Tim Lincecum’s pitching so far this season puts me in mind of the above clip from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Just when you think Lincecum is dead–giving up four runs to the Cubs in the bottom of the first last night, or five runs to the Rockies in the top of the second last Tuesday–he comes back to tell you he’s not.
Of course, Giants hitters have saved Lincecum’s bacon both times by producing runs in later innings to prevent him from getting the loss. But Lincecum has also helped himself by somehow adjusting after a disastrous inning. “I’m not dead,” he seems to say after giving up a flurry of runs. “I feel happy.”
Unfortunately, a lot of Giants fans, and perhaps the Giants’ front office, are, like Eric Idle’s dead body collector, ready to give Lincecum the cudgel.
The Giants-Dodgers rivalry originated during the teams’ early days in New York, when the Giants played at the Polo Grounds in Manhattan and the Dodgers played at Washington Park in Brooklyn before later moving to Ebbets Field. The rivalry intensified after both teams moved west to California in 1958.
However, back in what has come to be known as professional baseball’s “dead-ball era”—a period from 1900 to 1919, when games were typically low-scoring and relied on small ball strategies rather than power hitting and home runs (i.e., the pre-Ruth era)—the then New York Giants had another bitter rival: the Chicago Cubs. Never was that rivalry nastier than in 1908, the year the Cubs would go on to win its last World Series. As the Giants and Cubs finish their four-game series in Chicago today, I thought I would dredge up that nearly forgotten rivalry.
In the early 1900s, each league in baseball, American and National, consisted of eight teams. There were no separate divisions, and therefore no division or championship playoff series. The pennant in each league went to the team with the best record, and these two teams would face off in the World Series.
The Cubs won the pennant in 1906 and 1907. The Giants won it the two previous years.
The end of the 1908 season saw a three-way fight for the National League pennant involving the Cubs, Giants, and Pittsburgh Pirates. On September 23, 1908, with only eleven games left in the season, the Giants played the Cubs at the Polo Grounds. Christy Mathewson pitched for the Giants, Jack Pfiester for the Cubs. It was a typical dead-ball game that went into the bottom of the ninth a 1-1 tie. However, what happened in the bottom of the ninth was anything but typical.
With the Giants at bat and two outs in the inning, pinch-hitter Moose McCormick came to the plate and singled. Rookie first baseman Fred Merkle, who started his first game that day only because the Giants’ regular starting first baseman, Fred Tenney, had come down with lumbago, lined a single to right that moved McCormick to third base. With men on first and third, Giants shortstop Al Bridwell swung at the first pitch from Pfiester and lined it up the middle into center field. The ball was hit so hard that field umpire Bob Emslie had to dive out of the way to keep from getting hit. McCormick scored, seemingly giving the Giants a 2-1 win.
But as fans poured onto the field, Cubs second baseman Johnny Evers noticed Merkle never touched second base. In the excitement of the win, Merkle made a beeline for the clubhouse to avoid the mob of fans. Major League Baseball’s rule 4.09 states that “[a] run is not scored if the runner advances to home base during a play in which the third out is made … by any runner being forced out”. However, it was customary in baseball not to enforce this rule. Three weeks earlier, in a game between the Cubs and Pirates, Evers had tried to press the rule when a similar situation arose. The umpires refused Evers’ appeal.
Evers decided to give it another try. He called for Cubs center fielder Solly Hofman to throw him the ball. When Giants pitcher Joe McGinnity saw what Evers was up to, he rushed over and grabbed the ball from Evers and threw it into the stands.
The story of how Evers got the ball back is murky. Some accounts say that either he or another Cubs player went into the stands and wrestled the ball from the fan who caught it. Others say Evers simply picked up another ball. Whatever the case, Evers stood with the ball on second again and called Emslie over to contest the win, pointing out that Merkle never touched the base. Emslie, in his avoidance of Bridwell’s line drive, had failed to see whether Merkle touched second. He appealed to home plate umpire Hank O’Day. O’Day confirmed that Merkle hadn’t touched the base and was therefore out. The game was ruled a tie, 1-1.
The Giants were already in the clubhouse when they heard about the decision. At first, they assumed someone was pulling a prank. When they learned it was no joke, they became angry. “That dirty son of a bitch. O’Day is trying to rob us,” Giants manager John McGraw is reported to have fumed.
National League President Harry Pulliam later upheld the call. The Giants appealed to the league’s board of directors. Several days later, the board came back with its decision: Merkle was out. The game was a tie, 1-1.
