***editor’s note: this story was originally published on 9/23/15.
The 1908 season – like so many since – ended in disappointment for Cleveland baseball fans.
But it was a wild ride for the last two weeks of the season.
Going into the series with the Boston Red Sox on September 17, the Naps were in second place in the American League, tied with the Detroit Tigers in the win column with 78, but with four more losses, putting them two back with 16 to play.
The Naps – still named for player-manager Napolean Lajoie – took the first game, a 1-0 shutout, but gained no ground. The following day, pitcher Bob Rhoads was in less than top form, loading the bases on a couple occasions and letting in an unearned run in the second inning. He walked Doc Gessler, who advanced to second on a sacrifice by Jack Thoney. Heinie Wagner’s grounder was fumbled by Lajoie, putting Gessler on third, and a wild pitch scored him for the Red Sox to take the lead.
The Naps tied the game in the fourth when Lajoie tripled, and then was brought home by a Harry Bemis single. With one out in the eighth, Wilbur Good singled, and Bill Bradley hit a ball that almost went to the right field wall. A misplay by Gessler put runners at second and third, and a wild pitch by Frank Arellanes scored what turned out to be the winning run.
Rhoads finished the ninth for the win – and was surprised to find out he’d pitched a no-hitter, telling the Cleveland Plain Dealer “I rather thought you scorers would give [Tris] Speaker a hit on the grounder that Bradley fumbled (in the fourth inning).”
It was the first no-hitter in team history – but not Cleveland history. Hugh Daily had pitched one for the Cleveland Blues of the National League in 1883, and Cy Young had thrown one for the Spiders eleven years previous – to the day, in fact. In 1904, Rhoads had taken a no-hitter to the ninth inning and, with two outs, gave up a single to Chick Stahl to spoil it (he retired the next batter for the win).
Rhoads – and fans – were more happy with the news that the Tigers had fallen to the Yankees. “All I was thinking about was winning the game,” he said.
It took nearly eight full seasons in the American League for the team to get its first no-hitter. It would take another two weeks before its second. In that time, the Naps won eight of ten games, but were still a half-game behind the Tigers – and just half a game ahead of the White Sox, who were coming to town for a two-game series.
Joss faced off against Big Ed Walsh, one of the premiere pitchers of his day. Walsh had a great game, striking out 15. But Joss gave what might be the greatest pitching performance in major league history, throwing a perfect game on just 72 pitches. Fans watched in quiet reverence, so enrapt in Joss’ performance that some wouldn’t even take time to light cigars.
The crowd tried to carry Joss off the field after the game, but he bolted for the locker room, saying afterward, “I am taking no chances. Suppose they let me drop? The season isn’t over yet.”
But the Naps would get no closer, ending the season half a game out. The Tigers played one fewer game, and backed into the pennant. Joss and Rhoads both watched the World Series between the Cubs and Tigers – as members of the press.
The following year, Major League Baseball decided that any game having a mathematical bearing on the pennant race had to be made up.
Photo: Sporting News