Monday, September 12, 2011


Now that the official acts of myth and mourning have welled up around the 9/11 tragedy via America's curious obsession with round numbers, perhaps it's safe to emerge with a selection of the baseball stories that this formerly random day happens to possess as part of the day-to-day history of the game.

As with so much else in American life, the individual flavor of such a day has somehow been drained away: the combination of the change in baseball's schedule structure and the parallel near-extinction of pennant races and complete games by pitchers have made what used to be a day filled with potential drama into something consigned to uniformity. When we gain, we also lose.

Here is a smattering of highlights from the earlier September 11th days in baseball.

The Brooklyn Robins, on their way to the World Series (and that singular, unassisted triple play), swept a doubleheader from the St. Louis Cardinals. Sherry Smith (9-8) blanked St. Louis on five hits in the opener, and smacked two doubles to boot; in the nightcap, Leon Cadore (who earlier that year had faced off against Boston's Joe Oeschger in MLB's longest game, a 26-inning, 1-1 tie) scattered ten hits while going 3-for-4 as the Robins amassed 20 hits en route to a 15-4 win.

Big Train a-comin': Walter Johnson
The New York Yankees and the St. Louis Browns, in a tense dogfight for the AL pennant that would go down to the last day of the season, were both victorious.

Babe Ruth hit 2 HRs and drove in five as the Yankees beat Philadelphia, 9-4, behind Bob Shawkey (18-10); the Browns rallied from a 4-2 deficit for a walk-off 5-4 win. Lefty Hub Pruett (Ruth's nemesis) pitched four innings of one-hit relief to keep the Browns close and received the win.

Walter Johnson won his 20th game (the twelfth and final time that the Big Train would do so in his career) as the Senators (en route to a second straight AL pennant) edged the Boston Red Sox, 5-4. Johnson, hitting .456 going into the game, went 0-for-3; he wound up hitting .433 for the year.

Pinky Pittenger, doing what he did best:
throw the ball around the infield...
It was Cincinnati second baseman Pinky Pittenger's greatest day in the majors. The light-hitting infielder collected six hits and four RBI as the Reds swept a doubleheader from the Boston Braves, 8-4 and 16-5.

In a tense game at Yankee Stadium, the surging Philadelphia A's seemed poised to climb to within a half game of the first-place Yankees, leading 3-1 going into the bottom of the eighth with Lefty Grove in command, but Babe Ruth hit his 49th homer to spark a four-run rally as the Bombers pulled out a 5-4 win.

The A's had been 12 1/2 games back in mid-July, but had won forty of fifty-two games to catch the Yankees, who would ultimately hold off the A's by two and a half games to win the pennant--their last for four years.

The fabulous Baker Bowl, the Coors Field of its day...
Just another game at the Baker Bowl, with 22 runs scored and 32 hits between the two teams. The hard-hitting Phillies, en route to a last-place finish, took it out on the seventh-place Reds, 15-7, paced by Don Hurst's two HRs and five RBI.

(The Phillies hit .344 as a team in the Baker Bowl that year; unfortunately for them, their opponents hit .359 there and outscored them by a hundred runs.)

The St. Louis Cardinals, still five games behind the New York Giants, salvaged a key game in the nightcap of a doubleheader against the Philadelphia Phillies. Manager Frank Frisch brought in his ace, Dizzy Dean, in the seventh and ol' Diz held off the Phillies just enough to close out a 6-4 win. It was Dean's sixth save of the season (he would wind up with seven for the year, to go with seven shutouts and 30 wins). The Cards would then win 14 of their last 18 to slip past the Giants in the final week of the season.

The Chicago Cubs scored six in the fifth and eight in the eighth to pummel the lowly Boston Braces (who would finish the year with a woeful 38-115 record) by a score of 15-4. Stan Hack had four hits and 3 RBI. It was the eighth consecutive win for the Cubs, who would extend this September win streak to an amazing 21 straight en route to the NL pennant.