Merkle was devastated and blamed himself for the Giants’ failure to win. His teammates and McGraw supported him. Fans and New York sports writers, however, weren’t so kind. Sports writers referred to Merkle as “a bonehead.” Fans booed him whenever he took the field or came to bat. The base running error came to be known in baseball lore as “Merkle’s Boner.” The end of the season was hard on Merkle. Depressed, he lost 20 pounds. He begged for McGraw to trade him or send him to the minors. But McGraw’s support of Merkle never flagged.
As the last ten games of the season were played, the Cubs knocked the Pirates out of contention for the pennant, finishing with a record of 98-55. The Giants had to win their last two games against Boston to tie the Cubs, which they did. The league then gave the Giants a choice: they could either play a best of five series against the Cubs to decide the pennant or play one winner-take-all game. Ailing with injuries at the end of the season, the Giants decided on the single winner-take-all game.
The game took place at the Polo Grounds on October 8, 1908. “The air crackled with the excitement and baseball,” Mathewson later wrote. The nerves of players were “rasped raw with the strain” and fans “wore a fringe of nervous prostration.”
40,000 of these nervous fans packed the stadium that day. If one includes the surrounding bluffs, rooftops, telegraph poles, and elevated train tracks, estimates placed the crowds anywhere from 100,000 to 250,000. The train line on 155th Street overlooking the stadium couldn’t run trains that day because fans were sitting on the tracks. One unfortunate fan, an off-duty fireman by the name of Harry McBride, fell from the tracks 25 feet to his death. Christy Mathewson’s wife, Jane, who was carrying their small child, was nearly trampled to death in the stands.
Tensions ran high. Mounted police were called in to control the crowds. Firefighters used hoses to push back fans who tried to enter through holes punched in the fence. Fistfights broke out in the stands. Cubs players feared for their lives in the dugout as irate fans taunted and threatened them. Before the game, a number of Cubs players had received death threats. A fight broke out between the Giants and Cubs players when the Giants went over their allotted time for field practice.
Mathewson and Pfiester were again the starting pitchers. Before the game, Mathewson warned McGraw that he didn’t have his best stuff that day and his curveball wasn’t breaking. But McGraw wasn’t about to bench his best pitcher in a game that would decide the pennant.
Pfiester immediately gave up a run in the first inning, so Cubs manager Frank Chance replaced him with Three-Fingered Brown. Mordecai Peter Centennial Brown received his nickname as a result of a farming accident when he was a boy that left his right hand disfigured. Brown’s hand gave him an unusual grip that caused his curveball to break sharply. This and his remarkable control made him practically unhittable.
Mathewson held the Cubs scoreless for the first couple of innings, but in the third inning, the Cubs put up four runs against him. “What I can’t understand to this day is why it took them so long to hit me,” Mathewson later wrote. He hung on until the seventh inning before being replaced by a pinch hitter. The Giants, who had been blanked by Brown since the first inning, managed to get another run in the seventh. It would be their last. The game ended in the bottom of the ninth with the Giants going three up, three down. The Cubs won, 4-2, sending them to the World Series against the Detroit Tigers.
Cubs players had to immediately rush off the field to avoid the angry Giants fans pouring onto it. A few Cubs players got beat up. Frank Chance was hit in the throat with a bottle and couldn’t speak for two days. The door of the clubhouse was barricaded and a line of police stood outside it to keep the unruly mob from bursting in. Eventually, police escorted Cubs players to their hotel in a patrol wagon.
Now that’s a rivalry.
When Matt Cain last pitched at Wrigley Field in September of 2012, it was the Giants who pulled off a come-from-behind win in the ninth inning. Today, it was the Cubs who came from behind to beat the Giants in the bottom of the ninth, 4-3.
Matt Cain pitched well against the Cubs, but Cubs starter Carlos Villanueva pitched better. Two solo home runs, one by center fielder David DeJesus in the third inning and another by shortstop Starlin Castro in the fifth, were the only runs the Cubs got off Cain. DeJesus’s towering drive to right got an assist from the wind blowing toward right field. As Hunter Pence reached the warning track, he looked up as if he expected the ball to stay in the park, then appeared surprised as he watched it float into the stands, as if the ball had suddenly sprouted wings. Castro’s home run required no help from Mother Nature. He clobbered a hanging breaking ball from Cain well over the wall in left-center.
Villanueva should have gotten the win. He pitched 7-1/3 scoreless innings, getting three strikeouts and allowing only three hits and one walk. However, in the bottom of the ninth, Cubs closer Kyuji Fujikawa gave up three runs on a single by Pablo Sandoval that scored Marco Scutaro and a double by Brandon Belt that scored Joaquin Arias and Hunter Pence. The Giants led for the first time in the game, 3-2.
