[Babe Ruth with Red Sox teammates, 1915 | Library of Congress]
A frequent refrain from supporters of Jack Morris’s Hall of Fame candidacy is that he pitched the greatest game in World Series history. Certainly, Morris placed himself in unique company in 1991 when he became the third Fall Classic pitcher to hurl a 10-inning shutout after Clem Labine in 1956 [hat tip to Devon Young] and Christy Mathewson in 1913. Morris is also the 10th and most recent pitcher with a Game 7 shutout, joining men like Dizzy Dean in 1934, Sandy Koufax in 1965 and Bret Saberhagen in 1985. In addition, Morris is the only pitcher in World Series history with an extra inning, complete game victory in Game 7.
For some fans, all of this may be more than enough to anoint Morris. By various objective measures, though, Morris’s masterpiece is far from the greatest World Series pitching performance. There’s Don Larsen’s perfect game in 1956 or journeyman Howard Ehmke’s surprise start in 1929 where the junkballer set a record at the time by striking out 13 stunned Chicago Cubs including Hall of Famers Rogers Hornsby, Hack Wilson and Kiki Cuyler twice apiece. Then there’s Bob Gibson’s five-hit shutout in 1968 where he set a World Series record that still stands with 17 strikeouts.
|Game 2, 1916 World Series – Boston 2, Brooklyn 1
|Sherry Smith, L (0-1)
|Babe Ruth, W (1-0)
|Stats provided by Baseball-Reference.com | Full box score
By Game Score, the best World Series pitching performance came in 1916 by Babe Ruth with a 97. [Morris is tied for 38th at 84.] Ruth set a World Series record that still stands when he went 14 innings for the Boston Red Sox in Game 2 on October 9, beating the Brooklyn Dodgers 2-1. He even drove in one of Boston’s runs, the New York Times noted, when Brooklyn second baseman George Cutshaw juggled a grounder in the third inning, allowing Everett Scott to score.
No one ever really talks about Game 2 of the 1916 World Series anymore, though it’s a great story. The day after it happened, the New York Times described the game as “the most thrilling world’s series battle ever fought.”
It was Ruth’s first start in a postseason game, as the 21-year-old southpaw had been kept in reserve for the 1915 World Series after going 18-8 with a 2.44 ERA that season. Robert Creamer explained in his signature Ruth biography that Red Sox manager Bill Carrigan had elected to primarily use right-handed pitchers in the 1915 Series against Philadelphia and its slugger Gavvy Cravath who had hit 24 homers in the regular season, best in the modern era to that point. Ruth got one pinch hit appearance in the Series while Boston won 4-1 and kept Cravath homer-less with a .125 batting average.
Ruth earned the nod for Game 2 of the 1916 Series after going 23-12 with an American League best 1.75 ERA [as well as a combined 10.4 WAR between pitching and hitting.] Ruth struggled early in his World Series pitching debut, surrendering an inside-the-park home run to Hy Myers in the first inning after, as Creamer noted, two Boston outfielders tripped in pursuit of the ball. Teammate Jack Barry wrote the following day in a presumably ghostwritten Boston Post column, “Ruth oftentimes has his hardest session at the beginning. We all were sure as the game went along that Ruth would get better.”
Pitching in cavernous Braves Field with 44,000 fans packed in, Ruth threw 13 innings of shutout ball the remainder of the game, allowing five hits and three walks. As Creamer noted, Ruth pitched a no-hitter the final seven innings. Barry wrote that Myers’ homer came off a high fastball and that Ruth kept Myers hitless thereafter by pitching him low. Ruth escaped trouble, Barry noted, recording consecutive ground outs to close the eighth inning after Brooklyn put runners on second and third. Later in the 13th inning, Red Sox left fielder Duffy Lewis provided a running catch off a Jake Daubert fly ball.
The game finally ended amid fading daylight when pinch hitter Del Gainer provided an RBI single in the 14th inning. Having now taken the first two games, Boston would go on to win the Series 4-1. “I told you a year ago I could take care of those National League bums, and you never gave me a chance,” Creamer quoted Ruth telling Carrigan after Game 2. “Forget it Babe,” Carrigan is said to have replied. “You made monkeys out of them today.”
At least a few prominent writers praised Brooklyn’s hurler Sherry Smith, something of a surprise starter as the New York Times noted in its game coverage. [Major League Baseball historian John Thorn tells me there were occasional surprise World Series starters back then, Ehmke being perhaps the most famous.] Hugh Fullerton, a few years away from helping break the Black Sox Scandal, wrote that Ruth was saved by superior defense. Barry also wrote that Ruth received better support. Grantland Rice wrote in his syndicated column the following day:
Smith pitched the better game. For thirteen innings he had the Red Sox lashed to the phantom, swinging as helpless as the bewildered old dame who attempted to sweep back the ocean with a mop. They couldn’t hit with a machine gun loaded with buckshot.
Ruth pitched twice more in postseason play, winning two games in the 1918 World Series. His all-time Fall Classic pitching line: 3-0 with a 0.87 ERA, two complete games and a shutout. Somehow, the best was yet to come.