Archive for October 29th, 2010

Curly Ogden’s game seven start was really a ruse perpetrated by Senators’ manager Bucky Harris against his Giants' counterpart, John McGraw.

As mentioned in the previous post about Matt Cain’s somewhat historic World Series performance, the Giants’ right hander became only the fourth starter to have a scoreless World Series debut, but fail to throw a complete game. Two of the other pitchers, Juan Marichal and Orel Hildebrand, were forced to depart early because of injury, but the really interesting story deals with the other member of the fraternity: Warren Harvey “Curley” Ogden.

Curly Ogden was an unaccomplished young starter when he was acquired from the Philadelphia Athletics on May 23, 1924. Upon joining the Senators, however, Ogden became a meaningful contributor to the team’s pennant aspirations, going 9-5 with a 2.58 ERA in 108 innings. Nonetheless, once the World Series came around, Ogden wasn’t expected to see the light of day against John McGraw’s mighty New York Giants, who were appearing in their fourth consecutive Fall Classic.

The Senators rotation was led by the legendary Walter Johnson, but also featured the solid duo of George Mogridge and Tom Zachary. Even Firpo Marberry, a highly effective starter/reliever hybrid was ahead of Ogden on the rotation depth chart, so there really was little hope for him to make any kind of meaningful impact in the World Series.

Once game seven rolled around, however, Senators’ player/manager Bucky Harris made what seemed like a curious decision. Although Johnson and Zachary had each thrown nine innings in games 5 and 6, respectively, Harris still had Mogridge available for the finale. In his game four start, Mogridge limited the Giants to two runs over seven innings to help tie up the Series, so it seemed only natural that he would toe the rubber for the deciding seventh game. Instead, Harris went with the untested Ogden, who hadn’t so much as warmed up over the first six games.

The casualties of shell-ridden “pitchers’ hill” have been so heavy upon both baseball armies that the two generals will be compelled to put their fortunes up to the youths of virtually untried capacity in today’s deciding game.” – Associated Press, October 10, 1924, writing about the Virgil Barnes vs. Curley Ogden matchup slated for game seven of that year’s World Series.

Bill Terry was the impetus for Harris' odd strategy.

In reality, Harris had no intention of letting Ogden go very deep into the game. In fact, he didn’t intend to let him go past one batter. Perhaps eager to match wits with the legendary McGraw, who had won three championships and 10 pennants, the 27-year old Harris had planned to set a clever trap for the Little Napolean, and Ogden was the bait. You see, the Giants were a prolific 73-45 against right handers, but managed to go only 20-15 against southpaws. And, in the center of the Giants’ of lineup was a young left handed hitter named Bill Terry, who would go onto a Hall of Fame career, but at the moment struggled mightily against southpaws. With that in mind, Harris hatched a unorthodox plan. He would have Ogden, a right hander, start the game, and lock McGraw into a lineup with Terry batting fifth. Then, after one batter, he would go to his lefty Mogridge and force McGraw to react.

It was Bill Terry, Giant first baseman, who threw the scare into Harris and caused him to resort to this strategy to get him out of the way…And this strategy worked out perfectly. McGraw had shifted his team to combat Mogridge and Terry was out.” – Associated Press, “Psychology in World Series”, November 11, 1924

According to a newspaper account after the series that cited an unnamed team source, Harris had actually scripted the entire game, planning ahead of time which pitchers would be used and for how long. The only deviations occurred when Ogden struck out the first batter, which forced Harris to hold off on his planned pitching change, and the game went into extra innings, which required the veteran Johnson to throw four innings on only one day’s rest. 

Despite all of Harris’ maneuvering, the Senators’ World Series fate rested on the great Walter Johnson…just as everyone had expected, albeit under much different circumstances. After suffering losses in games 1 and 5, Johnson was disappointed to be skipped over in the final game, but like a true legend, he responded with four shutout innings in relief and picked up the victory when Earl McNeely’s RBI double in the bottom of the 12th clinched the World Series.