Surprisingly, it was Sergio Romo who lost the game for the Giants, his first blown save of the year. On the first pitch, Cubs catcher Dioner Navarro lifted a high fly ball over the right field wall that appeared to follow the trajectory of DeJesus’s third inning home run. It tied the game, 3-3. Romo struck out both second baseman Luis Valbuena and pinch-hitter Brent Lillibridge, and it looked like the game might go into extra innings. But then DeJesus singled and Castro brought him home for the winning run with a long drive to center that Angel Pagan was unable to glove after slamming his elbow against the unprotected wall. Cubs win, 4-3.
As Pagan walked back to the dugout, he was examining his left elbow. Let’s hope he didn’t injure it seriously. That would be a severe blow to the Giants. At .350, Pagan has the Giants’ highest batting average for players who have played in at least ten games.
Kyuji Fujikawa also blew the save for the Cubs in the ninth inning, but he got the win. Such is baseball.
Enough with the torture already. I know it’s the Giants’ modus operandi, but my ticker needs a rest. In the past three days, the Giants have book-ended their 10-0 trouncing of the Colorado Rockies on Wednesday with two come-from-behind victories.
On Tuesday at AT&T Park, Tim Lincecum gave up five runs in the second inning to the Rockies. Down 6-2 in the sixth, the Giants answered with four, including a three-run opposite field home run by Brandon Crawford. They tacked on three more in the eighth and went on to win 9-6.
Yesterday, on a wet, foggy, seagull-swooping day at Wrigley Field that could have doubled for AT&T Park if it weren’t for the ivy-covered walls, Ryan Vogelsong had his second unsettling outing in a row, giving up a run in the second and four in the third. Then, with two out and two on in the top of the fourth, Vogelsong hit what should have been an easy ground out to Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro. But on a day in which both defenses struggled, due, in part, to the miserable weather, the ball zipped through Castro’s legs and into left field, allowing Hunter Pence to score and Nick Noonan to move to third. It would be the beginning of the Giants’ second four-run inning in three days. They would add three more in the fifth and go on to beat the Cubs 7-6.
So far this year, all of the Giants starters, with the exception of Barry Zito, have shown signs of shakiness. Zito, meanwhile, has pitched 14 scoreless innings. He has given up ten hits, struck out eight, and walked only four batters.
Who would have guessed going into this year that Zito would be the one starter who makes you breathe easier whenever he takes the mound?
Here’s hoping Matt Cain gives the Giants a decisive a victory in Chicagoland today, and puts to rest the ghost of the Cardinals’ 14-3 blowout last Sunday. The Giants bats are heating up–they’re hitting .272 as a team, the fourth best average in the league–so as long as Cain doesn’t give up another monster inning, they may get one. But they’re facing Cubs starter Carlos Villaneuva, who gave up only one run in six and two-thirds innings in his first outing against the Braves last Saturday, and would have gotten the win if not for the implosion of the Cubs bullpen.
The last time Cain pitched in Wrigley was September 2nd of last year. He had a poor outing, giving up five earned runs on six hits. He gave up four of those runs in the 5th inning, which would turn out to be his last.
But as with last night’s game, this one had a happy, come-from-behind ending.
The Giants scored three in the third inning and two in sixth, tying the game 5-5.
A solid performance by the Giants bullpen—Mijares, Affeldt, Casilla—kept the Cubs scoreless until the ninth. Then, in the top of the ninth, with Brandon Crawford and Gregor Blanco on first and second, Angel Pagan singled to drive in Blanco. Marco Scutaro came up next and knocked in Crawford. The Giants went into the bottom of the ninth with the lead, 7-5.
In the bottom of the ninth, with Santiago Casilla on the mound, Cubs center fielder Brett Jackson flew out to Blanco in left. But then Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney singled off Casilla to center, bringing the tying run to the plate.
Bruce Bochy brought in left-hander Javier Lopez to face right-handed pinch-hitter Joe Mather. It was a good call. Mather ground into a game-ending double play.
Exciting baseball. And not unlike what we’ve seen in the last few days. But I could do with a little less excitement for a change.
The Associated Press reports today that a box containing a severed goat’s head was left outside of Wrigley Field Wednesday. The box was addressed to Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts. Chicago police are investigating it as a crime.
Cubs fans have tried for years to break, or reverse, the infamous curse by engaging in a number of odd public rituals involving live goats, but in recent years, several dismembered goats have made their appearance at Wrigley Field. In 2007, a butchered goat was found outside the stadium hanging from the statue of legendary broadcaster Harry Caray. At the Cubs home opener in 2009, a goat’s head was found dangling from the same statue.
Cubs fans: it won’t work. At least not this year. The reason?
The team you’re playing over the next four days at Wrigley.