September 13, 1948
The Indians blew a 2-0 lead, allowing two runs in the eighth inning to tie the game and another in the ninth to lose a heart-breaking game, 3-2, to the St. Louis Browns in a pennant race where every game matters.
Yet, it all seemed secondary or trivial after the bottom of the second inning.
Indians starting pitcher Don Black collapsed during his first at bat and was helped from the field by his teammates after suffering an apparent brain hemorrhage. Black was Cleveland’s spot starter in the replay of Sunday afternoon’s 3-3 tie that was called due to darkness. During his at bat Black fouled a ball off from Browns’ starting pitcher Bill Kennedy, then staggered back a step or two before collapsing.
Black was offered a stretcher but left the field with the help of his teammates and was immediately rushed to the hospital. He lost consciousness on his way to St. Vincent’s Charity Hospital and has yet to regain awareness. The smallest crowd of the season, just 7,008, sat silent while coaches and trainers attended to Black.
Cleveland had just spotted Black the lead in the bottom of the second inning. Thurman Tucker doubled off Kennedy to start the inning. He laced a would-be single into the right field corner and made a hustle play to take second base and when Dick Kokos threw wildly from right field to second base, Tucker was able to advance to third base. Wally Judnich lined to right field and Tucker sprinted home scoring the unearned run and giving the Tribe a 1-0 lead.
Bob Muncrief took over for the stricken Black in the top of the third inning. Black had allowed just two hits and struck out three in his two innings of work. Muncrief picked up where his fallen teammate had left off, shutting down the Browns. He allowed two singles with two outs in the third inning but got Kokos to pop out to shortstop to end the inning. He allowed just one hit until the seventh after the third inning jam.
In the bottom of the fourth inning the Tribe added to their lead when Joe Gordon crushed a solo home run into the upper deck in left field. Gordon’s 26th home run gave the Indians a 2-0 lead and added his name to an elite list of sluggers to reach the upper levels at Municipal Stadium. Gordon joins a list that includes Dale Mitchell, Ted Williams, Jeff Heath and Joe DiMaggio.
In the seventh inning Muncrief ran into trouble when he allowed back-to-back singles to Hank Arft and Paul Lehner to start the inning. Indians manager Lou Boudreau made the move to the bullpen, calling upon Steve Gromek. Gromek entered the game and induced a double play from Les Moss to quiet the rally. After walking Don Lund, he struck out Whitey Platt with runners on the corners to keep the Tribe leading, 2-0.
Kennedy pitched six solid innings, allowing just two runs – one earned – on five hits and four walks while striking out one. Karl Drews came on in relief after pitching just two days ago on Saturday, shutting down the Indians for two innings.
Muncrief did a fine job of long relief, pitching four solid innings and allowing just five hits. His four scoreless innings left the Indians in line to win their eighth straight game.
However, Gromek quickly ran into trouble in the eighth inning. Bob Dillinger singled to center field to start the inning and after Al Zarilla flew out to right field, Jerry Priddy doubled to left, putting the tying runs in scoring position. Boudreau went back to his bullpen, calling on Sam Zoldak as part of a double switch with Bob Kennedy replacing Allie Clark in right field. Zoldak has been strong in relief for the Indians during their seven-game winning streak, but Kokos greeted him to the game with a single to left that scored both runners and tied the game.
The Indians bullpen continued to falter in the ninth inning, giving away the lead and the game. Lehner singled to left field to start the inning. Moss bunted, trying to sacrifice, but Zoldak threw the sure out down the right field line and allowed both runners to advance into scoring position.
Boudreau went back to his bullpen for his fifth pitcher of the afternoon in Russ Christopher. He was able to get Sam Dente to ground to shortstop, but Boudreau muffed the grounder and everyone was safe. With the bases loaded and no one out, Joe Schultz pinch-hit for Drews and singled to right field, plating Lehner and giving the Browns a 3-2 lead.
Cleveland was lucky to get out of the inning allowing just one run. Dillinger grounded to third and Keltner threw home for a Keltner-to-Hegan-to-Judnich double play. Gene Bearden came in to match up against Zarilla and got him to pop out to Hegan to end the inning.
Fred Sanford came on to work the ninth inning and record his second save of the season when he set the Tribe down, three-up, three-down. Eddie Robinson struck out looking to end the contest. Zoldak (10-10) absorbed the loss in relief for the Indians, while Drews’ (5-5) two scoreless innings in the seventh and eighth were good enough to register the victory.
The defeat leaves the Indians three games in back of the Boston Red Sox for the pennant, but players seemed much more concerned about their fallen teammate. Boudreau and team president Bill Veeck each left the stadium quickly after the end of the game and headed for the hospital to get news on Black.
Cleveland will have little time to collect their thoughts and focus their prayers to Black before having to take the field again tomorrow. The Indians face off against the New York Yankees Tuesday afternoon for a single game. It’s the last matchup between the two teams this season.
Like every Indians-Yankees matchup, a large crowd is expected, even for a September weekday afternoon game. In regards to attendance, more Indians fans have seen the St. Louis Browns play than St. Louis fans. After today’s game, 367,763 fans have paid to see the two teams play on nine dates in Cleveland. Only 310,544 persons have paid to see the Browns in 54 dates at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis.
Bob Lemon (20-11, 2.61) will try to add to his league leading win total against the Yankees’ left-hander Eddie Lopat (15-9, 3.51). New York is currently in second place in the American League, a game ahead of Cleveland.
Photo: Cleveland Memory Project