National League: Pittsburgh Pirates (110-42) - Second World Series
American League: Detroit Tigers (98-54) - Third World Series
After two straight years of getting humiliated by the Cubs in the World Series, the Tigers were probably thrilled to see somebody different playing them in the 1909 World Series. But in the opposing dugout were the 110-win Pirates, the best offensive team in baseball. Led by Honus Wagner, the best player in the National League's early history, the Pirates were the rare team to have a better player than Detroit's explosive Ty Cobb.
The biggest surprise of the series came when Pittsburgh manager Fred Clarke picked rookie reliever Babe Adams to start Game 1. Adams had been nearly unhittable for the Pirates over the second half of the season, but he was by far the least experienced of the Pirates' pitchers. And, of course, he was primarily a reliever. But Clarke was playing a hunch, and it paid off. After Cobb put Detroit ahead with a first-inning run, Adams shut down the Tigers the rest of the way. Clarke's home run in the fourth tied the game, and three Detroit errors gave Pittsburgh two more runs in the fifth. Behind Adams' complete game, the Pirates were up 1-0.
The teams alternated wins the next four games, with Detroit getting a pair of five-run wins in Games 2 and 4 and Pittsburgh scoring 8 runs in both Games 3 and 5. The biggest blow of those four games was struck by Pittsburgh's player-manager; Clarke's three-run home run in the seventh inning of Game 5 broke a tie and made a winner of Adams again.
With a chance to clinch the series, the Pirates scored three runs in the top of the first of Game 6. But Detroit fought back, eventually taking a 5-3 lead into the ninth inning. Pittsburgh got one run back in the ninth, but couldn't bring the tying run home, allowing the Tigers to survive to play a Game 7. The first winner-take-all Game 7 in World Series history was anticlimactic, as Adams threw a complete-game shutout. Meanwhile, Detroit pitchers walked 10 Pirates, and the Tigers committed three errors to virtually give Pittsburgh the series.
It was a common theme throughout the seven games. Detroit and Pittsburgh pitchers had an identical earned-run average in the series, and the Tigers actually outhit the Pirates. But the Tigers committed 17 errors in the series, their catchers let the Pirates steal 18 bases, and their pitchers let Pittsburgh score 11 first-inning runs. Detroit could have easily won, but they fell short, which ended up being too bad. After making the World Series three times by the age of 22, the great Cobb never again played a postseason game.
It was a seven game series, but there was only one game that was truly close. The Pirates opened Game 6 with four straight hits, capped by Wagner's 2-run double. Leading 3-0, Pittsburgh was in great position for its first championship, but the Tigers chipped away, tying the game in the fourth and taking the lead in the fifth. Down 2 entering the ninth, the Pirates got one run back on an error on a sacrifice bunt. With runners on the corners and still nobody out, the Pirates had a Bill Abstein cut down at the plate for the first out. Then, Detroit escaped with a strike out/throw out double play, forcing Game 7.
Adams. Three complete games, three wins, four earned runs. Another easy choice.
(Home team shaded; winners in Bold)
I'm ranking all the World Series, from worst to best. Here are the ones I've done so far:
61. 1909 - Pittsburgh (N) def. Detroit (A) 4-3
62. 2005 - Chicago (A) def. Houston (N) 4-0
63. 1950 - New York (A) def. Philadelphia (N) 4-0
64. 1906 - Chicago (A) def. Chicago (N) 4-2
65. 1981 - Los Angeles (N) def. New York (A) 4-2
66. 1943 - New York (A) def. St. Louis (N) 4-1
67. 1954 - New York (N) def. Cleveland (A) 4-0
68. 1978 - New York (A) def. Los Angeles (N) 4-2
69. 2006 - St. Louis (N) def. Detroit (A) 4-1
Simultaneously, I'll rank all the Game 7s. The ones that have appeared in my countdown so far:
16. 1940: Cincinnati 2, Detroit 1
21. 1968: Detroit 4, St. Louis 1
22. 1931: St. Louis 4, Philadelphia 2
29. 1965: Los Angeles 2, Minnesota 0
31. 1967: St. Louis 7, Boston 2
32. 1945: Detroit 9, Chicago 3
33. 1909: Pittsburgh 8, Detroit 0