(The brawl in Game 5 turned the series on its head. Photo courtesy of AP Photos)
5/14/1920 - The Train gets 300
Walter Johnson, nicknamed "The Big Train," wins the 300th game of his career. To this day, Johnson is often considered the greatest pitcher who ever lived -- he wound up with 417 wins, joining Cy Young as the only men to crack the 400's, even though he played with the pitiful Washington Senators. He won 20 or more games ten different times and led the American League in strikeouts in 12 seasons.
"On August 2, 1907, I encountered the most threatening sight I ever saw in the ball field," Tigers legend Ty Cobb once stated of him. "He was a rookie, and we licked our lips as we warmed up for the first game of a doubleheader in Washington. Evidently, manager Pongo Joe Cantillon of the Nats had picked a rube out of the cornfields of the deepest bushes to pitch against us... He was a tall, shambling galoot of about twenty, with arms so long they hung far out of his sleeves, and with a sidearm delivery that looked unimpressive at first glance... One of the Tigers imitated a cow mooing, and we hollered at Cantillon: 'Get the pitchfork ready, Joe -- your hayseed's on his way back to the barn.'
"The first time I faced him, I watched him take that easy windup. And then something went past me that made me flinch. The thing just hissed with danger. We couldn't touch him... every one of us knew we'd met the most powerful arm ever turned loose in a ball park."
Johnson was remarkably young when he won his 300th game, just 32 years old, and his ease in winning No. 300 would not be equaled for the rest of the 20th century. Over the next 60 years, just four pitchers (Grover Alexander, Lefty Grove, Warren Spahn, and Early Wynn) reached 300, and Grove and Wynn barely did it, finishing their careers with exactly 300 wins.
5/14/1939 - Mrs. Feller hit on Mother's Day
20 year-old Cleveland Indians pitcher Bob Feller was on the mound, facing off against the Chicago White Sox. Feller pitched all nine innings as the Indians won, 9-4. But the real story came in the seventh inning, when Feller was pitching against White Sox third baseman Marv Owen. Bob Feller's family had driven all the way from Iowa to see him, but in an instant, they regretted that they did. Owen slashed a pitch from Feller into foul territory along the first base line, hitting none other than his own mother in the face. In the ultimate of ironies, it was Mother's Day.
Mrs. Feller was knocked unconscious, taken to the hospital and received six stitches on her head, but was otherwise okay. In 1940, she dared to make another appearance at her son's game, this time on opening day. Bob made sure that no one got enough wood on the ball to send another projectile at his mom. He threw a no-hitter that day, becoming the first pitcher to ever toss a no-no on the first day of the year.
5/14/1967 - The Mick hits 500
Yankees slugger Mickey Mantle hits the 500th home run of his career, doing so against the Orioles' Stu Miller. Mantle was renowned for being one of the most powerful sluggers in baseball history. On several occasions, Mantle reportedly hit a home run ball more than 600 feet from home plate, although the accuracy of those claims is doubted.
"I pitched against Mantle for five years," Miller said years later, "and that was the only home run he hit off me. I still sign balls for people who send them to me - asking me to write that I pitched Mantle’s 500th home run. I sign them. What the heck, why would I care? It was just one home run. If I wasn’t his 500th victim, nobody would even know me."
5/14/1997 - In-game brawl beneficial for Heat
In the fifth game of the semifinals between the Miami Heat and the New York Knicks, the Knicks were in complete control. Even if they lost the game, they could always go back to Madison Square Garden and finish things up at home. Barely a handful of teams had ever come back from a 3-1 series deficit, and didn't appear that the Knicks were about to lose three straight games.
But all that changed with 1:53 to go in Game 5. Tim Hardaway was shooting free throws when Knicks point guard Charlie Ward and Heat forward P.J. Brown tried to box each other out. When Ward continued to stay in front of Brown and tried to block him out at his knees, Brown responded by picking up Ward and throwing him out of bounds like a ragdoll. Knicks forward John Wallace then flew into the picture, and before anyone could blink, a full-scale brawl had taken place.
The Heat won the game, 96-81, though it was the melee at the end of the game that led the headlines.
