Thursday, June 28, 2012

1948 World Series: Cleveland Rocks!

The Teams
American League: Cleveland Indians (97-58) - Second World Series (won in 1920)
National League: Boston Braves (91-62) - Second World Series (won in 1914)

What Happened
The refrain around Braves Field during the 1948 season was "Spahn and Sain, then pray for rain." In Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain, the Boston Braves had a pair of aces almost unmatched in baseball, but they had very little else. Luckily for them, Spahn and Sain were good enough for the Braves to win just their second National League pennant in the World Series.

Another team with a pair of aces was the Cleveland Indians, who were led by future Hall of Famers Bob Feller and Bob Lemon. The Indians had a very good offense, as well, with future Hall of Famers Larry Doby, Joe Gordon, and Lou Boudreau, and they were able to storm past the Yankees late in the season to tie the Red Sox for the American League title. Rookie knuckleballer Gene Bearden ruined Boston's dream of a crosstown World Series by shutting down the Red Sox in the playoff game, and the Indians stayed in Boston to take on the Braves for the title.

Game 1 was the first battle of aces, with Feller and Sain keeping the game scoreless into the 8th inning. In the bottom of that inning, Feller walked Boston's Bill Salkeld. After a sacrifice moved pinch-runner Phil Masi to second, Boudreau, the Cleveland shortstop and manager, called for a pickoff play. It worked to perfection, as Feller fired a strike to Boudreau's glove in a perfect spot for him to make the tag ... only the umpire called Masi safe. Stunned, Feller gave up a hit on the very next pitch - only his second hit allowed in the game - and the Braves had a surprising 1-0 victory.

The pitching continued to dominate as Cleveland won the next three games, beating Spahn in Game 2 and Sain in Game 4. They had a fully rested Feller and homefield advantage for Game 5, hoping to clinch their first championship since 1920. Instead, the Braves offense came alive; Bob Elliott hit two home runs off Feller, and the Braves scored six runs in the seventh to blow the game open. Spahn gave up only 1 hit in nearly 6 innings of relief and the Braves sent the series back to Boston.

That just delayed the inevitable. With Spahn and Sain unavailable, the Braves had to pray for rain for Game 6. When the clouds didn't cooperate, they sent Bill Voiselle out to the mound to face off against a well-rested Lemon. Cleveland took a 4-1 lead into the 8th inning, and though Boston got two runs off a tiring Lemon, Bearden came in to shut the door and save the game. Cleveland had its first title since 1920; they haven't won one since.

Defining Game
With Game 6 tied 1-1 after 5, the Indians finally started making progress against Voiselle. Gordon led off the sixth with a home run, then Cleveland added another run when catcher Jim Hegan beat the relay on a potential inning-ending double play. The biggest run came in the 8th, though, when the Indians got three straight singles off Spahn - pitching in relief - to add a 4th run. That run turned out huge when the Braves started to rally in the bottom of the inning. They loaded the bases on Lemon with one out when Boudreau called for Bearden in relief. Bearden traded an out for a run on a sacrifice fly, then watched Masi drill a two-out double to left. One run scored easily for Boston, but Elliott couldn't score from first on Masi's double. The next batter hit one back to Bearden, and the Indians escaped with a 4-3 lead. After getting through the ninth, the Indians were champions.

The choice comes down to Lemon - who won both games he started, with an ERA of 1.65 - or Bearden - who threw a complete game shutout in his only start, then saved the clincher for Lemon. I'm gonna go with Lemon here, simply because he pitched more innings in the series.

(Home team shaded; winners in Bold)

Cleveland 0422 54
Boston 1101 113

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

50. 1948 - Cleveland (A) def. Boston (N) 4-2
51. 1917 - Chicago (A) def. New York (N) 4-2
52. 1903 - Boston (A) def. Pittsburgh (N) 5-3
53. 1916 - Boston (A) def. Brooklyn (N) 4-1 
54. 1949 - New York (A) def. Brooklyn (N) 4-1
55. 1942 - St. Louis (N) def. New York (A) 4-1
56. 1974 - Oakland (A) def. Los Angeles (N) 4-1
57. 1955 - Brooklyn (N) def. New York (A) 4-3
58. 1979 - Pittsburgh (N) def. Baltimore (A) 4-3
59. 1987 - Minnesota (A) def. St. Louis (N) 4-3
Numbers 60-69
Numbers 70-79
Numbers 80-89
Numbers 90-99
Numbers 100-107

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