Paul Dean (Dizzy's younger brother), making his first major-league start in more than two years, scattered 12 hits to lead the sixth-place Cardinals to a 6-4 win over the first-place Pittsburgh Pirates. (The Bucs would falter later in the month and lose the pennant to the Chicago Cubs.) Johnny Mize hit a three-run HR in the fourth to get the Cards even, and two errors by the Pirates in the seventh led to two unearned runs. Dean's win raised hopes that he would recover his earlier form (19 wins in both '34 and '35), but he won only two more games for the Cardinals before being traded to the Giants in 1940.

Tiny Bonham
Bob Feller
The Indians and the Yankees, embroiled with the Detroit Tigers in one of baseball's best-ever three-way pennant chases, split a doubleheader. Tiny Bonham outdueled Bob Feller in the opener as the Yanks won, 3-1, but in the nightcap the Tribe took advantage of errors by first baseman Babe Dahlgren and starter Red Ruffing to score five runs in the third, capped by Beau Bell's two-run double as Cleveland salvaged a split with a 5-3 win in a game called after six on account of darkness. (Neither team won the pennant.)

In another see-saw pennant race, the Dodgers and the Cardinals battled the entire 1941 season with no more than four games separating the two teams. A three-game series between the two teams--their last meeting of the year--began in Sportsman's Park on September 11. The Cards scored twice in the third off Fred Fitzsimmons, but the Dodgers struck for four unearned runs in the fourth to take the lead. In the seventh, Pee Wee Reese's error (his forty-third of the year) aided the Cards in scoring two unearned runs to tie the game, and the game went into extra innings. Dixie Walker's single plated two for the Dodgers in the 11th, and Hugh Casey slammed the door for a 6-4 Brooklyn win.

Mort Cooper
Eddie Smith
Two pitchers' duels dominated the day's games. In Chicago, Bill Dickey's light-hitting brother George scored the only run of the game as the White Sox shaded the Yankees, 1-0, with Eddie Smith (the only pitcher named to the All Star team while losing 20 games) outpitching Atley Donald.

In Brooklyn, the Cardinals were (again) chasing the Dodgers, and Mort Cooper tossed a three-hit shutout to move them within a game of first place: it was Cooper's 20th win of the season. Terry Moore's two-run single off loser Whit Wyatt gave the Cards some additional breathing room in their 3-0 victory. The next day, two guys named Max faced off for the only time in baseball history: the Cards' Max Lanier outdueled the Dodgers' Max Macon as St. Louis pulled even with Brooklyn thanks to a 2-1 win.

The Detroit Tigers, struggling while their recently discharged slugger Hank Greenberg was sidelined by injury, got a gift--a pitching gem from Dizzy Trout, a two-hit shutout to lift them past the Boston Red Sox, 5-0. Doc Cramer's three-run HR in the seventh was the icing on the cake for Detroit, who survived their late-season stumbling to win the AL pennant and the World Series.

Brooklyn, chasing St. Louis, couldn't get the job done this day, playing a 19-inning 0-0 tie with the Cincinnati Reds. Their young phenom Hal Gregg, who'd wind up with 18 wins for the year, pitched ten shutout innings, but the Reds' Johnny Vander Meer topped him, throwing fifteen scoreless innings and striking out 14. Eddie Stanky went 0-for-7 for the Dodgers; Max West went 0-for-8 for the Reds.

One more time for the Dodgers and Cards, who started a series at Sportsman's Park in which all three games were decided by one run. Ralph Branca won his 20th game in the series opener as the Dodgers won, 4-3, aided by Jackie Robinson's game-tying homer in the fifth. The most exciting game of the series was played the next day, as a pitcher's duel fell apart in the seventh and the two teams traded blows: the Dodgers scored four in the the top of the ninth to take a 7-6 lead, only to watch Enos Slaughter double in two runs in the bottom of the ninth to lift the Cards to an 8-7 victory. The next day's game was eerily similar, but the Dodgers managed to hold on for a mirror-image 8-7 win.

