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Notes on the National Pastime
Page 24
The good players feel the kind of love for the game that they did when they were Little Leaguers."
-- Tom Seaver
...And so it was on October 9, 1912. [Christy] Mathewson and the New York Giants had battled the Boston Red Sox to a deciding seventh game in the World Series. The Series would have ended sooner, with a New York victory. In the second game, the 32-year-old Mathewson had outpitched three younger foes for 10 innings, but five errors by his fielders cost him the win. He had to settle for a 6-6 tie when darkness ended the contest. Three days later, an error by the Giants second baseman led to a 2-1 loss even though Matty had retired the last 15 batters in a row.
Now the championship was on the line, and once again manager John McGraw handed the ball to Mathewson. The Giants scored a run in the 3rd, and it remained 1-0 until the Red Sox came to bat in the 7th. It was then that the fates played their first trick of the day on Matty, the man who aspired to perfection. With one out, Boston's player-manager, Jake Stahl, hit a fly ball to short left field. The New York shortstop, leftfielder, and centerfielder converged on it. They all arrived in time to catch the ball, but each one waited for another to take it, and it fell between them. With two men out, a pinch-hitter then doubled in the tying run.
Nobody scored in the 8th or 9th, but in the top of the 10th the Giants went ahead, 2-1. Mathewson then walked to the mound, determined to hold on to the lead and take home the prize. The first batter lifted a high fly ball to centerfielder Fred Snodgrass, who had to move only a few feet to make an easy catch. Incredibly, the ball trickled through his hands for a two-base error. The center fielder then redeemed himself by chasing a long fly ball and making a splendid catch.
Matty, whose control had been perfect in the first two games, walked the next man. That brought Tris Speaker, a .383 hitter, to the plate. Speaker hit a routine pop-up near the first-base coaches' box. Catcher Chief Meyers ran up the baseline as Matty came over from the mound. First baseman Fred Merkle, the closest man to the ball, took a few steps toward it. In the silence that shrouded the ballpark, where Boston's hopes seemed suddenly dashed, Matty called out clearly, "Meyers, Meyers," for the catcher to take it. Then somebody on the Boston bench, hoping to confuse the fielders, yelled, "Matty! Matty!" Merkle could have caught the ball easily, but he backed off to avoid running into the others. Mathewson could have caught it in his bare hand, but he had already called on Meyers. And so Meyers, who had the farthest to run, made a desperate lunge for it. The ball dropped to the ground in foul territory, untouched.
Given another chance, Speaker stood in the batter's box and called to Mathewson, "That's gonna cost you this ball game and the championship." And on the next pitch he lined a clean single that drove in the tying run and moved a man to third. The next batter hit a sacrifice fly to left field, and the winning run scored.
Realizing that even the greatest players sometimes make errors, Mathewson never blamed Snodgrass for dropping the fly ball that started his downfall. "No use hopping on him; he feels three times as bad as any of us," was all Matty said.
Sportswriter Ring Lardner, who was at the game, had a lot more to say about it. "There was seen one of the saddest sights in the history of a sport that is a strange and wonderful mixture of joy and gloom," he wrote. "It was the spectacle of a man, old as baseball players are reckoned, walking from the middle of the field to the New York players' bench with bowed head and drooping shoulders, with tears streaming from his eyes, a man on whom his team's fortune had been staked and lost, and a man who would have proven his clear title to the trust reposed in him if his mates had stood by him in the supreme test .... Beaten, 3-2, by a club he would have conquered if he had been given the support deserved by his wonderful pitching, Matty tonight is greater in the eyes of New York's public than ever before ...."
-- Norman L. Macht
Baseball Legends: Christy Mathewson