan wasn't going to let that old man keep pitching and have Alvin take him out," Bolin said.

Marichal finally admitted that he was spent after the 16th. He felt compelled to share this information with Mays, who was The Man on the ballclub, if not the entire Major Leagues.

"Chico, don't worry about it. I'm going to win this one for you," Mays said.

The homer was described in Kaplan's book as a no-doubter that easily cleared the left field barrier. The splendid four-hour, 10-minute standoff was over.

That would be the last of Spahn's remarkable total of 13 20-win seasons. It was the first of Marichal's six. Greatness converged on the sublime night of July 2, 1963.

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Haft-Baked Ideas, follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.