Not long ago, I wrote a series of articles about the greatest pitchers duels in history. It was fun to research and celebrate such achievements, but it raised the question ... what about the worst pitchers duels?
One contender occurred on May 17, 1931. Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics were in Cleveland, taking on Roger Peckinpaugh's Indians. The starting pitchers that Sunday afternoon were George Earnshaw for the A's and Wes Ferrell for the Indians.
Earnshaw and Ferrell were good enough pitchers. Earnshaw was sort of his era's Jon Garland and won 21 games in 1931. Ferrell, who won 22 games that season, was better than that and a terrific hitter as well -- think Andy Pettitte on the mound and Ryan Spilborghs at the plate.
They were good pitchers who, on this day, did a nice job of hiding that fact:
Beyond the dreadful performances of our heroes, a few other items stand out about this game:
Six Hall of Famers participated, four of whom (Mickey Cochrane, Al Simmons, Jimmie Foxx, Earl Averill) hit home runs; the other two had good excuses -- Mack was managing, and pitcher Lefty Grove didn't enter the contest until there was one out in the bottom of the ninth.
Speaking of Grove, he sealed the victory for the A's. He won 31 games that year and was AL MVP, but teams didn't have bullpens to speak of in those days, so the call went to whoever could lift his arm and get outs. Grove, for his part, had pitched a complete game on Saturday; after getting the final two outs on Sunday, he would record the final five outs of Monday's victory, take Tuesday off, then pitch another complete game on Wednesday. Busy guy.
Ferrell was the other player to homer in this one. He hit nine home runs on the season and 38 for his career. Eat your heart out, Carlos Zambrano.
This game marked the Athletics' ninth straight win. Philadelphia would go on to win 17 straight en route to a 107-45 season that culminated in a seven-game loss to the Cardinals in the World Series.
It marked the Indians' ninth straight loss. They would lose 12 straight and finish the season in fourth place.
In the box scores readily available today, Pete Appleton is listed as the losing pitcher. However, the New York Times' box score that appeared at the time charged Pete Jablonowski with the loss. Turns out, Jablonowski legally changed his name to Appleton in 1933, two years after this game.
Part of baseball's appeal lies in the fact that, on any given day, anything can happen. Don Larsen can spin a perfect game in the World Series. Armando Galarraga can lose one on an umpire's blown call. Two good pitchers can face each other and stink up the joint like nobody's business.
We may think we know what's coming next, but we never do. I can't imagine a better reason to keep watching.