September 24, 1948
It’s crowded at the top.
A big name star or personality may feel crowded by the people around him or her, but in the case of the Cleveland Indians they’re crowded by the top of the standings.
This afternoon the Indians lost 4-3 at the hands of the Detroit Tigers in front of 10,464 fans at Briggs Stadium. Bob Lemon was not at his best and wild with control early, while the Tribe offense could not muster a big inning despite three home runs. Fred Hutchinson stifled the Tribe early and only allowed solo home runs through a cold, cutting wind.
The loss, combined with New York’s 9-6 victory over Boston in the Bronx, leaves all three teams tied atop the American League standings at 91-56 with just seven games remaining on the schedule. It’s the latest that three teams have been tied for the top spot that can be found on record. This morning representatives from each club and the American League president met in Chicago to decide playoff formulas, if necessary.
As it stands after 147 games, they look necessary.
Cleveland backed into the three-way tie in part because they could not stop Vic Wertz and Dick Wakefield when the Tigers had runners in scoring position. Detroit took an early lead in the bottom of the first inning when Neil Berry singled to right field and advanced to second on a wild pitch when Wertz was at the plate. He popped out to third base for the second out and Pat Mullin walked to put two on. Wakefield singled through the infield and into center field to plate Berry and give Detroit a quick 1-0 lead.
The Tribe had chances to score in both the second and fourth innings, but Hutchinson was able to subdue the rally each time. Ken Keltner singled to center field and Wally Judnich walked to start the second inning before Hutchinson struck out the side. Eddie Robinson, Jim Hegan and Lemon each went down flailing with a runner in scoring position. In the fourth, Keltner and Judnich each singled with one out to create a scoring situation, but Hutchinson got Robinson to pop out to the catcher and Hegan to fly to center field to end the rally.
Cleveland finally cracked the scoreboard in the fifth inning and took the lead in the sixth due to the long ball. Larry Doby crushed a solo home run with two outs. The blast carried 410 feet through a brisk wind blowing in. Doby’s 14th home run of the season landed in the right center field seats and tied the game at one.
An inning later, Keltner gave the Indians the lead on another prestigious home run. Keltner’s 29th shot gave the Indians a 2-1 lead and landed in the upper deck of the left field seats.
Detroit answered right back in the bottom of the sixth and tied the game, however. Wakefield doubled off Lemon to start the inning and moved to third base on a sacrifice bunt by Eddie Mayo. Sam Vico then lofted a fly ball deep enough for Wakefield to run home and tie the game at two.
The Tigers tallied the runs that would seal the fate of the Indians’ seven-game winning streak in the seventh inning. Hutchinson singled to left field to start the inning and advanced to second on Johnny Lipon’s bunt. After Berry walked, Wertz issued the crushing blow – a double that sliced into the left field corner and allowed both runners to hustle home, making the game 4-2 in favor of the Tigers.
That was all for Lemon (20-13), who did not have his best control today. He pitched six and one-third innings, allowing four runs on seven hits and four walks. He only struck out a pair as he fought control issues in the wind all afternoon. Sam Zoldak finished the seventh inning and pitched the eighth.
Joe Gordon gave the Indians hope in the eighth inning when he crushed his 30th home run of the season. The solo homer cut the deficit to 4-3, but also broke the Indians record for home runs by a right-handed hitter in a season.
Hutchinson, though, did not allow another Tribesman to reach base. He set down four in a row after Gordon’s homer to go the distance for the win. Hutchinson (13-10) pitched nine innings, allowing three runs on seven hits and two walks while striking out five.
The defeat drops the Indians into a three-way tie, but also creates immediate worry about winning the series. With their ace on the mound against Hutchinson, the Tribe figured to take the first game. Now, with Hal Newhouser looming on Sunday, the Indians will need solid efforts the next two days if they hope to take the series and keep pace with the other contenders.
Tomorrow afternoon the Indians send southpaw Gene Bearden (16-7, 2.74) to the mound against Detroit’s Virgil Trucks (13-12, 3.87). A win tomorrow by the Indians will guarantee another day in first place. With Boston and New York dueling in the Bronx, one is certain to drop off the trail.