Although it still took a late game comeback and a heroic relief outing from the tired Johnson, Harris’ plan was widely credited with helping to steer the Senators to victory (his .333/.353/.515 line in 34 PAs and HR in game 7 probably didn’t hurt). By taking the bold stroke, Harris was essentially able to control McGraw’s use of the dangerous Terry, who had an OPS of 1.315 in the series. After watching Terry make two weak outs against the lefty Mogridge, the Giants’ skipper eventually relented and sent Irish Meusel to the plate in the sixth inning. Ready for the scenario, Harris responded with his relief ace Marberry, who if not for two errors would have escaped from the sixth largely unscathed. All told, the right-handed tandem of Marberry and Johnson pitched seven innings without surrendering an unearned run, so it’s only natural to wonder what might have been for the Giants if the potent left handed bat of Terry wasn’t removed so soon.

Was Bucky Harris the first sabermetric manager? And, if the strategy had backfired, would he be have been ridiculed for trusting his “binder”? Who knows…but for at least one game, the upstart Harris had outfoxed an old master and in the process made Curly Ogden a permanent part of World Series lore.

Bucky Harris not only guided the Senators to victory in the 1924 World Series as manager, but he also led with his bat. Here, he crosses the plate in the fourth inning of game 7 after hitting a HR to give his team a 1-0 lead.

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One night after Cliff Lee bombed in the first game of the 2010 World Series, a new postseason pitching star was born. Just as he has done all October, Matt Cain shut down the Rangers’ offense for 7 2/3 innings, helping to propel the Giants to a 2-0 series lead. With his latest scoreless effort, Cain has now thrown 21 1/3 consecutive shutout innings, the fourth highest total by any pitcher in one postseason.

Scoreless Postseasons

Pitcher ER IP Year
Waite Hoyt 0 27 1921
Christy Mathewson 0 27 1905
Kenny Rogers 0 23 2006
Matt Cain 0 21 1/3 2010
Carl Hubbell 0 20 1933
Mike Boddicker 0 18 1983
Whitey Ford 0 18 1960
Pedro Martinez 0 17 1999
Joe McGinnity 0 17 1905
Duster Mails 0 15.2 1920

Note: Minimum 15 IP
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Although Cain remains a long way from Mariano Rivera’s record of 33 1/3 scoreless innings in the postseason, he is within striking distance of Christy Mathewson’s and Jonathan Papelbon’s record of 27 consecutive shutout innings to begin a postseason career. Among those pitchers who have never given up a postseason run, however, Cain has now surpassed the former record of 20 scoreless innings, which was set by Joe Niekro over two postseason starts with the Astros in 1980 and 1981 as well as a relief appearance with the Twins in the 1987 World Series.

Another interesting aspect about Cain’s masterpiece was the fact that he wasn’t allowed to complete. Although Bruce Bochy’s decision to lift him made perfect sense from a strategic standpoint (he brought in a lefty to counteract the dangerous Josh Hamilton), it stands out like a sore thumb from a historical perspective. In the 106 year history of the World Series, Matt Cain became the first pitcher to go unscored upon in his World Series debut, but not pitch a complete game shutout (with three exceptions explained below).

Even though he wasn’t given the chance to complete his masterpiece, Cain still became the first pitcher to have a spotless World Series debut since Boston’s Jim Lonborg shutout the Cardinals in game two of the 1967 World Series. It would have been nice to see Cain go the distance, but his effort isn’t really diminished much by failing to do so. After all, it’s been several years since the advent of pitch counts and relief specialists, and during that span, no first timer has ever been scoreless in the World Series.

Leaving Early: Pitchers Who Departed Scoreless Outings in WS Debut

Player Date Game Tm IP H Reason for Departure
Juan Marichal 10/8/62 WS#4 SFG 4 2 Injured bunting in 5th.
Oral Hildebrand 10/8/39 WS#4 NYY 4 2 Pain in his side.
Curly Ogden 10/10/24 WS#7 WSH 1/3 0 Part of a strategic plan.*
Matt Cain 10/28/10 WS#2 SFG 7 2/3 4 Removed for RP.

*For more information on Ogden’s brief start, click here.
Source: Baseball-reference.com and various newspaper archives

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