May 23, 1948
Baseball is a game of unexpected results and outcomes, and Sunday afternoon was full of unexpected moments.
After losing the first game of the doubleheader, 6-5, due in large part to a poor outing by Bob Feller, three home runs by Joe DiMaggio and leaving the tying and winning run in scoring position to end the game, Cleveland came back to win the second game, 5-1. The Indians used Don Black’s best start of the season and four double plays to defeat their nemesis, southpaw Ed Lopat.
The day didn’t go as originally planned, but earning their first win of the season against the Yankees and a split on the day in front of 78,431 fans was good enough for manager Lou Boudreau.
“When you break even with the Yankees it’s all right in my book,” Boudreau said. “Sure they first one was tough to lose but any game is. I liked the way we bounced back after that one.”
The Indians got to Lopat right away in the bottom of the first inning. Thurman Tucker started the frame for the Indians when he reached base on Yankees first baseman George McQuinn’s fielder error. Tucker stole second base before Allie Clark lined out to center field. Boudreau picked his team up with a double to left center field, scoring Tucker and giving the Indians a 1-0 lead. Eddie Robinson reached on an infield hit, advancing Boudreau to third base, before Joe Gordon’s sacrifice fly to left field plated Boudreau and put the Tribe up 2-0 after one inning.
It was all the offense the Indians would need for Black. Their defense did all the work that was necessary after. Cleveland used four double plays in the game to get itself and Black out of any trouble. After back-to-back singles to start the first inning, Black got DiMaggio to ground into an inning ending double play. In the third inning, Cleveland used a ground ball to Robinson to start a double play. Robinson threw to Boudreau covering second, who relayed back to him to end another threat.
The Yankees finally got to Black in the top of the fifth inning. After two were gone, Snuffy Stirnweiss walked and Lopat singled for his second hit of the day to put runners on first and second. Bobby Brown singled to center field to score Stirnweiss and cut the Indians lead to 2-1.
After six strong innings, Black ran into trouble in the top of the seventh inning when Billy Johnson singled and McQuinn doubled to start the inning. Boudreau had seen enough of Black and decided to send for Russ Christopher while the Indians still held a 2-1 lead. Black still had his heat, even if the late spring air had started to cool.
“I didn’t lose my speed,” Black said. “But my control wasn’t as good. That cold wind stiffened my arm a trifle.”
Christopher entered the game and walked Stirnweiss to load the bases. With the game on the line, Yankees manager Bucky Harris decided to let Lopat hit with the bases loaded and no one out. He grounded to first base forcing Robinson to throw home to catcher Joe Tipton, who relayed to first base with Christopher covering for an unconventional 3-6-1 double play.
Now with two out, Christopher walked Brown to again load the bases before getting Tommy Henrich to ground out to end the inning and close the book for Black. It was his best outing of the season, pitching six innings, giving up seven hits and one run while walking three and striking out two. Black (1-0) had not lasted longer than 2 2/3 innings in his previous two starts.
“Don Black had his stuff again today and that’s really good news,” Boudreau said. “He was throwing better than at any time this season.”
After turning their fourth double play of the game in the top of the seventh inning, the Tribe responded by blowing open the game in the bottom half. Pat Seerey and Tipton singled to start inning and Christopher walked to load the bases with no one out. Tucker sent everyone in to motion with a base hit to right field, scoring Seerey and Tipton to make the score 4-1 Indians. Christopher advanced to second on the hit.
Clark dropped down a sacrifice bunt, advancing Christopher to third and Tucker to second base with only one out. Lopat intentionally walked Boudreau and re-loaded the bases. Robinson flew out to right field, deep enough for the lanky Christopher to get all his arms and legs home and make the game 5-1 Cleveland.
Christopher was able to dodge walks in the eighth inning to Yogi Berra and Billy Johnson and a leadoff single in the ninth inning to Stirnweiss to work the final three innings for the Tribe and secure the 5-1 victory. He worked the final three innings, allowing only one hit, but walking four while allowing no runs and earning his fifth save of the season.
Cleveland had nine hits in the second game, led by Seerey with three hits and two RBI by Tucker. Every starter except Joe Gordon and Black had a base hit in the second ballgame.
The doubleheader split keeps the Indians in first place and the Yankees two full games back, but Philadelphia swept their doubleheader in St. Louis, 7-3 and 8-1. The two victories cut the Indians’ lead to just one-half of a game.
The Tribe is off on Monday before hosting the Washington Senators on Tuesday and Wednesday to conclude their 12-game homestand. Cleveland will send Bob Lemon (4-2) to the mound on Tuesday and Gene Bearden (3-0) on Wednesday. The same rotation order worked May 7 and 8 in Washington for two wins for the Indians.