In the summer of 1919, Ray Caldwell was on baseball’s discard pile, having been cut loose by the Red Sox. He was almost universally regarded as talented, but his taste for alcohol and nightlife did him no favors.
Tris Speaker signed Caldwell – with a clause in his contract that he would get drunk after each start. He started six games, winning five – including one where not only was he hit by lightning at League Park, but he got up and finished the game afterward – and remained on the team for 1920, going 20-10. He would be the Indians’ starter for Game 3 of the World Series.
Speaker kept the news from Caldwell until the last minute, since the pitcher had a tendency to get nervous. Caldwell’s start was inauspicious, throwing three straight balls and ultimately walking Ivan Olson. Duster Mails was already up and throwing in the Indians bullpen. Jim Johnston sacrificed to advance him to second, and Tommy Griffith hit a chopper to Joe Sewell, who couldn’t get the ball out of his glove. There were runners at the corners with one out.
“Sewell will be a great ball player some day,” Damon Runyon prophesied, “But just now he lacks experience. Sewell can scarcely be blamed for a little nervousness.” After all, he had just graduated from the University of Alabama and was called up immediately to replace Ray Chapman after his fatal beaning.
Zack Wheat and Hy Myers slapped back-to-back singles, giving the Robins a 2-0 lead. Speaker called for Mails, with Caldwell leaving after just a third of an inning – still the shortest outing for a starter in a World Series game. Mails, who had pitched for Brooklyn in 1915 and 1916, got out of the jam and pitched shutout ball the rest of the way, but the Indians couldn’t come up with a solution for Brooklyn starter Sherrod Smith.
The Indians were able to get on the board in the fourth, as Speaker doubled to left field. Zack Wheat charged the ball, thinking he could make a play at first, but the ball got past him into the corner, and Speaker turned the double into an inside-the-park home run, depriving Smith of a shutout.
“I’m sorry I was the cause of preventing Smith from getting a shutout,” Wheat wrote in his column in the Plain Dealer. “For I don’t think they would have gotten a run otherwise. And he deserved one. I played that ball too fast and missed.”
Wheat was positively jubilant as the Dodgers decamped for Cleveland with a 2-1 World Series lead. The Dodgers had the best road record in the National League, at 44-32, and they needed just one victory to send the best-of-nine series back to Brooklyn. A split of the four games in Cleveland would put them one win away from the championship. Although the Dodgers had been to the Fall Classic before, they, like the Indians, were looking for their first title. And while the Indians were installed as favorites before the series started, they were now underdogs.
“There’s no reason why we shouldn’t keep up this winning brand of baseball in Cleveland,” Wheat wrote. “We’re started now and I don’t think they can head us. We’ve seen all their most vaunted pitchers already, while we still have got some good ones that haven’t started.”
But the Dodgers were leaving town without their talisman. Eddie Bennett, a hunchback and an orphan, was befriended by the Robins’ Hy Myers, who brought him to the ballpark. When Brooklyn won that day, Myers brought Bennett back the next day. As the Robins kept winning, Bennett became the team’s batboy and mascot. But when they left for Cleveland, Ebbets refused to pay for Bennett to join them. It was tempting fate.
For his part, Speaker believed the World Series would end in Cleveland too. “We’ll never go back to Brooklyn,” he said when he arrived in the Sixth City. “We’ll end the series here by smashing those Dodgers four times in a row on the home town lot.”
Stan Coveleski, the winner of the opener, would be called upon to stop the bleeding in the first World Series game in Cleveland. Initial reports said that Grimes might start Game 4, pitting two spitball pitchers against each other, but Robinson opted to go with Leon Cadore instead.
As it turned out, Grimes would be needed badly in Game 5.