Forever thankful to be victorious on record-breaking day

Ron Reed: The winning pitcher
After the Braves won the NL Western Division on Sept. 30, 1969, Ron Reed (right) and Orlando Cepeda expressed their joy in the clubhouse. (AJC file photo)

Credit: Unknown

Credit: Unknown

After the Braves won the NL Western Division on Sept. 30, 1969, Ron Reed (right) and Orlando Cepeda expressed their joy in the clubhouse. (AJC file photo)

Ron Reed was the Braves’ winning starting pitcher when they defeated the Dodgers 7-4 on April 8, 1974; a day that’s remembered for Hank Aaron hitting home run No. 715, breaking Babe Ruth’s legendary record.

But Reed feels the previous homer deserves its due, too. The Braves opened the season in Cincinnati with Aaron two long balls shy of owning the record. And after an offseason loaded with persistent talk about the looming history, Aaron began the season by launching a three-run shot off Jack Billingham in his first at-bat.

“Everybody was hoping he’d tie and break the record in Atlanta, but all the pressure was – all he wanted to do was get it over with,” Reed said. “Of all things, opening day in Cincinnati, after having all this stuff thrown at him all winter, the first swing of the bat, he hit home run No. 714. To me, that was one of the most incredible sights of them all.

“I wasn’t pitching that day so I got to watch it more as a spectator. That was just an incredible feat, getting to 714 like that after all he went through. And he handled it as the professional athlete and professional human that he always was. … To me, 714 was just as big, if not bigger, than 715. Of course, 715 is the one everybody will remember because he broke the record, but 714 was pretty big, too.”

Fast forward to Aaron’s next homer. Reed remembers the media descending upon Atlanta, all the pressure placed on Aaron and the anticipation that the next swing could be a historic one. He knew Aaron just wanted to get it over with. But that wasn’t on his mind that afternoon.

“I’m not really thinking about Hank or what he’s going to do; I’ve got my hands full with the Dodgers lineup, a pretty good lineup at that time,” he said.

Reed remembers struggling early that evening. It’s hard to forget when he revisits the game.

“I have a photo of him hitting that home run, and the photo shows I’m behind 3-1,” Reed said. “The next photograph shows, when we’re greeting him at home plate, it’s now 3-3. That home run tied the game. That was just as exciting to me that it tied the game than it being No. 715, from my point of view.

“I can remember when he crossed home plate, I’ve got him in a bear hug. I just couldn’t believe I was going to be part of this great game. And now I’ve got to bear down and try to win this game and make it real special.”

Reed completed six innings, allowing four runs on seven hits. He credited reliever Buzz Capra for following him with three brilliant scoreless frames. “Just the fact that Hank hit No. 715, and me being part of that game as the winning pitcher, is pretty special,” Reed said.

Aaron and Reed were teammates from 1966, when the latter appeared in two games, through 1974. Reed became an established pitcher in 1968, earning his only All-Star appearance. He remembered growing up as a Cubs fan in Indiana, marveling at Aaron’s hitting prowess whenever Milwaukee visited Wrigley Field.

Reed is proud to have developed a friendship with Aaron and forever admires how he carried himself through such adversity.

He described Aaron as the “perfect teammate” and appreciates being part of his story. It was the greatest moment of his 19-year career.

“There wasn’t anything close to that,” Reed said. “The only other (huge event) like that was in 1980, I was with the Phillies and we won the World Series. That was pretty special, but it didn’t reach the magnitude of Hank breaking the unbreakable record. That was a bigger moment, by far, in my memory bank than winning the World Series.”

The Braves are honoring the 50th anniversary of Aaron’s 715th home run Monday against the Mets at Truist Park.