by David Marasco
A few days ago the Rocket roared to 20-1, erasing Rube Marquard's 19-1 start in 1912 from its place as greatest start in baseball history. Here we look at Rube's 1912 winning streak.
Opening Day saw the New York Giants visit their long-time foes, the Brooklyn Dodgers. The event was a disaster. Brooklyn's Washington Park had been oversold, and thousands of ticket holders stormed the field. Over 25,000 occupied a venue designed for 19,000. According to the New York Times, in order to clear the infield, "The ball players of both teams took their bats and, forming into a long line, charged the crowd, but the fans fought back and refused to give way more than a few feet." In an action consistent with modern-day Dodger-Giant games, the police were called upon to control the unruly crowd. They managed to do just enough to get the game underway, "The police were not able to clear the whole playing field. In right, centre, and, left field the crowd pushed up to within a dozen yards of the bases and pop fly balls from the bats of the players were swallowed up in the mob and counted for two base hits." The game reflected the situation; it was an 18-3 blowout that was called by umpire Bill Klem after six innings. Rube Marquard was the beneficiary of the debacle, scoring his first win of the season.
The Giants visited the Braves of Boston for Marquard's second start. Once again, Rube was well supported by his teammates. Uprisings in the 5th and 6th innings gave Marquard an 8-0 lead. Some poor defense cost him his shutout, but he won the game by a final of 8-2.
Big Jeff Tesreau went to the mound against Brooklyn, and for the first eight innings he was pitching a shutout. He tired in the 9th, and went "as wild as a Fiji." After the leadoff hitter reached base on a controversial call, Tesreau walked the next pair to load the bases. A pinch-single halved the Giant's lead to 2-1. John McGraw had seen enough, and made the call out to the bullpen. In strode Rube Marquard. He was on his way to pitching the Giants out of the jam when he flagged down a come-backer and relayed the throw home. Art Wilson, the catcher, chased the runner back to third, but then threw the ball into left field. Two runs scored, dropping the Giants behind 3-2. While Marquard was able to stop the bleeding, the Giants would need some heroics to emerge victorious. A one-out Heinie Groh single set the stage for the goat Wilson. And as Hollywood would demand, the catcher sent a long fly ball down the right field line. The Brooklyn players believed the ball was foul, and did not leave their positions. Wilson stood at the plate watching the ball's trajectory, and then broke into a run. Rigler the umpire then declared the ball fair, a home run. "So much happened in the next few minutes," claimed the New York Times, "that if a moving picture machine had tried to record it the poor machine would have been carried off of the field a wreck." Brooklyn's manager, "Bad Bill" Dahlen, charged the umpire and a fist fight broke out between the two. When order was eventually restored, the Giants were declared the winners. Under the scorer's judgement the victory went to Tesreau. The rules for assigning wins and losses were different from the modern set, and often the decision would rest with the scorer. Because of this Marquard is credited with a 19-win streak rather than a magical 20-win gem.
The next start for Marquard saw him face Grover Cleveland Alexander of Philadelphia. In a dog of a game, the Giants rolled over the Phillies by a score of 11-4. Alexander left the game in the 5th, and the Phillies helped the Giants with eight errors.
After several days of rain, the Giants and Philadelphia finally played at the Polo Grounds. Once again the Phillies showed why they were in the cellar. The Giants posted another 11-4 victory. Marquard pitched well, "Rube Marquard was on his best behavior and in the seven innings he was in the game the Phillies were held far from the scoring dish. He allowed only four hits and closed up like a safety deposit vault when the Quakers dared to get on the bases."
Marquard did not start in this wild game against the Phillies, instead he pitched only one inning. The Phillies got on the board in the 1st against Red Ames due to the poor play at short by Tillie Schafer. "When Tillie is good, he's acceptable in the best families, but, say, brother, when he's bad just leave it to him to spill the soup on the new tablecloth. When he gets these streaks of nervousness the ball wafts through him like sunshine through an open window." McGraw's men fought back, and going into the bottom of the 9th were behind by the score of 6-5. Merkle's one-out single fanned the flames of hope in the hearts of the patrons of the Polo Grounds. Another single sent Merkle to third. Tillie Schafer then sent a ball back to the pitcher Alexander, who nailed Merkle at the plate for the second out. "Chief" Meyers then strode to the plate. With the winning run already on base, Alexander chose to walk the dangerous Meyers in favor of Marquard, who had just pitched a scoreless 9th. Rube never faced Alexander, instead Wilson batted in his place. With two outs and bases loaded McGraw decided to execute a triple steal. Even in those times the play was seen as being as rare as "whip sockets in automobiles." Amazingly the tying run crossed the plate safely. The great Mathewson was then sent into the game for the 10th, but was roughed up to the tune of a pair of runs. The Phillies walked away the winners, 8-6.
Rube beat the St. Louis Cardinals on the road for win number five. The Cardinals, like the Phillies earlier, were a team in disarray. As their last victory had been on April 26, less than 800 attended the game. Marquard once again pitched well, not allowing two hits in an inning until the 9th, in which he lost his shutout. The final score was 6-2.
