The Greatest Game Ruth Ever Pitched

In the years before he became the near-mythical Yankees’ slugger he is known for, Babe Ruth was a terrific pitcher for the Boston Red Sox. In 1916, he was tops of the World Series champion’s staff, compiling a 23-12 record with an American League leading 1.75 ERA and 23 complete games in 323 innings pitched.

Arguably his pinnacle, if overlooked, performance was in Game Two of the 1916 World Series.

Image result for babe ruth 1916 world series

Playing at nearby Braves Field in Boston to accommodate a much larger crowd than could be squeezed into Fenway Park, the Red Sox entered Game Two with a 1-0 series lead over the Brooklyn Robins (later the Dodgers.) Ruth would take the bump against Brooklyn’s Sherry Smith, a solid hurler who went 14-10 with a 2.34 ERA on the season, in a battle of southpaws. What transpired was a tremendous 14-inning duel that left fans captivated as darkness descended on the then brand new Boston ballpark and certified Ruth as a true ace.

With two outs in the first frame, Brooklyn’s Hi Myers launched a ball off Ruth to right center that got past both Harry Hooper and Tilly Walker. With the two outfielders unable to corral the bounce off the wall, Myers chugged all the way around the bases for an inside the park home run. Neither team scored in the second, but the Red Sox were able to tie it up in the third when Ruth’s groundout scored Deacon Scott, who led off the inning with a triple.

For the next several innings both teams threatened, but gallant pitching by both Ruth and Smith and excellent defense held serve as neither team could flash a run across the dish. With the score still tied 1-1, the Red Sox’ Hal Janvrin led off the bottom of the ninth with a double. Pinch hitter Jimmy Walsh reached on an error, and Boston enjoyed runners at first and third with no outs. A fly ball from Dick Hoblitzell to center field promised to be the game-winning sacrifice fly, but Brooklyn’s Hi Myers, contributing from both sides of the plate, pegged Janvrin at home to preserve the tie. Larry Gardner would then foul out to end the inning and send Game Two to extras.

As was the case all day, both teams threatened in each of the extra innings but couldn’t capitalize. Daylight was fading now, and the game would’ve been ruled a tie if they couldn’t finish one way or another, soon. Brooklyn, trying to seize another opportunity, had their last best chance in the top of the 13th. With a runner on second and no outs, Sherry Smith, who was still on the mound, looped a liner to left field. Duffy Lewis, an outstanding defensive player in his own right, took a page from the Tris Speaker handbook when he tore in from deep left to make a sensational catch, saving a run and perhaps, the game.

Smith set Boston down in order in the 13th, and Ruth followed suit to Brooklyn in the 14th. It was now time for some classic deadball-era smallball by the Sox.

Hoblitzell led off with a walk and Lewis sacrificed him to second. Sox skipper Bill Carrigan inserted Mike McNally to run for Hoblitzell, and Del Gainer to pinch hit for the struggling Larry Gardner. The gamble worked, as Gainer roped a single to left field and McNally beat a strong throw by Zack Wheat to the plate, giving Boston the 2-1 victory and a two games to none lead in the series. They would go on to win in five games for their second World Championship in a row.

Not lost on the thrilling finale to this game was the incredible pitching by both Sherry Smith and the victorious Babe Ruth, both going the distance. Smith’s final line tallied 13.1 innings, scattering seven hits and two earned runs while walking six and striking out two. Ruth was even better, going the full 14 innings, allowing only six hits and one run, with four strikeouts and three free passes. The win not only put the Red Sox in the drivers seat to clinch the series, but it cemented Ruth as a big-game pitcher who really put an exclamation point on his stellar regular season. Two years later, Ruth would twirl another gem in the World Series, shutting out the Cubs 1-0 in Game One. As sterling as that was, his Game Two sensation against Brooklyn may have been better.

Ruth would enjoy a couple more strong seasons on the mound for the Red Sox, but by 1918 his bat really began to emerge, and 1919 saw him achieve true slugger status. Prior to the 1920 season he was sold to the New York Yankees, helping them create a dynasty and launching Ruth into his legendary status thereafter.

Yet long before having his likeness carved into the Mount Rushmore of baseball legends, the stocky kid from Baltimore was quite the sensational southpaw on the hill.

