August 3, 1948
History was made a couple of times Tuesday night at Cleveland Municipal Stadium. Satchel Paige made the first pitching start in the major leagues by an African American in the modern era and 72,434 fans showed up to see him defeat the Senators 5-3.
Paige gave the Indians seven strong innings after some uncharacteristic wildness in the first two innings and the Indians blew Early Wynn out of the game in the fifth inning. The crowd of more than 72,000 fans becomes the largest crowd ever to see a night game in Cleveland by more than 7,000 fans. Tuesday’s throng of fans fell just 2,313 fans short of the largest night crowd ever.
The ageless right-hander has played in front of large crowds his entire career, but nerves might have got the best of Paige in the first two innings. He was surprisingly wild. After 18 innings of relief and only issuing two unintentional walks, Paige walked Al Kozar and Gil Coan with one out in the first inning. Bud Stewart then came to the plate and rapped a triple to the left center field fence allowing them to both score and the Senators to take a 2-0 lead. Paige stranded Stewart at third base when he popped up Mickey Vernon and Tom McBride to end the inning.
Cleveland started to scratch back in the bottom of the fourth inning when Larry Doby walked to start the inning and raced home when Ken Keltner doubled down the line. The double hit the left field stands and Senators manager Joe Kuhel thought a fan touched the ball, but umpire Ed Rommel ruled differently. Had Rommel felt the ball was touched by a fan, Doby would have been stopped at third base. Instead, Doby scored and the Indians trailed just 2-1.
The Nats got their run back in the top of the fifth inning when Wynn doubled to right field to start the inning. After Eddie Yost grounded back to Paige, Kozar singled Wynn to third and he could score when Coan flew out to deep left field. Wynn made the score 3-1 with the aid of his bat, but his arm on the mound brought the Tribe back into the game.
Allie Clark singled to left field with an out in the bottom of the fifth inning. Doby took the ball the other way with a double to left field and Clark scored, cutting the lead to 3-2. The back-to-back hits forced Kuhel to remove Wynn from the game in favor of Forrest Thompson.
Keltner greeted Thompson with a single to left to advance Doby to third with one out. After Joe Gordon popped out in foul ground at third base, Lou Boudreau singled to right field to bring Doby home and tie the game at three. Boudreau’s key two-out base hit was his 68th run batted in on the season.
Wynn lasted just four and one-third innings, allowing three runs on five hits, four walks and a strikeout.
Thompson coughed up the lead in the bottom of the sixth inning when Jim Hegan hit a solo home run to left field giving the Tribe a 4-3 lead. Hegan’s ninth homer of the season gave the Tribe a lead they would not relinquish.
Walt Masterson replaced Thompson on the mound the next inning and did little to stop the Indian offense. Masterson, this year’s All-Star Game winner, actually walked the Tribe to their last run. He walked Gordon, uncorked a passed ball, then walked Boudreau before getting Eddie Robinson to ground out to shortstop. After Hegan was intentionally walked, Boudreau sent Hal Peck to pinch-hit for Paige. Boudreau’s gamble paid off when Peck grounded to second base, forcing out Hegan, but there was no relay throw to first and Gordon scored to make it 5-3, Indians.
Paige (2-1) left after seven innings, allowing three runs while scattering seven hits and four walks and striking out six. He provided a solid start, something Indians starters have struggled with since the All-Star break until the last few games. Ed Klieman worked the final two innings, logging his third save of the season. He did not allow a hit and walked just one.
Paige’s victory was witnessed in front of the second largest night crowd in big league history. Only the Yankees’ 74,747 on May 26, 1947, against the Boston Red Sox brought more fans to the gate for an evening contest than tonight’s game. Tonight’s game was the fifth game of more than 70,000 fans to see an Indians home game this season. The Indians are now only 5,371 short of their attendance record of 1,521,978 set last season.
The Tribe’s win, combined with results from around the league, puts the four pennant chasing teams in a virtual four-way tie. The Indians, Yankees, Red Sox and Athletics are each tied in the standings, yet the Tribe holds a two-percentage point lead over New York, four over Boston and six over Philadelphia.
Cleveland could temporarily fall out of first place tomorrow when they are idle. Boston takes on the Brownies in St. Louis as the only American League game. When the Tribe resumes play on Thursday afternoon, lefty Gene Bearden (8-3, 2.92) will take on nemesis Ray Scarborough (9-5, 2.50) of the Senators. The right-hander is 2-0 against the Tribe in three starts this season.
Photo: Cleveland Memory Project