"What I saw was P. J. Brown body-slam Charlie Ward," said Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy. ''And I cannot believe where this league has come to 6-10 guys are picking on 6-foot guys, without regard to bodily injury. It's really something I've never seen before."
"If you look at the film, it was obvious," said Brown. "He was going for my knees instead of trying to go for the rebound. I was just trying to protect myself, that's all. I just picked him up and threw him down. I'm very worried about being suspended for the next game. Hopefully, Rod Thorn will look at the film and he'll see that the man was trying to go for my knees."
Brown and Ward were both suspended for Game 6, though the punishments didn't stop there. Patrick Ewing, John Starks, Larry Johnson, and Allan Houston (all Knicks) were given one-game suspensions as well -- their crime was leaving the bench during a brawl, which automatically resulted in a suspension. Per NBA rules, however, the Knicks were required to have at least nine players on the active roster. So Starks and Johnson were allowed to play in Game 6, but would be barred from playing in the Knicks' next playoff game.
It was colossal development. Without Ewing and Houston -- the Knicks' two leading scorers -- the Heat went down to New York and defeated their opponents, 95-90. In Game 7, Ewing and Houston came back with a vengeance, combining for 62 points. But without Johnson and Starks, the team fell, 101-90, and lost the series in an unthinkable manner.
It was the beginning of a heated four-year rivalry between the two Atlantic Division rivals. Both teams met in the postseason the following three seasons, with the Knicks coming out on top in all three instances. Between another brawl that occurred in 1998, Allan Houston's game-winner in 1999, the 2000 series that came down to the last shot, the subplot of Patrick Ewing facing off with fellow Georgetown center Alonzo Mourning, and the subplot of Jeff Van Gundy facing his former teacher in Pat Riley, the Knicks-Heat series was as great rivalry as there has ever been in professional sports. And the fact that both teams hated each other made it all the more compelling.
(Billups goes up for his desperation trey. Photo by Bob Rosato, SI Photos)
5/14/2004 - Billups prayer highlights 3OT slugfest
With no time remaining, Chauncey Billups banks in a 43-foot, halfcourt three in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. With the series tied at 2-2, Billups' miracle three prevented the Detroit Pistons from falling behind in their matchup with the New Jersey Nets -- if only for a couple minutes.
The game continued, and continued, and continued. By the time it reached overtime No. 3, the Nets were in some serious foul trouble. All of their regular bigmen, including starters Jason Collins and Kenyon Martin, had fouled out. With three of their bigs having already been disqualified, Nets coach Lawrence Frank inserted Brian Scalabrine, a scarcely-used player who had barely made it onto the postseason roster. Scalabrine -- who averaged just 3.5 per game in the regular season -- made his coach proud, scoring a career-high 17 points on 6-7 shooting, including 4-4 from downtown.
"I don't think I've ever been involved in anything this big, on this stage, in my life," Scalabrine said afterward. ''Maybe this will propel my career into something special.''
New Jersey finally closed out the Pistons,127-120, in a four-hour, triple-overtime game that was accurately described as a marathon. 83 fouls between the two teams brought the tempo of the game to a standstill. Eight different players, including four of the Pistons' starting five, fouled out, while seven different players totaled at least 48 minutes. Chauncey Billups finished with 31 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists; Nets forward Richard Jefferson also scored 31 -- 18 of which came in overtime. The game was just the fourth triple-overtime game in playoff history, and the first since 1993.
In Game 6, the Nets lost, 81-75, and blew a golden opportunity to close out the series at home. The Pistons flew back to Detroit for Game 7 and took care of business, stomping the Nets in a 90-69 beatdown. The Pistons went on to beat the L.A. Lakers in the championship.
5/14/2007 - Horry's hip-check suspends Amare
In the final moments of a playoff game with the Spurs and Suns, Robert Horry knocked Steve Nash into the scorer's table. Horry would be suspended for the remainder of the series, however it wound up being the best thing possible for the Spurs, who benefited mightily from it.
If you don't know what I'm talking about, click here for an in-depth Inhistoric article:
Also on this day:
1996: Magic Johnson retires again after playing in the second half of the 1996 season. [See: January 30th]