The Boston Braves needed no rain on this day, and Spahn and Sain each won their game in a doubleheader sweep over the Phillies. Sain won his nineteenth with a 3-1 victory in the opener; Spahn homered and doubled (!) as part of a 16-hit attack mounted by Boston in the nightcap, knocking young Robin Roberts out with seven runs in the sixth en route to a 13-2 win.

Carl Furillo, playing the carom in Ebbets Field.
Carl Furillo's grand slam homer in the bottom of the seventh capped a six-run inning as the Brooklyn Dodgers doubled up in the New York Giants, 10-5, keeping them just a game-and-a-half behind the St. Louis Cardinals. The last of the great 1940s dogfights between these two teams would go down to the final day, and Furillo's scintillating September (he hit .436, driving in 35 runs in 29 games) was the catalyst for the Dodgers' late-season flurry.

September 11-13, 1951, was the only time during the Giants' great stretch run where they lost two games in a row--the second of a doubleheader on the 11th, when a ninth inning rally fell just short and they lost to the Cardinals, 403, and then on the thirteenth, when Sal Maglie was knocked out in the second inning. The Giants would lose only once more in the remaining thirteen regular season games in order to force the famous playoff series with the Dodgers.

Over the last half of the 1952 season, A's rookie right-hander Harry Byrd was one of the AL's best pitchers (2.61 ERA). He threw a one-hit shutout against the Yankees to open September, and faced the Indians' Mike Garcia on the 11th. Byrd allowed only one run--a homer to Bobby Avila--but Garcia was unhittable, allowing only two singles (both to Ferris Fain). Final score: Indians 1, A's 0. Byrd was named  AL Rookie of the Year, but the second half of '52 proved to be more illusion than reality for him.

Andy Pafko
The Dodgers and Braves previewed the real rivalry that dominated the second half of the 1950s with this game. The Braves jumped out to a 5-0 lead after two, but Lew Burdette weakened in the fifth; Roy Campanella's game-tying two-run homer knocked him out. The Dodgers scored in the sixth to lead, 6-5, but Andy Pafko homered off Ben Wade in the bottom of the inning to put the Braves back in front.

The Dodgers drew even with a run in the seventh, but the Braves scored again to lead 8-7. In the ninth, the Dodgers loaded the bases with no one out, and pinch-hitter Dick Williams had a potential grand slam taken away from him by CF Billy Bruton; as a result, Brooklyn only tied the score. In the bottom of the tenth, Pafko hit his second homer of the game to win it for the Braves, 9-8.

Rookie left-hander Dean Stone broke into the Senator starting rotation thanks to ten scoreless relief innings during May, by early July he was 7-1 and found himself named to the All-Star team. He saved his best work for September (1.32 ERA), including consecutive shutouts--the first on the the 11th against the Orioles, the second six days later against the Red Sox. Like Harry Byrd, however, Stone never duplicated his first-year success, mostly due to his inability to master his control.

The major AL rivalry in the first half of the 50s was between the Yankees and Indians; they were still at it on September 11, 1955, playing a crucial doubleheader with the Tribe clinging to a 1 1/2 game lead. The Yankees won the opener, 6-1, with the formerly wild lefty Tommy Byrne, who been banished to the minors to relocate his control, silencing Cleveland bats and allowing only four hits. (Odd note: Byrne, a good-hitting pitcher, batted eighth in this game--fifty years before Tony LaRussa appropriated the idea.) In the nightcap, the Indians rallied off Whitey Ford in the eighth to score twice--the winning run coming on a wild pitch--to win 3-2 and earn a split. Unfortunately for the Tribe, the Yankees proceeded to win eight straight to reclaim AL bragging rights.

Sal Maglie
The Dodgers and Braves put on a colossal struggle in 1956, and they started a two-game series on September 11th. Sal Maglie continued his great run for the Dodgers, scattering eight hits and improving his record to 10-4 as Brooklyn won, 4-2; Maglie even drove in two runs to help his own cause. The next day, the two teams staged another of their seesaw donnybrooks (see 1953), with the Braves pushing over a run in the eighth to win, 8-7. The pennant race went down to the final day of the season.

