Forty years ago, Bob Gibson set a near-record by posting a 1.12 ERA over a full season. Of course Gibson benefitted from favorable pitching conditions, but his mark is still third all time even taking the deadball era into account.
What amazes me most about the season is not the ERA, but the fact that Gibson lost nine games in the process. Without exaggeration, I can find 200 pitchers who had more impressive single season records. I thought it would be interesting to take a quick look at those losses. Retrosheet.org has game logs of course, but thanks to Baseball Reference's Play Index we can create a quick list.
There are ten games on this list. Nine of Gibson's losses, and a tenth game the Cardinals lost after Gibson left the game. For the record, Gibson had three no-decisions in 1968, the Cardinals went 2-1 in those games. In one loss, Gibson surrendered six runs, three of them earned. He allowed just six hits in a complete game, two walks, and 15 strikeouts. All six runs scored in the final three innings.
Three times Gibson lost 1-0 games. In one game he pitched a dual shutout with the Phillies' Woodie Fryman before losing in the tenth. Don Drysdale beat him 2-0, the other run coming off a reliever in the ninth (Gibson left for a pinch-hitter). In the third, the Giants' Gaylord Perry countered with a no-hitter. In those four three-run outings, Gibson pitched eight innings in all four. Two were complete games, the other two saw Gibson lifted for pinch hitters with his team trailing.
Here are Gibson's wins for that season.
Those two at the bottom are Gibson's no decisions that the Cardinals won. Two things stand out about the wins. One, Gibson pitched 9 or more full innings EVERY SINGLE TIME he won a game. Second, Gibson won a game while allowing more than one run just twice. Talk about earning your victories.
Many teams struggled to score runs in 1968. The Cardinals finished fourth out of ten teams despite a team containing Orlando Cepeda, Lou Brock, Roger Maris, Curt Flood and Tim McCarver. Just three players (Brock, Flood and Dal Maxvill) posted OBPs above .310.
By any measure Gibson was a dominant force that year. If he had the hitting the SF Giants for example enjoyed that season, he would have gone 30-3. As it was though, it's a remarkable season in spite of the nine losses.