Sources: Braves Field: Memorable Moments at Boston’s Lost Diamond. Howlin & Brady, 2015.

https://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/BOS/BOS191610090.shtml

https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/r/ruthba01.shtml

https://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/BOS/1916.shtml

Photo Credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curse_of_the_Bambino

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First Time For Everything; Three Times In One Game

They say lightning never strikes the same place twice. There’s also a first time for everything. But how often does a first time for something happen at the same place, at the same time, three times?

In Game Five of the 1920 World Series, that’s exactly what occurred.

The Cleveland Indians and Brooklyn Robins (aka Dodgers) were locked in what was sure to go down as a phenomenal best-of-nine, if the first four tightly contested games were any indication. With the Series tied at two games apiece, Cleveland sent Jim Bagby to the mound against Brooklyn spitballer Burleigh Grimes, who blanked the Indians 3-0 in Game Two.

An overflow crowd filled League Park in Cleveland for the contest, with temporary bleachers added to right and center fields, increasing the capacity for the game but also shortening the distance to those fences. After completing his warmup, Bagby sat in the Cleveland dugout, when player-manager and future hall of famer Tris Speaker began going over the lineup with his pitcher. After a few minutes sitting in silence and seemingly staring off to nowhere, Bagby spoke up.

“I think I’ll bust one out to those wooden seats. They seem just about right for me to hit.”

Speaker ambled away.

Bagby got through the top of the first inning with a harmless single being the only damage. It was then that the Indians jumped right on Grimes, a stark turnaround from his untouchable performance just a few days prior. Three straight singles by Charlie Jamieson, Bill “Wamby” Wambsgannss and the great Tris Speaker loaded the bases for Elmer Smith with nobody out. On a 1-2 count, Smith drilled a Grimes junkball deep over the right field fence for a grand slam, the first in Series history.

It was the kickstart to one of the most sensational World Series games of all time.

In the bottom of the fourth, still leading 4-0 and with two men on, Bagby stepped to the plate. It was time to deliver on his pregame prophecy to Speaker. Deliver he did, as he crushed a hung pitch from Grimes into the temporary bleachers in right-center, giving the Indians a 7-0 lead and chasing Grimes from the game. It was the first ever home run by a pitcher in World Series play.

Those two accolades apparently were not enough on this day, however, as the most spectacular would happen half an inning later.

Brooklyn would start the top of the fifth with two straight singles by Pete Kilduff and Otto Miller. This brought up Clarence Mitchell, a solid-hitting pitcher who replaced Grimes the inning before. Cleveland second baseman Bill Wambsganns played deep against Mitchell, a left-handed hitter with a tendency to pull the ball. On a 1-1 count, Mitchell lined the ball up the middle toward second base. Wamby, in decent position, made a break for the ball but it seemed to be a sure single. Kilduff and Miller raced out immediately, thinking the ball would get through, but Wamby was able to snowcone the ball on the fly for the first out. With his momentum carrying him right toward the bag, he stepped on second base for out number two, doubling up Kilduff who was unable to tag. Turning to his left, Wamby saw Miller stop short of second base, dead in the water. He and everyone but Wamby was astonished that the ball had even been caught. With shouts of “tag him!” from shortstop Joe Sewell, a rookie and future hall of famer called up to replace the tragically deceased Ray Chapman, Wamby calmly applied the tag to a stunned Miller and began jogging back to the dugout. The crowd sat in stunned silence for several moments. As he got closer to the dugout, the standing-room-only throng began to cheer loudly as they realized what just happened: The first unassisted triple play in World Series history.

To this day, it’s still the only unassisted triple play in a World Series game.

Legendary writer Ring Lardner would note, with distinction, that “it was the first time in world series history that a man named Wambsganns had ever made a triple play assisted by consonants only.”

The Indians would go on to finish off the Dodgers 8-1 on this day, and then cap it off with 1-0 and 3-0 shutouts in Games Six and Seven to win the Series, five games to two.

It’s one thing to play, and win, a pivotal game in any series. But to have three specific firsts in the history of the game, one of which is the only first to date, all in the same game, is something not short of marvelous.

Sources:

The Pitch That Killed: The Story of Carl Mays, Ray Chapman, and the Pennant Race of 1920. Mike Sowell, New York: Macmillan, 1989.

http://www.baseball-reference.com/postseason/1920_WS.shtml

http://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/BRO/1920.shtml