April 18, 1960: Pascual strikes out 15, an opening-day record that still stands

Even as work was about to begin on a new stadium, the fate of the Washington Senators in D.C. remained uncertain as the 1960 season began. Owner Calvin Griffith had tried and then abandoned an earlier effort to move the team, yet he had just made a major trade with the White Sox that would strengthen that season’s Nats.

Topps couldn’t spell Camilo’s name right on his 1959 card.

All of that was in the background as President Dwight Eisenhower, having flown back from a vacation in Georgia, threw out two ceremonial first pitches from the stands at rickety Griffith Stadium on April 18. With Camilo Pascual on the mound, one of the founding American League franchises took the field for would be its last opening day in D.C. Pascual, a Cuban-born right-hander, had blossomed into one of the league’s top pitchers in 1959, winning 17 games for a last-place team.

Before a capacity crowd on that windy Monday afternoon, Pascual would strike out 15 Boston Red Sox, setting an opening day record, topping the 14 by Walter Johnson in 1910. Through 2023, no one on any team has ever fanned more batters in an opening game.

Eisenhower, a decent player before attending West Point, was making his seventh appearance at Washington’s opening day in eight seasons (even though the National League had begun play a week earlier).

Pascual, noted for a devastating curve, struck out two of the first four Red Sox before Ted Williams hit a 3-2 pitch well over 400 feet to deep center in the top of the second. The round-tripper, his 493rd, tied Williams with Lou Gehrig for third place on the all-time list at the time, behind Babe Ruth and Jimmie Foxx. Pascual retired the Sox in the second by striking out the last two batters.

In December 1959, Griffith had reportedly turned down an offer from Cincinnati’s Gabe Paul of $500,000 each for Pascual and Nats’ slugger Harmon Killebrew. “I consider Pascual the best pitcher in the majors,’” Paul said of his offer. It turned out to be a smart decision by Griffith.

Twice, Randy Johnson has fanned 14 batters on opening day, but now that few opening-day starters go the distance, it’s less likely that Pascual’s mark ever will be broken. Pascual’s 15 strikeouts also set a record for a pitcher from the original Senators’ franchise.

The Nats went ahead with three runs in the bottom of the second inning. Jim Lemon’s two-run homer gave Washington the lead. A double by Pascual – always a decent hitter – brought home the third run.

After striking out the pitcher in the third, Pascual struck out the side in the fourth.

Washington put the game away in the bottom of the inning. Bob Allison and catcher Earl Battey, newly acquired from the White Sox in the Roy Sievers trade, homered, knocking Tom Sturdivant (a future expansion Nat), out of the game. Billy Consolo then homered off reliever Al Worthington. When the dust cleared, Washington led 8-1.

Worthington batted for himself in the fifth and struck out. Pascual fanned two more in the sixth to raise his total to 11.

The lead-off hitter in the seventh walked and reached third with one out on a steal and a throwing error. But Pascual struck out Gary Geiger and got Don Buddin to ground out. The Senators added two more runs in the bottom of the seventh to go up, 10-1.

Pascual got Ron Jackson, batting for Worthington, on a called third strike. Then two batters reached on a single and a walk, but Frank Malzone struck out swinging to end the inning. The PA announcer informed the crowd that Pascual had matched the record.

When Pascual fanned Gene Stephens swinging to open the ninth, his 15th K broke the Big Train’s long-standing mark. Fred Baxter, the Nats’ clubhouse manager, motioned for Pascual to give him the ball to preserve it for posterity. The next two Sox went down weakly.

Williams and former Senator Pete Runnels were the only Red Sox Pascual did not strike out. “Nobody in this league can compare with that pitcher,” Williams told reporters after game.

Pascual matched his 15 strikeouts once more in his 18-year career. He led the A.L. in strikeout three seasons in a row after the team moved to Minnesota. He won 20 games twice for the Twins, led the league three times in complete games and shutouts and was a five-time All-Star. He returned to Washington to pitch for the expansion Senators from 1967 into 1969.

A member of  the Latino Baseball Hall of Fame and the Minnesota Twins Hall of Fame, Pascual turned 89 in January 2023. He spent many years as a scout and has lived in Miami since 1960.

One thought on “April 18, 1960: Pascual strikes out 15, an opening-day record that still stands

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.