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The most exciting game in the history of Boston sports?

Monday 6/12/23

Time works such that how things happened tend to get lost and the only way to know what those things were is to go back and look for them in an attempt to understand what is often a progression.

First this happened, then as a result that happened, which led to this occurring, and so forth. What we usually know now, if we know anything, is a matter of result. The final outcome, and not how that outcome was arrived at.

Red Sox fans with an eye to history might know that the team had quite the run in the second decade of the twentieth century. They won the World Series in 1912, 1915, 1916, 1918. The last one is the famous one, though it is less famous now than it was until 2004, because it was the year that was always cited until that latter edition of the squad broke through as the last time the Red Sox won the World Series.

It's doubtful that people who weren't of a certain age at that time find that that year signifies anything to them now with the Red Sox. When I was a kid--and this really began in second grade--I tried to learn everything about anything that interested me. And that was a lot. My interests have always been catholic. I'd read everything. Not just read it--I'd make sure I understood the progression that I described above, in all matters, be they sports, horror movies, nature. I made sure I understood context. Not just the what but the why.

No one told me to do that. It's just what I did. I didn't think anything of it. Nor did anyone really say anything to me about it. There I was, just doing it.

People don't do that. Doesn't matter the age. One could be a lifelong Sox fan, and have no clue about the team's history, beyond that they recognize certain names when they are brought up, but what are those names? Yaz and Ted Williams. But not Lefty Grove and Bobby Doerr. Very limited.

Anyway, the 1912 Red Sox, when they are remembered as this team that produced this particular outcome of a World Series championship, it's often because 1912 was the year that Fenway Park opened, with the first game being played there a few days after the sinking of the Titanic, which turned what had been planned as a lavish celebration into a more muted affair.

The Sox of 1912 were awesome, going 105-47-2. This was when Smoky Joe Wood was among the best pitchers the game has ever seen, before his injury woes, compiling a 34-5 record with a 1.91 ERA, 35 complete games, 10 shutouts, a 177 ERA+, a WHIP of 1.015, and a save for good measure.

In the daily line-up were two future Hall of Famers in outfielders Harry Hooper and Tris Speaker, the latter of whom is one of the twelve or fifteen best baseball players of all-time, and who hit .383 that season while playing an otherworldly centerfield.

But in the World Series, the Sox squared up against the New York Giants, who went 103-48-3, and had this pretty fair hurler by the name of Christy Mathewson. Seven years prior, Mathewson had the finest postseason performance that any athlete in any North American sport has ever had, if we're going by the statistical line.

In the 1905 World Series, Mathewson went 3-0 for the Giants against the Philadelphia Athletics. But it wasn't just the 3-0 bit that made his run what it was. After all, Mickey Lolich went 3-0 for the Detroit Tigers in the 1968 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, and as great as Lolich was in that series, he wasn't what Christy Mathewson was in 1905.

Mathewson three three complete game shutouts. He gave up 13 hits in 27 innings. He walked all of 1 batter. His WHIP--and this is almost disturbingly good--was .519.

1912 was Christy Mathewson's age thirty-one season. He was, believe me, still Christy Mathewson. The Red Sox had a tall order in front of them. The seven game series went eight games because there was a tie. (That's fun, right?) The Giants also had this other future Hall of Fame pitcher in Rube Marquard. Not a good time for the opposition's offense.

The series stood at 3-2-1 in favor of the Red Sox when it shifted from the Polo Grounds back to Fenway for the final two games. Smoky Joe Wood was thumped in Game 7, giving up six earned runs in a single inning, before getting the quick hook. That was on October 15.

This set up a deciding Game 8 in the Fens for the next day.

Now, this might be--I say might be--the most exciting game in the history of Boston sports. You have Fenway in its first year. You have these two powerhouse teams. The Red Sox beat Christy Mathewson in Game 5, by a score of 2-1. Mathewson hurled a complete game--albeit an 8-inning one--and his presence loomed large, for he was the man the Sox would have to go through to win the championship in this first year at the not-old-at-all ball yard.

Ah, but wait--for we have more drama in just the set-up. Remember Smoky Joe Wood, lit up only the day before?

Red Sox manager Jake Stahl whose managerial experience before this season consisted of assembling 64-87 and 55-95 records with the 1905 and 1906 Washington Senators (and who would depart the Red Sox mid-season in 1913), decided he would start Hugh Bedient, who'd already defeated Mathewson in that Game 5, but if necessary, Stahl had a certain plan he intended to deploy.

Bedient got through seven, with the Red Sox trailing heading into the bottom of the inning, before they tied it up. For the top of the eighth--and the place must have gone crazy--out came none other than Smoky Joe Wood.

Wood battled his way through the eighth and the ninth, and Mathewson kept being Mathewson, and the game went to extras deadlocked at 1. In the top of the tenth, the Giants put across a run, and it looked like the Red Sox were done, with Mathewson remaining in the game as it entered the final frame of that tenth inning.

Clyde Engle led off, and he hit a fly ball to left center. Groans, for surely an easy out was about to be made. But the fielder dropped the ball, and the Sox had the lead-off man on second, because Engle hadn't stopped running.

Up came Hooper, who also hit a fly to the outfield. This one was caught, and wasn't deep enough for Engle to tag and advance. Nervousness.

Mathewson then walked Steve Yerkes. Mathewson had some control issues, despite his obvious mastery, with this being his fifth walk of the ballgame.

So, first and second, one down, and then we get this bellwether match-up: Christy Mathewson--call him the second best pitcher of all-tim--vs. Tris Speaker, who we'll call one of the dozen best players of all-time.

Fenway had to have been going bonkers by now, just as it must have gone crazier when Speaker lined a single to right, bringing in Engle, and tying the game.

There were runners on first and second, one out, with the highly capable Duffy Lewis stepping into the box. The Giants intentionally walked him, creating the bases loaded situation so that they could force a man the man at home and perhaps escape the inning with a double play.

Larry Gardner was the next batter for the Red Sox, and he did exactly what he needed to do and hit a fly ball deep enough to right field. It was caught, Yerkes tagged at third, but there was no chance to get him at the plate, and the Red Sox walked it off against Christy Mathewson in the bottom of the tenth in the deciding game of the World Series in their first season in Fenway Park.

I mean, wow, right?

But you didn't know any of that, did you? You never heard it, you never read it, probably. A person would have to look and learn and understand. It's a lot different, though, isn't it, than just seeing that banner outside of Fenway Park when you're on Jersey Street?

There's really nothing that even compares in the long history of Boston sports.

So what is the lesson here? Take the time and make the effort to understand how a result came to be. In all matters. It pays out. It's important. Perspective widens, appreciation deepens. It's not just a baseball thing. It's a life thing.

And I bet you that everyone at that ballpark on that day in October 1912 would have agreed.


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