For me, one of the best sights in baseball is seeing a position player pitch. It's always nice when the other team is forced into it, because that means your team probably has a big lead. But even when the Yankees are forced into it, I still find it enjoyable. Sure that means non-good things happened that day for the Yankees, but it's baseball. There's always tomorrow; for now, let's enjoy the unique snowflake moment of a utility infielder pitching.
On August 25, 1968, the Yankees were winding down a not-great season. They were two games under .500 and were way back behind the first-place Tigers. On that day, the Tigers were in the Bronx for a doubleheader.
Steve Barber got the start for the Yankees in the first game that day. It did not go well. He allowed the first four batters to reach base and ended the first inning down 2-0. He allowed another two runs to score in the third. Barber got the first out in the fourth inning, but after a walk, a wild pitch, and two more singles, allowing another run in the process, he was taken out. In his 3.1 innings, he allowed five runs on seven hits and three walks.
To relieve him, the Yankees brought in Rocky Colavito. The New York-born Colavito was not a pitcher. He was a six-time All-Star outfielder who once led the league in home runs. By 1968, however, he was coming towards the end of his career. The Yankees had signed him just a little over a month earlier after he had been released by the Dodgers. The 1968 season would be his last.
This was not Colavito's first ever time on the mound in the big leagues. He had made one other pitching appearance. In 1958, he threw three scoreless innings in relief of Hoyt Wilhelm. Weirdly enough, that game was also against the Tigers.
The first batter Colavito faced was Al Kaline. The Hall of Famer, yeah that guy. Colavito got him to ground into a double play and then got Willie Horton to fly out. Colavito escaped with the Yankees still down 5-0.
Down 5-0 in the fourth inning is not normally the time a position player is brought in to pitch. It was the first game of a doubleheader, so that might have had something to do with it. It's still not a decision that will work out too often. A five-run deficit in the fourth, as the Yankees would prove, isn't that big. You probably want to turn to an actual reliever of some sort. That's probably more likely to keep you in striking distance. However, on this day Rocky Colavito pitching worked out just fine.
In the bottom of the fourth, the Yankees scored a run to cut the deficit to four. Colavito then pitched another two scoreless innings, allowing just one hit and two walks. Then in the bottom of the sixth, the Yankees' offense came alive.
Tigers' starter Pat Dobson got the first two outs of the inning before giving up a double to Andy Kosco and walking Tom Tresh. Bill Robinson then hit a three-run home run that made it 5-4. Bobby Cox (yes, that one) followed that with another home run, tying the game. The Tigers took out Dobson, but the offense didn't stop there. Colavito drew a walk. Horace Clark and Jake Gibbs then hit back-to-back singles, giving the Yankees the lead. The Yankees batted around in the sixth with Mickey Mantle (who was also in his last season) making the first and last outs of the inning.
With the Yankees now in front, Ralph Houk quickly pulled Colavito from the game and put in actual pitcher Dooley Womack. Womack pitched an inning, before Lindy McDaniel threw two to close it out. The Yankees won 6-5.
The winning pitcher on the day was Rocky Colavito. He was the last position player to get a win until Brent Mayne did it in 2000. He was the last AL player to do it until Chris Davis in 2012.
Colavito retired after the season and went into coaching. The 1968 season was not Colavito's last dealing with the Yankees. He was on the Royals' coaching staff in the 1982 and 1983 seasons, the latter of which contained the Pine Tar game.
The Tigers ended up winning the World Series in 1968, but on this day, they were shut down by a position player pitching.