Thursday, June 22, 2017

100 years ago today: The Perfect Game by a Reliever

How could a relief pitcher throw a perfect game?

It happened. Once, 100 years ago today, June 23, 1917.

Ten years ago this month I almost saw a perfect game.

It was in Oakland. Curt Schilling had not allowed a baserunner until the 6th when a guy reached on a Julio Lugo error. It was a room-service grounder and Lugo should have easily made the play. But he didn't. Really, I could have probably made that play. As Curt comes out for the bottom of the 9th, the crowd, A’s fans included, is on its feet, applauding. We get to two outs, the no-no still in place, and Shannon Stewart singles. A clean single to right center. Schilling retires the next guy and it's a one-hit shutout. But if Lugo had made that play, Stewart would not have gotten up in the 9th and it would have been not only a no-hitter, but a Perfect Game. Afterward, Schilling, being the way he is, blames himself for shaking off a Jason Varitek sign on the pitch that Stewart hit. He does not blame Lugo for the error that cost him a perfect game. At least not out loud.

But there's a better Perfect Game story.

The Babe before the Curse began.

It was 100 years ago today that the strangest Perfect Game in Major League Baseball history took place. It was game one of a double-header at Fenway Park, with the Red Sox, who had won back-to-back World Series in the two previous seasons, facing the original Washington Senators, who became the Minnesota Twins in 1961.

The starting pitcher for Boston was one Babe Ruth. Leading off for the Senators was Ray Morgan. Ruth wound up walking Morgan on four pitches. When home plate umpire Brick Owens (is that where the name Brick in "The Middle" came from?) made the “ball four” call, Ruth was so agitated that he called Owens "the most foul name imaginable" according to the Boston Globe writeup.

The Supreme Court has since overturned the "fleeting expletives" fines that the FCC had leveled against ABC and Fox for F-bombs that aired during award shows, and given that today you can say "sucks" and "WTF?" on network TV during family viewing time, one has to wonder what was the most foul name imaginable back in 1917. “You bounder?” Remember, both damn and hell were considered offensive back then. No, probably an F-bomb or an A-bomb or a C-bomb or a D-bomb.

Back to the game.

Owens tossed Ruth. The Babe, who was not known for taking this sort of thing well, then marched up to home plate and took a swing at the umpire. That got him hauled off the field, and he was hit with a $100 fine (over $2000 in 2017 money) and a ten-game suspension. The catcher, Pinch Thomas (does it mean a pinch of snuff? - there were a lot of colorful ballplayer names back then) was also ejected. Call to the bullpen, sponsored by New England Telephone ("we're the one for you, New England...").

Red Sox pitcher Ernie Shore.

Ernie Shore comes trotting in from the bullpen as a reliever.

No time to warm up. It's the top of the first, one on, nobody out. Ray Morgan decides to try and steal second, but Shore senses this, throws to first and picks him off. One out, nobody on. Ernie then proceeds to retire the next 26 Senators in a row, a total of 27 straight outs, resulting in a 4-0 win that was a Perfect Game in relief.

Babe Ruth and Ernie Shore in the Sox dugout.

It stayed in the record books that way for years...

...until someone decided that, because Morgan originally reached 1st base on Ruth's walk, it was a no-hitter…but not a perfect game. Wondering what ever happened to Ernie Shore? His Sox career met the same fate as Babe Ruth. He was sold to the Yankees by owner Harry Frazee.

But it was one game that Grandfathers told their kids about, and they told their kids, and so on. It's too good a story not to pass on. June 23, 1917.

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