October 4, 1948
After five and a half months and 155 big games, the Cleveland Indians finally won their biggest game of the season and clinched the American League pennant.
The Tribe’s Gene Bearden used an array of knuckleballs to keep the Boston Red Sox off balance most of the afternoon and Lou Boudreau and Ken Keltner provided the necessary offense to give Cleveland an 8-3 victory in a winner-take-all one game playoff. Bearden’s start was kept secret until this morning and was not confirmed until he went to the bullpen to warm up in front of the 33,957 Boston fans.
Bearden’s fine effort on the mound was rewarded with his jubilant teammates carrying him off the field. Had all the stars of this game been carried off the field, there would not have been enough teammates left to do the hoisting.
Boston countered with a surprise starter of its own, veteran Denny Galehouse. Red Sox manager Joe McCarthy bypassed Ellis Kinder and Mel Parnell, just as Boudreau passed over Bob Feller and Bob Lemon.
Cleveland and Boston traded opening tallies in the first inning. Boudreau crushed his 17th home run into the screen above the left field wall in the top of the first inning to give the Indians an early 1-0 lead. In the bottom half of the inning Boston plated their only earned run of the game when Johnny Pesky doubled to right center and scored when Vern Stephens singled through the left side with two outs.
Bearden could have run into more trouble in the second inning when Stan Spence walked, but Billy Goodman struck out and Jim Hegan threw Spence out stealing for a double play. Birdie Tebbetts then singled to left and Galehouse walked before Bearden got Dom DiMaggio to ground out to third base to end the inning. Both Lemon and Feller were stirring in the bullpen while Boston tried to score. They each lightly threw for most of the game, but never came close to entering the game after the second frame.
The Tribe took control of the game and extended their stay in Boston for the World Series in the fourth inning. Boudreau and Gordon each singled to left field to start the inning before Keltner blasted a three-run homer over the wall in left. Keltner’s 31st homer of the season gave the Indians a 4-1 lead quickly in the inning.
McCarthy headed to the bullpen to bring in Kinder in relief of Galehouse (8-8). He could not get an out in the fourth inning, allowing four runs on five hits and a walk.
Doby welcomed Kinder to the game with a double off the wall. Bob Kennedy bunted him to third base for the inning’s first out. Hegan grounded to shortstop and Doby broke for home, giving the Indians a 5-1 lead after four innings.
Boudreau tallied another run for the Tribe in the fifth when he lofted his second home run of the game. The skipper’s 18th homer of the season was a solo blast that extended the Indians’ lead to 6-1 and sucked any remaining life out of the Boston faithful.
The Red Sox tried to get back into the game in the sixth by taking advantage of an Indian miscue. With one out Ted Williams lofted a high pop up into shallow center field that second baseman Joe Gordon dropped. The botched sure out gave Boston a base runner and, with two outs, Bobby Doerr hit a home run to left field to cut the score to 6-3, Cleveland. Doerr’s 27th homer of the season was the fourth of the afternoon to land in the screen above the wall in left field.
Cleveland tacked on an insurance run in both the eighth and ninth innings.
The Tribe took advantage of a Boston error in the eighth. Doby started the inning with a double to left and advanced to third on a sacrifice by Kennedy. After Hegan was intentionally walked, Doby was picked off third base when it appeared Bearden may have missed a bunt sign. Bearden then lofted a fly ball to left field that Williams dropped. With two outs and Hegan running from second, he was able to easily score on the error.
In the ninth inning, Eddie Robinson – on for defensive purposes at first base – singled with Boudreau to start the inning. Both advanced into scoring position on a wild pitch. Gordon was intentionally walked to load the bases and Keltner grounded into a double play, but Robinson was able to score and extend the lead to 8-3.
Bearden worked around a one-out walk in the ninth to retire Goodman and Tebbetts for the final outs of the game and to clinch the pennant. The often quiet and conservative Tribe demonstrated much excitement and cheer as they hugged and celebrated their well-earned accomplishment of the last five and a half months.
Veterans Boudreau and Keltner – neither of whom has made a postseason appearance – paced the Indian attack. Boudreau was 4-for-4 with two runs batted in, including his two homers. Keltner was 3-for-5 with three runs driven in from his homer in the fourth inning.
Bearden (20-7) was the story of the afternoon. The castoff from the New York Yankees and Purple Heart recipient that was never supposed to pitch again after World War II scattered just five hits and allowed three runs – just one earned – in a complete game effort. A surprise starter, Bearden becomes the American League’s third 20-game winner, joining Lemon, who has 20, and Hal Newhouser of Detroit, who has 21.
Cleveland will remain in Boston for the World Series. The first two games will be played Wednesday and Thursday at Braves Field before the two teams will travel to Cleveland for three games this weekend on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. If necessary, the two teams will return to Boston for the final two games next Monday and Tuesday. Cleveland has already been made a heavy favorite by oddsmakers.
The Braves were 91-62, winning the National League by six and a half games over the St. Louis Cardinals. They will likely start major league baseball’s most victorious pitcher of the 1948 season, 24-game winner Johnny Sain.
Photo: AP Photo