October 1, 1948
Indians manager Lou Boudreau was clear after the game that his team was not tight on the field this afternoon. If they weren’t, they might have reason to be tight now.
Cleveland held a one-run lead with just two outs to go in Friday’s game against the Detroit Tigers before three walks and two errors set the Tribe back, 5-3, at Municipal Stadium in front of 15,988. Had the Indians won, they would have assured themselves at least a tie for the American League pennant.
“No, the team wasn’t tightened up,” Boudreau said after the game. “The breaks went against us in the late innings.”
Instead, Cleveland drops the pivotal series opener against Detroit and now leads Boston and New York by just one game with two remaining to play. The Red Sox and Yankees were idle today, but play each other the next two days. In addition to the ninth inning meltdown, Cleveland squandered an opportunity to blow the game open in the sixth inning, but could not find the key hit.
Cleveland took an early lead in the bottom of the first inning when singles by Dale Mitchell and Larry Doby set the table. Boudreau sacrificed them both to scoring position and Mitchell was able to race home on a slow grounder hit by Joe Gordon. Third baseman Eddie Mayo’s only play was to throw to first base and retire Gordon and the Indians took a 1-0 lead.
Cleveland held the slim one-run advantage for five innings behind starter Bob Lemon. The Tribe’s ace had trouble early, working around two singles in the first inning and a double in the second inning, but settled down and was cruising through the Tigers until the sixth inning.
Lemon walked Johnny Lipon to start the inning. Neil Berry bunted him to second before Vic Wertz tripled over Doby’s head in center field. Doby got turned around and eventually fell in the muddy outfield. The outfield turf has not been as solid since the Cleveland Browns began play earlier this month. Wertz’s triple tied the game at one.
Pat Mullin walked to put runners on the corners before Dick Wakefield grounded slowly to second. Gordon tried to turn the double play, but Boudreau’s throw back to first base appeared in time but umpire Bill McKinley called him safe and Wertz scored, giving Detroit a 2-1 lead.
Cleveland quickly tied the game on an unearned run in the bottom of the sixth inning. With one out Boudreau singled to left field. Gordon chopped back to starting pitcher Virgil Trucks, who threw wildly to second base trying to start a double play. Instead of an inning-ending twin-killing, the Indians had two on and only one out.
Trucks walked Ken Keltner to load the bases, but then walked Wally Judnich, too. Judnich’s free ride forced in a run and tied the game at two. Cleveland had a prime chance to blow the game open, but Hal Peck, pinch-hitting for Eddie Robinson, was overaggressive and swung at pitches out of the strike zone until striking out. Jim Hegan ended the inning with a fielder’s choice groundout to shortstop and the golden opportunity disappeared.
“We had our big chance in the sixth and couldn’t take advantage of it,” Boudreau said.
But in the seventh the Indians retook the lead. Mitchell singled to center field with one out and advanced to second base on Doby’s groundout to first base. Boudreau then cracked a two-out double to give the Indians a 3-2 lead. Boudreau’s 34th double and 104th RBI gave the Indians what looked to be enough to win the game and clinch at least a tie for the American League pennant.
But in the top of the ninth inning, the wheels came off the tracks. Mayo started the inning with a slow roller down the third base line. Lemon fielded and made an ill-advised throw to first as he slipped and fell to the turf. The throw hit Mayo in the back and he was able to scamper to second base on the wild throw.
Paul Campbell pinch-ran for Mayo and Johnny Bero pinch-hit for Sam Vico. Lemon struck out Bero for the first out of the inning, but walked Johnny Groth, who pinch-hit for Bob Swift. Tigers manager Steve O’Neill sent his third straight pinch-hitter, Joe Ginsberg, to the plate for Trucks and Lemon walked him to load the bases with the Tribe still clinging to the lead with one out.
Boudreau sent Lemon to the showers, unable to finish for the fourth straight time, in favor of Russ Christopher. Christopher was brought on to induce a ground ball, but instead he walked Lipon and let the Tigers tie the game at three without the ball leaving the infield.
With the infield in and the bases loaded, Christopher did get his double play ball but the Indians couldn’t convert. Keltner fielded Berry’s grounder, threw home to Hegan for the first out and his relay was on target but Judnich dropped the ball. Had Judnich caught Hegan’s throw, the inning would have ended still tied. But as fate would have it, the Tribe’s mistake multiplied a hitter later when Jimmy Outlaw singled to right field, bringing Lipon and Ginsberg around to score two unearned runs.
Just two outs from clinching a tie, Boudreau did not regret the decision to bring in Christopher.
“There wasn’t even a question in my mind about the man for that spot,” Boudreau said. “Christopher has been effective all season at making them hit the ball into the ground.”
Art Houtteman came on and got three ground balls to end the game with the Indians up just one game with two remaining. It was Houtteman’s tenth save of the season. Trucks (14-13) earned the win, pitching eight innings, allowing three runs – two earned – on seven hits and three walks while striking out six.
Lemon (20-14) suffers his third straight loss, pitching eight and one-third innings, allowing five runs – three earned – on seven hits and six walks while striking out five.
The pennant’s winner won’t be decided until Sunday with today’s outcome. Cleveland can still win the pennant outright with two wins this weekend. They may have received a small break after the game when O’Neill announced Fred Hutchinson will not make his scheduled start tomorrow. He’s been battling a fever of over 100 degrees and is now shut down for the season.
Right-hander Lou Kretlow (2-0, 3.60) will replace Hutchinson in just his second start of the season. Kretlow allowed five runs in an inning and two-thirds of relief last Saturday in Detroit against the Indians. Rookie southpaw Gene Bearden (18-7, 2.64) will try to get one of the two necessary wins for the Tribe this weekend when he battle Kretlow Saturday afternoon.
Photo: Cleveland Memory Project