The next stop for Marquard was Chicago. In a game that predates Wrigley Field Marquard benefited once again from generous hitting on the part of his teammates. After eight he was on top 10-0. He would have had a shutout if not for the poor play by his center fielder Fred Snodgrass. While poor weather was a mitigating factor, Snodgrass would ominously forecast his 1912 World Series muff. Snodgrass gave up two runs with his glove in the 8th and contributed to another run in the 9th. Marquard was on the top of his game, and the 10-3 final was counted as his sixth victory of the young season.
Marquard's seventh victory came in Pittsburgh. Once again he dominated early in the game, holding the Pirates scoreless through eight. In the 9th an errant throw from short let a man reach second, and with two outs a Honus Wagner single broke up Rube's shutout. With four runs for his side, Rube went another day without a defeat.
With three strong starts in the past two weeks Marquard took the mound at League Park in Cincinnati. The Reds at 22-6 were in front of the 19-6 Giants. The 12,000 that saw the game set an attendance mark for Monday baseball in the Queen City. While the Giants scored only three runs, they had men on base all day long. Rube helped his own cause with two hits, one of them leading to a run. Marquard pitched well under pressure and recorded a shutout, propelling the Giants into first place.
After their long road trip, the Giants made it back to the East Coast. Their first task was to visit always-unfriendly Brooklyn. Unlike Rube's previous two starts against the Dodgers, there was no need for the police. The Dodgers were bringing up the rear of the National League with a 9-18 record. Marquard once again saw good run support and was able to record his ninth victory by the score of 6-3.
The New Yorkers took two from the Phillies on Memorial Day. Rube pitched in the morning game, a rainy affair. After walking the first man of the game, Rube gave up three straight hits. It translated into a lone Philadelphia run. While the Phillies would hit Marquard "hard and often," they were unable to put another run on the board. The Phillies, being the Phillies, committed five errors that helped the Giants amass their seven runs. As the Giants entered June, they lead the National League with a 28-6 record, with 10 wins and no defeats credited to their ace, Rube Marquard.
The Cardinals visited the Polo Grounds and sent Slim Sallee to face Rube. A seven-run 3rd drove him from the mound, "[The Giants] crashed the ball with a terrific impetus which leaves no doubt in your noodle about who's going to win." Given a big cushion to play with, Marquard let up a little and allowed three runs.
The Reds next came to the Polo Grounds, and they decided to put their Rube against Marquard, with Rube Benton their starter. The Giants scratched out a run in the bottom half of the 1st and then both pitchers settled down and started putting zeros on the board. The Reds got active in their half of the 6th. After a one-out walk they recorded their first hit of the game. After Marsans' third steal of the day, the Reds had men at second and third. The Giants cut down the runner at the plate on a slow-roller to second, but the next batter hit a grounder to third that resulted in a throwing error and a run. Marquard did not have to wait long before he got help. In the bottom of the 7th the Giants erupted for four runs, and tacked on yet another in the 8th. Cincinnati's lone run in the 9th was but an afterthought, the Giants taking the day 6-2. Rube now had a dozen victories.
Unlucky number thirteen seemed to change Rube's fortunes, the victories that had come so easy to this point would become much harder to achieve. The Cubs had come to New York and got some help from the Giants. While Rube normally got a lot of help from his teammates, it was not so today, "although the Giants are not credited with many errors, they committed blunders that one would not associate with the highly intelligent." In the 2nd they let a pop fly fall between three fielders, the runner later scoring on a home run. In the 4th Josh Devore lead off with an extra-base hit, but was called out for not touching second because he attempted to cut the infield for a triple. The Giants went on to score a single run that inning, Devore's play costing them not only his run, but also a stupid out. The key play of the game came in the top of the 8th. Lew Richie, the Cubs pitcher who had limited the Giants to but one run, doubled to start the inning. Richie took third on an infield hit. After a short fly out, Richie tried to beat out a grounder to short. There was a collision at the plate, Meyers tagging Richie hard in the gut. Richie was called out and had to be helped to the bench. He was done for the day. With a 2-1 lead the Cubs sent Three-Finger Brown into the game to finish off the Giants. Marquard was to lead off the bottom of the 8th, but instead Shafer was sent to the plate in his place. He was able to coax a walk out of Brown. The next man popped out to third, but then Larry Doyle sent a double to left-center, scoring Shafer. Snodgrass followed with another double to take the lead. The Giants then slammed the door on the Cubs in the top of the 9th. Marquard was awarded the win.
