Thursday, April 5, 2012

1920 World Series: Two pitches, four runs, three outs

The Teams
American League: Cleveland Indians (98-56) - First World Series
National League: Brooklyn Robins (93-61) - Second World Series

What Happened
The Indians entered the 1920 World Series with heavy hearts. In late August, their starting shortstop, Ray Chapman, died after being hit by a pitch in a game. The loss devastated the Indians, for obvious reasons. They eventually replaced Chapman with 21-year-old Joe Sewell, who made his Major League debut that September. Lucky for Cleveland, Sewell was playing the first games of what would turn into a Hall of Fame career, and putting him in the middle of a lineup that already featured living legend Tris Speaker gave them the spark they needed to eke out their first American League pennant.

The World Series had a different flavor to it in 1920 with first-timer Cleveland playing the Brooklyn Robins. It was the first series since 1907 where neither team had won the title previously, so having somebody new to root for must have felt refreshing for fans still reeling from the fixed series of the year before.

What they got was a lot of low scoring games. In the final season before the juiced ball entered the league to capitalize on the popularity of the home run, many of the series games were over early. Brooklyn won two of the first three games in Ebbets Field, and all three games were won by starters throwing complete games backed up by just a couple early runs. No drama. When the series moved to Cleveland, the offense picked up a little bit, with the Indians getting five runs to back up Stan Coveleski's complete game to tie the series.

Then came Game 5, one of the most fascinating games in World Series history. If you look only at the score - Cleveland 8, Brooklyn 1 - you'd think it was the least exciting game the series. But look again. In the first inning, Cleveland's Elmer Smith hit the first grand slam in World Series history. Given the way the series had been going, it seemed like the game was already over. That was especially true when pitcher Jim Bagby added a three-run home run in the bottom of the fourth. Brooklyn started a rally in the top of the fifth, getting the first two guys on base. Then, Brooklyn pitcher Clarence Mitchell hit a soft line drive up the middle that Cleveland second baseman Bill Wambsganss caught near the bag. After touching second and tagging a very surprised Otto Miller running from first, Wambsganss had completed the first unassisted triple play in World Series history. So because of two pitches - Smith's grand slam and Mitchell's soft line drive - Game 5 went down in World Series lore.

It also turned the series. Brooklyn salvaged one run late in Game 5, but then they were done scoring for the series. The clincher was won by Coveleski, finishing his third complete game of the series. In fact, the winning pitcher in all seven games threw a complete game.

Defining Game
Game 5. A grand slam and an unassisted triple play in the same game. Yah, I think that's the one.

Coveleski. Three complete games, three victories, two runs allowed. Easy choice.

Random Fact

The first four World Series all featured two teams that had never won the series before. After a long break, the 1920 one was the fifth such series. There wouldn't be another one until 1980.

(Home team shaded; winners in Bold)

Cleveland 3 0 1581 3
Brooklyn 1 3 21 1 00

The List
I'm ranking all the World Series, from worst to best. Here are the ones I've done so far:

75. 1920 - Cleveland (A) def. Brooklyn (N) 5-2
76. 1945 -  Detroit (A) def. Chicago (N) 4-3
77. 1940 - Cincinnati (N) def. Detroit (A) 4-3
78. 2009 - New York (A) def. Philadelphia (N) 4-2
79. 1984 - Detroit (A) def. San Diego (N) 4-1
Numbers 80-89
Numbers 90-99
Numbers 100-107

Game 7s
Simultaneously, I'll rank all the Game 7s. This one doesn't count, though, because although it had a seventh game, it didn't have a Game 7 as we know it, in which the entire season has come down to one game. So it doesn't get on this list.

The ones that have appeared in my countdown so far:

16. 1940: Cincinnati 2, Detroit 1
29. 1965: Los Angeles 2, Minnesota 0 
45. 1945: Detroit 9, Chicago 3

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