One of the great underrated baseball stories of the past few decades is the remarkable story behind Phil Niekro's 300th career win.
Niekro, the famous knuckleball pitcher, was able to linger in the majors until the age of 48 because of how little stress he put on his arm and body throwing his signature pitch.
Niekro got a late start in the majors, and had registered just 31 wins by the age of 30. However, Niekro began to truly master the pitch his father taught him and from 1969 on, he became more consistent.
By the time the 1984 season was over, Niekro was 45 years old and still 16 wins shy of 300. Statistically, he was still effective, but at 45, the future wasn't certain.
Niekro pitched effectively in 1985 and on July 8 was 7-8, just about half way to the 16 wins he needed 79 games into the season.
Niekro then reeled off an 8-1 stretch over the summer and needed just one win over his last five starts for his 300th.
Adding to the pressure was the personal grief Niekro was going through. His father was gravely ill and had slipped into a coma in the hospital.
Neikro rushed back and forth between the hospital and the team as the season wore down, and maybe it was all the extra travel and personal strife, but he failed to win in his first four tries at No. 300.
For whatever reason, Niekro's knuckleball wasn't working over those starts, so he did the unthinkable. He abandoned the pitch.
In what could have been the final start of his career, the 46-year-old decided he would try to get through the Blue Jays with fastballs, curves, sliders and anything else he could think of that wasn't a knuckleball.
It was a crazy idea...and it worked.
The Yankees gave Niekro a 3-0 lead in the first inning and continued to tack on runs throughout. All the while, Niekro was more masterful than anyone could have imagined.
Niekro carried a one-hitter into the seventh inning and by the time the bottom of the ninth rolled around, the Yankees were ahead 8-0 and Niekro was still on the mound, having allowed just three hits.
With two outs, Niekro allowed a double to pinch hitter Tony Fernandez and then faced Jeff Burroughs. Niekro got two strikes on him and had just one strike left for win No. 300.
The only thing missing from this movie-script masterpiece was the knuckler. He didn't throw the pitch once all game, but what would be a Niekro moment without the knuckler?
The final pitch was a knuckleball, it fluttered in for strike three, setting off a celebration for one of the most respected players in the game.
The celebration didn't last long though as Niekro rushed back to the hospital. From what Niekro knew, they were going to put the game on the radio in the hospital room for his comatose father.
When Niekro arrived to the hospital, he found his father sitting up in the bed, awake and aware for the first time in weeks. As Niekro tells it, his father leaned over to his mother in the seventh inning and said "Phil's pitchin' a heckuva game, ain't he?'"
Niekro delivered the game ball to the man who taught him the pitch.
He went on to pitch a few more seasons and ended his Hall of Fame career with 318 wins.
Niekro's story of his 300th win is incredible and one small slide in a lengthy article does not do it justice. Follow this link to hear Niekro tell this story in his own words.