Marquard was the talk of the sporting world when he faced Marty O'Toole of the Pirates. With a victory he would tie the modern day record for consecutive wins. But his task would not be easy. O'Toole was at the time the record holder for purchase price, his contract costing the Pirates $22,500 when bought from his minor league team. As a comparison, McGraw had shocked the world by paying $11,000 for Marquard in 1908. O'Toole's strength was the "aqueous toss," in other words, the then-legal spit ball. The pairing of the pitchers drew 25,000 to the Polo Grounds, a Monday record for the home field of the Giants. Both pitchers started out shaky. Rube walked his first opponent and the Pirates converted two outs into a runner on third. Honus Wagner then beat out an infield hit for the first run of the game. O'Toole's struggles were more serious. His first eleven pitches were out of the strike zone, and after a single strike he walked his third straight batter. The clean-up hitter then lifted a sacrifice fly to left. Devore scored on the play, but Doyle was nailed at third when Honus Wagner made the then unorthodox play of cutting off the throw to the plate. After one, the score was tied at one a piece. In the 3rd O'Toole hit a ball to right that might have been an inside-the-park homer had O'Toole been a little more courageous on the basepaths. Instead he landed at third. O'Toole's lack of aggressiveness again helped Marquard, as the Pirates pitcher froze when he had the chance to score on a hard-hit ball to the hole. Rube was able to strand the runner. In the 5th Rube wouldn't be so lucky and the Pirates were able to tack two more runs onto their tally. In the bottom of the 5th the Giants hit back with a run of their own. But then the skies opened up, dropping torrents of rain onto the playing field. As the regulation five innings had been played, if the umpires decided to call the game it would go down as a 3-2 Pittsburgh victory. Luckily for Rube, the downpour lasted for but fifteen minutes, and then play resumed. Both pitchers steadied for a while, with the Giants tying the game with a single run in the 8th. The game went into extra innings. A Giants rally was quashed in the 10th. In the top of the 11th, Honus Wagner lead off with a triple. Miller then walked. A sacrifice fly then sent Honus home for the go-ahead run and Miller to second. A ground out moved Miller up to the hot corner. In a mad dash Miller tried to steal home, but was nailed at the plate. The game went to the home-half of the 11th, with the Pirates leading by the score of 4-3. With one out the Giants got a single to center. A timely triple tied the score. With darkness threatening, Beals Becker approached the plate. He hit a slow roller between first and second to win the game. Marquard had won number fourteen.
Two days after throwing eleven innings, Rube was on the mound again. In a game at Boston, Red Ames had started, but lost effectiveness in the 8th. With the score tied and a man on second, Marquard was called upon to pitch. After he blanked the Braves in the 8th and 9th, he was given a lone run in the top of the 10th. Rube made this stand up for his fifteenth victory, the only relief victory in his streak.
The Braves were victims of Marquard two days later. In an uninteresting contest Rube took the day 5-2.
Once again Marquard would have to face Grover Cleveland Alexander, this time at the Polo Grounds. Things started out well for the Giants. They were able to bunch four hits in the 3rd to score a pair of runs. Marquard was perfect through four. But then the game tightened. Marquard gave up a solo shot in the 6th to cut the lead in half, and Alexander allowed but one more hit the entire game. The outcome looked in doubt in the 7th. The Phillies were able to load the bases with one out. After Alexander whiffed on three pitches, Paskert launched a ball into deep left. Snodgrass was able to make a game saving catch. It was the last big threat for Rube who would take home a 2-1 victory.
After four innings Rube enjoyed a 7-0 lead, and was able to stumble to a 8-6 victory over the lowly Boston Braves. This was not only Rube's eighteenth victory, but also twelve in a row for the Giants.
The Giants hosted the Brooklyn Dodgers and Napoleon Rucker. That Rucker was a better pitcher this afternoon is not to be doubted. He gave up but four hits and a lone walk. Of his two runs, one was due to poor fielding. Marquard gave up nine hits and five walks. Amazingly, even though there were almost always runners on base, Rube held the opposition to but one run. Between luck and good pitching he stranded fourteen runners that afternoon. The Giants took the second game of the double header for their sixteenth straight victory.
Rube Marquard stood at 19-0, needing one more win to break the all-time record for consecutive wins. The Giants stood at an incredible 56-13. Their next stop would be Chicago. July 8 was the only day in the 1912 season that a game was not scheduled to be played in New York. The Cubs sent Jimmy Lavender to the mound. Lavender had thrown 34 straight innings of shutout ball going into the game, and would surrender only five hits to the Giants. While many breaks went Rube's way during the streak, his luck turned sour against the Cubs. The final score of 7-2 does not indicate how close the game was. Merkle was thrown out at home twice. Of the seven runs, six were scored against Rube in his six innings. Two came in the 2nd, an inning that featured an interesting fielding play. With men on first and second, a grounder was hit to Groh at second. Groh decided to attempt to turn the double play by tagging the runner and throwing to first. However, the man advancing to second instead ran back in the direction of first. Groh then froze with the ball and not only did he fail to put out the batter running to first, he also hesitated on his throw to nail the runner attempting to score from second. In the end a double play possibility had panned out to a run scored and men on first and second. A pair of errors allowed the Cubs two runs without a hit in the 4th. Only the two runs against Rube in the sixth were untainted. With a little more luck, this loss could have been Rube's twentieth consecutive victory.
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