A century ago, the Babe began a historic streak on the mound
Defense and pitching were the names of this game, and Boston’s were just too much for the Dodgers to handle, according to the Boston Globe’s Grantland Rice.
“[F]or 14 innings this Boston defense formed a long, wide wall of steel and stone back of Babe Ruth,” he described. “And against this wall Brooklyn rebounded to her second defeat.”
“‘Del’ Gainor (sic) is a real World’s Series HERO,” the column exclaimed. “You can’t keep a pinch hitter, who wins a game in the 14th inning, out of the baseball hall of fame.”
Gainor would never take a spot in the actual Baseball Hall of Fame, still nearly 20 years from fruition, and he would never so much as receive a single vote in the balloting. On the other hand, Ruth would become one of the first five elected to the baseball shrine.
Boston defeated Brooklyn in five games to win the 1916 World Series.
The Red Sox returned to the postseason two seasons later, the World Series being played in September, as the regular season was shortened due to World War I.
Ruth drew the mound assignment for the opener on Sept. 5 and defeated the Cubs 1-0 at Comiskey Park. With another nine frames under his belt, his scoreless streak grew to 22.1 innings.
Four days later, on Sept. 9, exactly 23 months after the streak began, Ruth took the hill again at Fenway Park and lasted 7.1 innings before Chicago came through with a pair of runs. The streak totaled 29.2 innings over three games.
Ruth pitched generally well in Game 4 of the 1918 World Series despite nursing bruised a finger on his throwing hand acquired “during some sugarhouse fun with (Red Sox batting practice pitcher) W.W. Kinney,” the Boston Globe’s Edward F. Martin wrote, on the team’s train ride to Boston from Chicago.
Martin also noted that “[a]ll the world should know, Babe said, that it was not the finger that was troubling him, but the stuff that was on it, and the stuff that was on it was putting too much stuff on the ball.” The iodine may not have helped Ruth that afternoon, but it enhanced his entry in the record books.
The World Series scoreless innings pitched record held by Ruth would finally be broken in 1961 by Whitey Ford, who would then extend the mark in 1962 to 33.2 innings.
Whether anyone else will come close to or surpass Ruth or Ford remains to be seen. San Francisco’s Madison Bumgarner holds the highest streak among active pitchers. He went 21.2 consecutive scoreless innings through the 2010, 2012, and the first game of the 2014 World Series. After giving up a run in that game, Bumgarner then went on to pitch 14.1 scoreless innings – still an active streak – through the remainder of the 2014 Fall Classic.
Matt Rothenberg is the manager of the Giamatti Research Center at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum