Thursday, October 18, 2018

Blast from the past

Craig Counsell took a page from the ancient past of the Twins, or at least the Twins' Washington predecessor, on Wednesday by starting left Wade Miley for one batter, then bringing in a pitcher of the opposite hand to negate the rival's platoon advantage.

Perhaps you know the story of Game Seven of the 1924 World Series. It was still pretty famous when I started following baseball in 1969, but at that point 1924 was "only" 45 years earlier (1969 is further away from today) and there were plenty of fans who had a living memory of that famous contest.

But ... Washington Senators vs. New York Giants, the series knotted at three games apiece. New York manager John McGraw was platooning the young Bill Terry (who would hit .401 in 1930 and is now in the Hall of Fame) in a complex arrangement that had fellow future Hall of Famer George "Highpockets" Kelly shifting from first base to center field against righthanders.

Terry's 1924 season doesn't look like much, but he was absolutely wearing out the Senators' top right-handed pitchers, the great but aged Walter Johnson and early relief ace Fred "Firpo" Marberry. Johnson had started twice -- Games 1 and 5 -- and been beaten twice; Marberry had started once and taken the loss as well. So the expectation was that Washington manager Bucky Harris would start George Mogridge, a lefty and his second-best starter, in Game 7.

But Harris had a plan, to which he tipped off Johnson after Game 6. Johnson, according to family lore, went home and told his wife he would be relieving in Game 7, drawing a gasped: "Walter, you mustn't!"

Harris started Curly Ogden, a righty who had gone 9-5, 2.58 in 108 innings during the season but had battled a sore arm and hadn't appeared in the Series. McGraw took the bait and started Terry at first base. Odgen retired leadoff hitter Freddie Lindstrom (yet another future Hall inductee) and started off the mound; Harris, suspecting that Odgen might have a big game in his arm, waved him back to the job. But when Ogden walked No. 2 hitter Frankie Frisch (yes, another HOF inductee), Harris brought in Mogridge, who had been warming up in secret under the bleachers.

Mogridge pitched through the fifth, but when McGraw finally pinch-hit for Terry, the trap was set. In came Marberry, then Johnson. The game went 12 innings, with Johnson twice walking left-handed hitting Ross Youngs (HOF) in jams so he could strike out the right-handed Kelly, who had 126 RBIs that year. The Senators scored two runs in the eighth to tie it on a grounder that hit a pebble and bounded over Lindstrom's head, and scored the winner on another grounder that hit a pebble and bounced over Lindstrom -- legend has it, the same pebble.

A great and legendary game. It remains the only World Series title won by a Washington team. Twelve participants, counting the managers, have plaques in Cooperstown. And if I had a time machine and could go back in time to see any one game, it might be the one.

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