Stephens Homer Gives Boston Walkoff Win; Red Sox 9, Indians 8

August 24, 1948

In a best-of-three battle for the right to first place entering the last month of the season, the two teams looked as evenly as matched as possible as the top two contenders in a heavyweight battle. However, the Boston Red Sox struck the final hit with a one-out, two-run homer by Vern Stephens in the bottom of the ninth inning to give Boston a 9-8 walkoff win over the Indians.

The final blast was the result of two floundering bullpens in the final two innings. More importantly, when part of the 34,172 fans in attendance stormed onto the field tonight to celebrate and carry Stephens off the field, they carried the rights to first place too. The blast was Stephens’ 27th home run of the season and league leading 115th RBI. Stephens’ biggest hit of the season came off the only pitch Russ Christopher threw.

Cleveland had a 5-4 lead after seven innings before the bullpen allowed the Red Sox to plate two runs in the eighth inning and tie the game at six. After the Tribe rallied for two runs in the top of the ninth, Ed Klieman, Gene Bearden and Christopher gave the Sox three more in the bottom of the ninth to suffer possibly the most devastating loss of the season.

What was tabbed as a marquee pitching matchup between scoreless Satchel Paige and Red Sox ace Joe Dobson quickly became about offense. After a scoreless first inning, Paige’s streak of 21 shutout innings snapped in the second. Bobby Doerr singled to left with one out and raced home on a double by Billy Goodman off the wall in left field, giving the Red Sox an early 1-0 lead.

However, the Tribe answered right back in the top of the third inning to take the lead with three runs of their own. After two outs were recorded, Dale Mitchell and Allie Clark each singled to center field to put runners on the corners. Lou Boudreau doubled home a run to tie the score before Ken Keltner singled in the hole to shortstop. Stephens made the play but threw wildly to first base. Clark would have scored on the hit, but Boudreau was able to come home on the errant throw, making it 3-1, Indians.

Paige could not hold the early lead, nor his place on the mound, in the bottom of the third inning. He hit Dobson squarely in the back to start the inning, then gave up a triple to Dom DiMaggio to center field. Dobson scored to cut the lead and DiMaggio came home when Johnny Pesky hit a sacrifice fly to right field tying the game. After back-to-back singles by Ted Williams and Stephens, Boudreau summoned for Steve Gromek from the Indians’ bullpen.

Gromek, who originally was slated to start this game before the Tribe’s poor weekend, got Doerr and Stan Spence out to strand his two inherited runners and keep the game tied. Gromek cruised through the next three innings, allowing just one hit until the seventh inning.

In the meantime, the Indians retook the lead. In the top of the fourth inning, Larry Doby tripled to center field like his counterpart DiMaggio the inning before. Eddie Robinson lofted a fly ball deep enough to center for Doby to gallop home and give the Indians a 4-3 lead.

In the fifth inning Mitchell and Clark again singled back-to-back to start the inning. Boudreau grounded into a fielder’s choice at second base to put runners on the corners before Keltner lined out to left field. Williams made a nice running backhanded catch on a liner that would have resulted in more tallies for the Tribe if he hadn’t made the play. He was in no position to set and throw and Mitchell sauntered home to make it 5-3 Indians.

After three and two-third innings of splendid relief from Gromek, the Red Sox finally weakened the right-hander when he gave up a two-out home run to DiMaggio. The solo blast scraped over the left field wall for his eighth homer of the season and cut the lead to 5-4, Tribe.

Dobson, despite trailing most of the game, survived seven innings, allowing five runs – four earned – on nine hits, while walking no one and striking out three. Trailing just by one, Red Sox manager Joe McCarthy went to Earl Johnson for the eighth inning after Dobson was pinch-hit for in the bottom of the seventh.

Johnson did little to help the Red Sox win, instead giving the Indians what appeared to be a valuable insurance run in the top of the eighth inning. Singles by Keltner and Joe Gordon put runners on first and second with no one out. After Doby grounded into a force out at second, putting runners on the corners, Keltner raced home on a wild pitch while Johnson pitched to Robinson giving the Indians a 6-4 lead.

If Boudreau the manager made a mistake sticking with Gromek too long, it was aided by Boudreau the player’s error on Stephens’ grounder to lead off the bottom of the eighth inning. Doerr singled to left to put two on and no one out, forcing Boudreau to call upon Klieman. Spence bunted the two runners into scoring position and Goodman flew out to shallow left field. Just as it looked like Klieman would get the Tribe out of the jam, Birdie Tebbetts singled to left field scoring both runs and tying the game at six.

McCarthy chose to stick with Johnson, leaving him in to hit in the eighth inning. He grounded out to end the Red Sox rally and quickly gave the Indians the lead back. Mitchell doubled to left field and Bob Kennedy, who had come on as a defensive replacement for Clark, singled to right field to put runners on the corners. McCarthy gave up on Johnson for the aging and struggling Tex Hughson.

His struggles continued as he gave up run scoring singles to Boudreau and Keltner, making it 8-6 Indians. They were the only two batters he faced, heading to the showers for Earl Caldwell, who got a pop up to third base and inning-ending double play to stop the Indians’ scoring. Doby’s grounder to second base that started the double play left Boudreau in scoring position and became a painful twin-killing moments later.

Klieman started the ninth, but allowed a double to DiMaggio and single to Pesky to put the tying runs on the corners. With Williams at the plate, Boudreau elected to matchup lefty Bearden and the left-handed Splinter. The matchup worked, getting Williams to fly out to left field, but DiMaggio was able to tag and score, making it 8-7 Tribe.

Boudreau went back to his bullpen one more time, calling upon Christopher for the right-on-right matchup with Stephens. The gangly sidewinder left a fastball belt high, however, and Stephens crushed the first pitch he saw over the left field fence for a game-winning, two-run homer.

As the dejected Tribe walked back to the dugout, Bostonians spilled onto the field to celebrate with their new first place team. Stephens’ heroics, combined with DiMaggio’s three extra base hits, capped a 12-hit offensive for Boston. The Indians are now losers of four games in a row with this one being their most crushing defeat.

The Indians’ 15 hits, including three by Mitchell and Keltner, were lost in the Boston celebration. Christopher (2-2) suffers the loss and his fourth blown save of the season, while Caldwell (2-5) earns just his second win of the year in relief.

Cleveland has little time to rebound. Tomorrow afternoon they’ll try to right the ship and regain momentum when Bob Lemon (16-11, 2.92) takes the mound against the Red Sox’s Denny Galehouse (6-6, 3.63). The Yankees loss to the Chicago White Sox leaves them two games behind Boston and Philadelphia is three and a half games out.

The Tribe can retake first place tomorrow if Lemon snaps their losing streak and halts the streaking Sox. Boston has now won eleven of their last 13 games.

Photo: Boston Public Library (Leslie Jones Collection)

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