Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Best Postseason Win: Nobody

No, this isn't a discussion of Odysseus's victory over Polyphemus while acting under an anonymous pseudonym, although that was a classic. It is, literally, the best postseason game that nobody won.

There were three ties in the history of the World Series. (I guess you could technically say "have been" instead of "were," since it is not utterly impossible that baseball could add to the total, but it's hardly likely, given the existence of stadium lightning and the available option to suspend a game and resume it at a later time if needed.) As ties, they were inherently close games, especially because all three of them went to extra innings. But as ties, they also lack the satisfaction of an actual result.

Even with that caveat, there was one tie in particular that I wanted to write up, and it happens to be the best of the three by a fairly healthy margin.

1912 World Series Game 2: Giants 6, Red Sox 6 (11). Boston started Ray Collins, who spent about five years as a good-to-excellent starter in what wouldn't have been considered heavy work at the time (his career high in starts was 30 and he exceeded 250 innings only once). After posting a career-high 20 wins in 1914, Collins vanished from the league after 100 terrible innings the next year. He was opposed by another pitcher whose career was about to go into decline - but Christy Mathewson preceded his slide with twelve consecutive seasons exceeding Collins's career high in wins (and usually exceeding it by a wide margin).

Fred Snodgrass led off the game with a double, but Collins managed to strand him at third, and the Sox got on the board in the bottom of the first. Harry Hooper led off with a single and stole second. Steve Yerkes reached on an error by shortstop Art Fletcher, putting runners at the corners. Tris Speaker then bunted and reached safely, with Hooper holding at third. Duffy Lewis grounded into a force at home, but Larry Gardner's grounder could only be turned into an out at first, and Boston took a 1-0 lead. The lead then tripled in size when Jake Stahl singled in a pair of runs. Heinie Wagner finally popped up to leave two runners on, but 3-0 is a pretty sizable first-inning deficit in any era, and was even moreso in 1912.

New York made up a run of the deficit in the second when Buck Herzog tripled and Chief Meyers singled him home. Mathewson worked around a Hooper double in the bottom of the inning, and neither team put a runner on in the third. Another Giant triple, this one by Red Murray leading off the fourth, led to another run when Herzog's flyout sent him home. But two more perfect half-innings later, the Red Sox got the run back. Hooper singled with one out, and took second on what would have been an unsuccessful steal attempt if Fletcher had fielded the throw cleanly. As it was, Hooper was still on base when Yerkes tripled. The inning could have been worse, but Speaker lined into a double play to defuse the threat.

Murray singled in the sixth, but was caught stealing; Lewis led off the bottom of the inning with a single and advanced to third on a pair of productive outs before being left there. Herzog singled and stole second in the seventh, but advanced no further, and Mathewson was perfect in the home half.

The game turned sharply in the eighth, starting when Snodgrass reached on a Lewis error. Larry Doyle's single moved Snodgrass to second, and Beals Becker hit into a force that put runners on the corners. Murray then hit a ground-rule double, scoring Snodgrass. Collins was relieved by Charley Hall, who induced Fred Merkle to foul out, but Herzog then doubled to score both remaining runners and give the Giants their first lead of the day, 5-4.

Boston responded quickly; after Mathewson recorded the first two outs in the bottom of the inning, Lewis doubled, and Gardner then reached on an error by Fletcher, bringing the tying run home. Another error, this one by Doyle, put Red Sox on the corners, but Mathewson struck out Wagner to leave them on.

The Giants threatened in the top of the ninth, although a good bit of the threat was self-inflicted by the Red Sox. Snodgrass drew a two-out walk, and Doyle was then intentionally walked while Snodgrass was still on first, which seems like an odd choice. With the go-ahead run at second, Becker drew a walk as well to load the bases, but Murray grounded into a force to leave them that way. Mathewson was spotless in the bottom of the inning, and the game progressed to extras.

Merkle led off the tenth with a triple, and after a groundout and an intentional walk to Meyers, pinch hitter Moose McCormick hit a sacrifice fly to bring him home with the go-ahead run. And this is where things get interesting. Meyers, New York's normal catcher, had been pulled for pinch runner Tillie Shafer, and McCormick had been hitting for Fletcher. Shafer took over shorstop, and Art Wilson came in behind the plate.

With one out in the bottom of the tenth, Speaker tripled - and didn't stop at third. The throw beat him hom, but Wilson mishandled it, and Speaker scored the tying run. Lewis followed with a double, but the next two hitters grounded out, leaving the tie intact, and the game was called after one more inning (in which two Giants reached base and both of them were caught stealing second).

In sports that still have ties as a regular feature, you will sometimes hear a draw described as feeling like a win for one team and a loss for the other. To my mind, that was definitely the case in this game. The Red Sox had the worse end of the pitching matchup, and had to come from behind in both the eighth and tenth innings to stay even. Moreover, all six of Boston's runs were unearned, courtesy of five Giant errors. (The four errors that led to runs all came out of the eighth spot in the batting order - Art Fletcher, who was usually an excellent shortstop, made the first three, and the spot was then taken by Art Wilson, who allowed Speaker's tying run to score in the tenth.) Despite having held the lead for most of regulation, they were very lucky to get out of this one with a tie.

And that's before accounting for the fact that the series went eight games, and the Sox won the decider (which, as mentioned in the Red Sox post, was also a classic). Had the Giants held either of their late-inning leads in this one, that game might never have taken place, and Fred Snodgrass would have been far less infamous for the rest of his life.

Since there have only been two other ties in postseason history, we might as well just list them both as the honorable mention entries. The better of them was 1907 World Series Game 1, in which the Cubs led 1-0 going into the eighth, the Tigers struck for three runs in that inning, and the Cubs rallied with a couple of unearned runs in the ninth. The Cubs would leave runners at second and third in the tenth, and leave the bases loaded in the eleventh, and the game would be called after twelve. Chicago went on to sweep the series. Game 2 of the 1922 Series is the other tie, and it featured starring roles for both Meusel brothers; Irish Meusel hit a 3-run homer in the top of the first, and Bob Meusel doubled in Babe Ruth with the tying run in the eighth. The Yankees left two runners on in the ninth, and the game was called after 10. Much like in 1907, the series was a sweep outside of the tie, with the Giants taking the other four games.

Speaking of the Giants, we'll be covering them next (the New York version, anyway).

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