June 29, 1948
In no way was it pretty, or dominating or brilliant, but it was a win. After a rough home stand for the Tribe and difficult June for Bob Feller, each seemed to find themselves as the Tribe defeated the Detroit Tigers 6-2 in front of 15,171 fans at Briggs Stadium.
Feller benefitted from five runs in the first three innings and home runs from Lou Boudreau and Jim Hegan to take down Hal Newhouser, another struggling starter. Boudreau stacked the lineup with eight right-handed hitters against the southpaw. Feller had better control than in recent starts and struck out eight Tigers to take over the American League lead in whiffs.
Cleveland took the lead in the top of the first inning before Detroit could even come to bat. After Johnny Berardino – giving regular first baseman Eddie Robinson a day off – grounded out, Bob Kennedy singled to set the stage for Boudreau. The Tribe’s manager cracked his seventh home run to left field, driving home two and putting the Indians up 2-0 after only three hitters.
The Tribe plated three more runs in the top of the third inning and sent Newhouser to the showers early. With one out, Kennedy and Boudreau laced back-to-back singles to right field to put runners on first and third. Allie Clark followed with a fly ball deep enough to score Kennedy and give the Tribe a 3-0 lead.
Cleveland was not done, however. Joe Gordon singled to center field to move Boudreau to second base and they both came running home when Ken Keltner doubled down the left field line. Keltner’s seventh double of the season gave the Indians a 5-0 lead and ended Newhouser’s day before finishing the third inning.
Newhouser (9-6), like Feller, has not had his best stuff this year. The former two-time MVP only survived two and two-third innings, allowing seven hits and five runs while walking one and striking out no one. Wally Judnich was the only left-handed hitter in Boudreau’s lineup against Newhouser and his sharp curves. Virgil Trucks came on in relief and pitched a strong five and one-third innings of relief.
After allowing just one hit and striking out three in the first two innings, Feller looked to run into trouble in the bottom of the third inning. Hal Wagner led off the inning with a double and Trucks followed with a single to put runners on second and third with no one out.
In previous starts, Feller’s control might have led to a big inning, but today he got Johnny Lipon to pop out to second base, Eddie Mayo to fly out to left field and George Kell to fly out to right field to end the inning. Mayo’s fly to Clark in left field was deep enough for Wagner to score and cut the Tribe’s lead to 5-1, but Feller was able to minimize the damage.
And after the third inning, Feller really settled into the game and looked like the former ace of the staff. His fastball appeared to have more zip than recent starts and his curveball was sharper than previous starts. Without question, this was his best outing since he threw eleven innings in Washington on June 4. After the third inning, Feller only allowed two more hits until the ninth inning. Most importantly, he did not allow a home run. The big fly has been Rapid Robert’s Achilles heel this season.
Meanwhile, Trucks was just as strong, allowing just three hits in his extended work. Trailing by four runs, Trucks was pinch-hit for in the bottom of the eighth inning. Al Benton came on to pitch the final frame for the Tigers.
Hegan greeted Benton to the game with a home run left field to extend the Indians lead to 6-1. His fourth home run helped put the game out of reach for the Tribe and up his futile batting average to .216.
Feller started to labor in the ninth inning when he allowed a leadoff triple over Judnich’s head in center field. Vic Wertz followed with a single to right field to cut the score to 6-2 and the Tribe bullpen started to shuffle. However, Feller recovered, striking out Pat Mullin and getting Sam Vico to fly out for the first two outs of the inning. He really started to search for his control when he walked Wagner, advancing Wertz to second base and bringing pinch-hitter Hoot Evers to the plate.
Evers grounded to third and pinch-runner Paul Campbell was forced out at second base to end the game and give Feller (7-8) only his second win of the month. He now is just a game under even on his pitching record and the league leader in strikeouts. Feller scattered eight hits – half of his eight were in the third or ninth inning – while allowing just two runs, walking two and striking out eight. His 69 whiffs for the season surpass Bob Lemon’s 67, the former league leader.
Cleveland’s almost-all-righty lineup was paced by three hits from Boudreau and two more from Gordon. The Tribe pounded out eleven hits for the game. Boudreau and Keltner each drove home two runs apiece.
Feller’s lead in the strikeout race could be short lived because Lemon (10-6, 2.54) will take the mound tomorrow night for the Tribe in their first night game at Briggs Stadium. He’ll be opposed by 20-year-old right-hander Art Houtteman (2-9, 4.19) of the Tigers. Houtteman lost eight games in a row to start the season, but the Detroit sandlot star has looked much sharper of late.