Larry Sherry, King of 1959...
Many forget that Larry Sherry came up with the Dodgers in mid-1959 as a starting pitcher. He started in his first five appearances before being put into a swingman role. His last starting appearance in 1959 came on September 11, in the second game of a crucial doubleheader as the Los Angeles struggled to stay close to the Giants and Braves. Sherry threw a six-hit shutout against the Pittsburgh Pirates, striking out 11 as the Dodgers swept the doubleheader to stay within a half-game of first place. (In the opener, the Dodgers had rallied for two in the bottom of the ninth and handed Roy Face his only loss in the year he went 18-1.)

Sherry would prove even more crucial to the Dodgers' pennant chances during the playoff series against the Braves, relieving Danny McDevitt in the second inning of Game 1 and throwing 7 2/3 scoreless innings as the Dodgers came from behind to win, 3-2.

On September 4, the Baltimore Orioles completed a three-game sweep against the New York Yankees and opened up a two-game lead in the AL pennant race. From that point forward, the Yankees won 22 of their next 26 games to leave the young O's in the dust. Two of those wins came on September 11, when the Yankees swept a doubleheader against the Cleveland Indians. Roger Maris hit his 38th homer in the opener; Mickey Mantle, who'd eventually lead the league with 40, hit his 34th in the eleventh inning of the nightcap to seal a 3-2 Yankee victory.

Alpha and omega: Ted Wiilliams and Gordy Windhorn...
The Dodgers' youth movement was paying dividends by '61, with four young hitters (Ron Fairly, the two Davis boys, Tommy and Willie, and big Frank Howard) plus a series of young pitchers (Koufax, Drysdale, Stan Williams, Ron Perranoski) making major contributions to the team. Not quite so young, but making a mark in his brief career with the Dodgers, was well-traveled journeyman outfielder Gordie Windhorn, whose pinch-hit walkoff HR in the bottom of the eleventh inning lifted the Dodgers to a 6-5 win over the Phillies and kept them 3 1/2 games behind the front-running Cincinnati Reds. (Alas, the Phils extracted their revenge on Sandy Koufax the next day, knocking out the Dodgers' emerging ace with a nine-run second inning en route to a 19-10 win. Ex-Dodger Don Demeter did much of the damage, hitting three HRs and driving in seven.) Manager Walt Alston pulled several of his regulars: Windhorn entered the game for Duke Snider in the third and proceeded to hit his second homer in as many games...which turned out to be the sum total of his major league HR output.

The Phillies just before the Phall--fourth starter Dennis Bennett has been struggling mightily since early June (2-9, 5.21 ERA), but he rallied briefly as Philadelphia pushed its lead to six games before suffering its infamous collapse. On the 11th, Bennett outpitched Juan Marichal, scattering six hits in a 1-0 shutout win. He even struck out Willie Mays three times! From this point forward, however, the Phils would lose 14 of 21, including that all-too-famous ten straight. Bennett was traded to the Red Sox for Dick Stuart over the offseason.

That intense look on Jerry Cram's face might stem from
an awareness that 9/11/74 was his best chance for a big
league win...alas, his teammates wasted his eight
scoreless innings. Lifetime record in MLB: 0-3.
The New York Mets have already passed the Chicago Cubs by this point: their 4-0 win over the first-year Montreal Expos (remember them?) behind Gary Gentry, combined with Dick Allen's game-winning eighth-inning homer for Phils in a 3-2 win over the Cubs, gave them a two-game lead in the NL East. They would clinch the division thirteen days later.

The Cardinals, chasing the Pirates in the NL East, got a two-run HR by Ken Reitz off Jerry Koosman in the ninth to tie the game at 3-3--and, sixteen innings later, pushed over run to win the longest night game in MLB history (the game did not end until 3:13 am). Claude Osteen (Cardinals) and Jerry Cram (Mets) pitched shutout ball for 9 1/3 and eight innings respectively without either starting the game or being involved in the decision. Speedster Bake McBride scored the winning run on an errant pickoff attempt and a dropped throw at home plate.

