A one and done playoff, the Indians have been here before
In 2012, MLB implemented a one game playoff between the first and second wild card teams to see who would compete in the playoffs. Right now as we prepare for this year's wild card one-and-done games, it's interesting to note that the Indians are not foreigners to this experience (while most of us may not remember).
There was a near miss in 1908 when the Indians finished 90-64 which was a half a game behind the Tigers (90-63). At that time, the American League did not have a policy for making up a rained out game. If they had and the Tigers lost that game, Nap Lajoie and his Cleveland Naps would have hosted the Tigers at League Park for a single game to see who would play in the World Series. That season the Indians held a 13-9 edge over the Tigers but to no avail. The Indians would wait another 12 years before reaching the post season.
1948 and the One-and-Done
The 1948 Indians jumped out front with a 6-0 record in April and lead the AL by two games. The Tribe then swapped places with the Athletics and Yankees in a three team battle for first throughout May. Then the Indians pulled ahead in June, peaking on June 8th and June 12th as they built a 3.5 game lead.
July ended up being a trying month for the Indians as they slumped to 14-15 and third place - three games behind a resurgent Red Sox team. The Red Sox went 25-9 in July to climb from fourth (eight games out on July 4th) to the lead on July 31st. The Indians then went on a combined 42-18 record in August and September to hold a two game lead over the Red Sox and Yankees as the calendar turned to October and the last weekend of the season.
Things looked good as the fifth place Tigers came to Municipal Stadium for the final three games. Tiger's starter Virgil “Fire” Trucks lead the Tigers to a 5-3 win on Friday but the Indians still held the one game lead. Rookie left-hander Gene Bearden won his 19th game of the season with an eight-hit shutout and Larry Doby lead an eight run barrage as the Indians clinched at least a tie.
Meanwhile the Red Sox eliminated the Yankees with a 5-1 win. Manager Lou Boudreau sent Bob Feller on Sunday hoping to close it out but Tiger's ace Hal Newhouser shut down the Indians for a 7-1 win. When Boston took care of the Yankees 10-5, the Indians and Red Sox were all tied for the top spot in the American League at 96-58.
October 4th at Fenway
The AL pennant would be decided in a one game winner take all game at Boston's Fenway Park on Monday October 4th. Odds makers installed the Red Sox as the slight favorite. Neither manager announced a starter before the game and all eyes were on the bullpens to see who would warm up for the game.
Having used Jack Kramer (18-5), Mel Parnell (15-8) and Joe Dobson (16-10) in their run to get into the playoff game, Boston manager Joe McCarthy selected Denny Galehouse a 36-year old right-hander from Marshallville Ohio, although both Parnell and Ellis Kinder (10-7) said after the game they were available. Galehouse broke in with the Indians in 1934 but was traded to the Red Sox for Ben Chapman in 1938. Galehouse pitched two years for the Red Sox then spent 5+ years with the Browns before returning to the Red Sox. Galehouse was 8-7 with a 3.82 ERA but hadn't pitched since September 26th.
Many expected that Bob Lemon (20-14) would take the hill but Cleveland manager Lou Boudreau sent rookie left-hander Gene Bearden. A lefty? At Fenway? A guy that pitched nine innings on Saturday? The 27-year old southpaw was 19-7 and was a knuckleball pitcher but he mixed in a fastball, slider, curve and screwball.
With two outs in the first inning, Lou “Old Shufflefoot” Boudreau stroked a solo home run for a 1-0 lead. The Red Sox didn't take long to counter as third baseman Johnny “The Needle” Pesky hit a one out double. Then shortstop Vern “Little Slug” Stephens picked up a two out single and Pesky raced home to tie it up.
Bearden was able to wriggle out of a jam in the second. Right fielder Stan Spence coaxed a walk but was caught stealing on a strik'em out-throw'em out double play as first baseman Billy Goodman went down. It's a good thing catcher Jim “Shanty” Hegan nailed Spence because catcher Birdie Tebbetts followed with a single and Galehouse walked. Bearden came back to induce center fielder Dom “The Little Professor” DiMaggio to ground out to third.
Things stayed the same until the top of the fourth. Boudreau and second baseman Joe “Flash” Gordon hit back-to-back singles to left to lead off the inning. Third baseman Ken “Butch” Keltner (or as Bearden called him “Benny the Beltner”) then chased Galehouse with a three run bomb, his 31st of the year. Center fielder Larry Doby then doubled to center. Right fielder Bob Kennedy then sacrificed him to third and Doby scored on a Hegan grounder to short. The Indians lead 5-1.
In the fifth, Boudreau connected for his 18th homer of the season.
In the eighth inning, Bearden helped himself after Doby doubled to lead off the inning. Kennedy again sacrificed him to third. Hegan was intentionally walked. With runners on first and third Tebbetts picked off Doby for the second out. Bearden then hit a fly ball to left which Williams misplayed and Hegan scored the Indians seventh run.
The Tribe added another one in the ninth when first baseman Eddie Robinson reached on an infield single. Boudreau then singled to left to put runners on first and second. Both runners moved up on a wild pitch. Gordon was then walked to load the bases with no outs. Keltner then hit into a 6-4-3 double play and Robinson scored the Indians eighth run.
Leading 8-3, Bearden took the mound in the ninth with a chance to put the Tribe into the World Series. Doerr hit a comebacker to the mound and Bearden threw to Robinson for the first out. Pinch-hitter Billy Hitchcock walked. Bearden then struck out first baseman Billy Goodman. The Indians sealed the Tribe's second trip to the Fall Classic when Tebbets grounded to third and Keltner threw to first.
Bearden would finish the year with a 20-7 record and a league leading 2.43 ERA while player-manager Lou Boudreau took the MVP honors.
The Indians would then go across town to face the Boston Braves and claim their last (to this point) World Series championship.