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White Sox Feats of Strength: Gary Peters' pinch-hit walk-off homer

He won 20 games on the mound in 1964, and won another one for the Pale Hose coming off the bench

As mentioned in this morning's Terrerobytes, Rob Neyer dropped in a quick note about the one time in 1968 when Eddie Stanky batted Gary Peters sixth. Tweeting the link out yielded a response that sent me on an info hunt:

I know Peters was a good hitter for a pitcher -- .222/.253/.348 with 19 homers over his 14-year big-league career -- and that he was occasionally the best option on a thin bench. Pizarro wasn't Peters' equal, but he too gave himself a chance with the bat (.202 career batting average).

Since I was on Pizarro's page second, I ended up checking his career splits first. He pinch-hit seven times, and went 0-for-7.

Peters, though -- well, he was a more popular choice.

Peters came to the plate as a pinch hitter a whopping 75 times, including 53 times as a member of the White Sox. Moreover, he was damned good at it:

as P 800 163 29 6 15 89 23 151 .221 .249 .337 .586
as PH 75 16 2 1 4 13 6 23 .235 .293 .471 .764

That's with Peters playing in a low run-scoring environment, and spending most of his career in a hitter hell. For comparison, in the offensive explosion of 1996, National League pinch-hitters only hit .231/.309/.350.

Those four pinch-hit homers demand some description, don't they? Everybody went nuts when Mark Buehrle took Braden Looper deep, but that was a mandatory at-bat in the third inning. Imagine him hitting a blast cold off the bench.

Or, in the case on July 19, 1964, imagine him hitting a blast cold off the bench in the 13th inning to win it.

The setup

The White Sox were in the thick of a three-team race entering a doubleheader against the Kansas City Athletics at Comiskey Park, with the top of the AL standings looking like this:

  1. Baltimore 55-34
  2. New York 52-33, 1 GB
  3. Chicago 52-34, 1½ GB

The A's were having a typical Kansas City A's season, a game out of the cellar at 34-56. They had a promising young slugger in left field, but not much else.

For the first 12 innings, though, the two teams were equals. The Sox scored a run off Diego Segui in the first, but Segui and the bullpen posted zeroes thereafter. Pizarro was just as stingy, but for longer (one run over 10 innings).

Al Lopez finally had sufficient reason to lift Pizarro in the 10th. An intentional walk brought the pitcher's spot to the plate with runners on first and second and two outs, and Lopez had a better option in Moose Skowron. It didn't pan out, as Wes Stock got out of the inning by retiring Skowron on a groundout to short.

Three innings later, the A's grabbed the lead with some smallball. Charlie Shoemaker started the 13th with a single off Hoyt Wilhelm, moved to second on a bunt, went to third on a groundout, and scored on Ed Charles' single. Wilhelm struck out that promising young slugger to end the inning, but the damage had been done.

Stock came back out in position to win his 13th consecutive decision, a streak dating all the way back to Sept. 10, 1962. J.C. Martin led off with a single to bring the pitcher's spot to the plate.

Out came power-hitting Dave Nicholson, who, in a previous doubleheader against Kansas City two months earlier, cleared the roof of Comiskey Park with a 573-foot homer.

He was Martin's pinch-runner.

The feat

Peters hit for Wilhelm with the intent of moving Nicholson into scoring position. According to the The Sporting News on Aug. 1, 1964:

Pitcher Gary Peters batted for Hoyt Wilhelm. He fouled off two pitches on attempted bunts. Stock threw a ball. Peters hit the next pitch into the right-field seats.

The Sox honored Ted Lyons, Ray Schalk, Red Faber and Luke Appling during an Old-Timers Ceremony before the game. I bring that up, because I found more detail from Peters when he was in Chicago for a "Turn Back The Clock Night" at New Comiskey on July 5, 1995. Per the late, great Jerome Holtzman:

Peters was an exceptionally good-hitting pitcher and recalled the occasion when manager Al Lopez summoned him to bunt for Dave Nicholson, who was always a big strikeout risk.

"I bunted the first two pitches foul," Peters said. "I could see Al was a little angry. Then I swung away and hit a three-run homer. We won the game 3-2."

Peters laughed at the recollection.

"Anyway, he didn't fine me."

And like almost all players, Peters has a vivid memory of the home run. It was a slider off Baltimore's Wes Stock.

"All Wes ever threw was sliders, " Peters said.

He also recalled that although his home run won the game, Nicholson didn't seem pleased.

"He scowled at me for about a week. I think it was more of an act than anything else."

Gary Peters: Sabermetric hero.

For the rest of the season, Peters was Lopez's left-handed bench bat when available. He fared well enough with four hits in 15 at-bats, including a game-tying single in the ninth inning of the Sox's 90th victory of the year. And on the pitching side, Peters lead the league in victories, enjoying his only 20-win season (20-8) with a 2.50 ERA, good for an All-Star appearance and a seventh-place finish in the AL MVP voting.

And if you're wondering, Peters was the last White Sox pitcher to pitch in a pinch-hit homer.

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