In an alternate universe, lefty Brent Strom might have been the Mets' next great pitcher after Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and Jon Matlack: like Seaver, he'd been a star at USC and the Mets picked him in the first round of the 1970 draft with just that connection in mind. It didn't work out that way, however: they gave up on him quickly, trading him to the Indians after the '72 season for veteran reliever Phil Hennigan in an attempt to shore up their bullpen. Strom had a hard luck year for the Indians in '73 (2-10),  struggled in the minors the following year and was dumped off to the Padres. In 1975, however, he put it all back together and was recalled by the Padres in mid-June. He improved his season record to 8-5 with a September 11th win over the Atlanta Braves, 4-3, and it looked as though the Padres just might be developing a young starting staff that could boost them into contention. Alas, Strom was injured in 1977, Joe McIntosh suffered a career-derailing shoulder injury, Randy Jones was overworked, and Dave Freisleben fizzled. The Padres would have to wait for the Reagan Era before they would finally assemble a contending team.

The Red Sox, reeling from the "Boston Massacre" (four consecutive losses to the Yankees in Fenway Park, by scores of 15-3, 13-2, 7-0 and 7-4), regained some equilibrium by edging the Baltimore Orioles, 5-4. The Sox blew a 4-1 lead in the eighth when Luis Tiant weakened and Bob Stanley allowed the tying run to score, but Jim Rice hit his second homer of the game (#40 on the year) to win it for Boston.

Ye Olde Barnburner, right on schedule: the Astros and the Reds, separated by a half-game at the top of the NL West standings, square off in Cincinnati. Staff aces (J.R. Richard, Tom Seaver) are on the mound, and both are ineffective: Richard allows four runs to the Reds in the fourth, and it might have been more had not Jose Cruz thrown out George Foster at the plate. Seaver suddenly gives ground, surrendering two runs in the fifth and two more in the sixth to knot the game 4-4.

Dwight Gooden
Reliever Joaquin Andujar is both ineffective and sloppy, however, committing a key mental error that permits the Reds to score twice in the sixth to go back ahead, 6-4. The Astros rally off reliever Doug Bair in the seventh, however, scoring three runs to regain the lead, 7-6. Joe Sambito is one strike away from retiring the side in the seventh when Dave Concepcion hits a two-run homer, followed immediately by another from George Foster, and the Reds lead, 9-7. The Astros get four hits in the ninth, but can score only one run, and Cincinnati holds on to win 9-8. They win the next day, 7-4, and go on to win the division--the last time they will do so until 1990.

The second-place Cardinals were just one game behind the Mets in the NL East when they squared off on September 11 with each team's ace--John Tudor and Dwight Gooden--on the mound. Living up to the pre-game hype, both starters toss nine innings of shutout ball.

John Tudor
In the tenth, however, Cesar Cedeno greets Met reliever Jesse Orosco with a leadoff homer; Tudor walks a tightrope in the tenth to close out a 1-0 win for the Cards. The Mets won the next (and final) game of the series, 7-6, but the Cardinals proceeded to win 13 out of their fourteen games to build up a four-game lead, and then held on in the final week to win the NL East.

Kent Mercker, Mark Wohlers and Alejandro Pena combined to throw a no-hitter for the Atlanta Brave as they defeated the San Diego Padres, 1-0. Terry Pendleton's fifth-inning homer accounted for the only scoring in the game as the Braves continued their drive toward the NL West division crown. (Pendleton would be named NL MVP for 1991.)


ONCE pennant races changed, something got lost in the shuffle, and the rather amazing congruence of September 11 with interesting and notable games (not so strange, of course, given its position in the season: late enough to be filled with added tension, but with enough time left to keep the result unresolved). Still, it was interesting how many times contending teams managed to hook up on just this date--a particular magic that was lost with the invention of the wild card and permanently misplaced well before 2001 gave it an entirely new meaning. In the words of those two faux-hippie sages whose toking tamped down their "Tequila"-ing, we may never pass this way again.