Povich Rewind: A Fitting Finale

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Povich Rewind: A Fitting Finale
Oct 10, 2019

With the Washington Nationals moving on to face the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLCS, a rewind of Shirley Povich’s 1994 piece in The Washington Post about Washington’s only World Series triumph, in 1924, seemed obvious. Povich, early in his 75-year career at The Post, was at the game, writing a sidebar. The game was played 95 years ago.

For the vital last game in Griffith Stadium, the President and Mrs. Coolidge were present again, along with 31,677 fans. They had no inkling of the high intrigue that had taken place before a ball was pitched.

Manager [Bucky] Harris had hatched a plot. He would start right-hander [Curly] Ogden to trick [John] McGraw into starting the Giants’ left-handed batting order. Meanwhile he would have his own left-hander, [George] Mogridge, warming up secretly under the stands. After Ogden faced one hitter, Mogridge would go in, keeping such feared left-handed hitters as [Bill] Terry at a disadvantage.

Ogden struck out Freddie Lindstrom on three pitches, then walked Frankie Frisch and Mogridge came in. But the game would take a dreary turn for the Senators with the Giants going into the eighth inning with a 3-1 lead.

Then, the Senators rebelled. Nemo Leibold, pinch-hitting for rookie third baseman Tommy Taylor, doubled down the left field line. [Muddy] Ruel, hitless until then in the Series, singled. Bennie Tate, battling for [Firpo] Marberry, walked to fill the bases. But their hopes sagged when McNeely flied to Irish Meusel in short left.

This left it up to Harris, who met the issue, and the ball. He singled to left to get two runs home for a 3-3 game.

Now Harris needed a new pitcher going into the ninth and the crowd was clamoring, “We Want Johnson!” When [Walter] Johnson strode to the mound the stadium was in an uproar. He could yet win a World Series game and so much of America would be pleased.

However, when Frisch tripled with one out in the top of the ninth it was ominous. Here Harris ordered an intentional walk to Ross Youngs. Now, with Johnson facing [High Pockets] Kelly, a long fly could beat him. He disposed of Kelly on three wicked fastball strikes, got Meusel on an inning-ending double ground ball, and it was extra innings.

Trouble for Johnson to in the 11th. Pinch-hitter Heinie Groh led off with a single, and Lindstrom sacrificed. Now it was Frisch, the triple-sacker of two innings before. Johnson dealt with him by striking him out. Facing Youngs and Kelly again, Johnson repeated his heroics of the ninth inning — walked Youngs intentionally and fanned Kelly for the last out.

A bit more troubling for Johnson in the 12th. Meusel led off with a single. But Johnson fanned rookie Hack Wilson, got a force out and a fly out and had pitched his fourth consecutive shutout inning in relief.

In their own 12th, the Senators would emerge as World Series champions. Lady Luck had beamed on them. Against the Giants’ fourth pitcher, [Jack] Bentley, Ruel, with one out, lifted a pop fly to catcher Hank Gowdy behind home plate, an easy out, except that Gowdy stepped on his mask and the ball spilled out of his mitt, a World Series boo-boo that would be long remembered. Whereupon, the reprieved Ruel doubled down the left field line to put the winning run on base.

Johnson, a strong hitter, batted for himself and grounded to shortstop Travis Jackson, who fumbled — a big break for the Senators, with Ruel holding second. Now it was McNeely who would be remembered for all time for his “pebble hit.”

Third baseman Lindstrom was poised for a routine play on McNeely’s sharp grounder, maybe an inning-ending double play. And then for the Giants — horrors. For the Senators — glee. Whatever McNeely’s ground ball hit, a pebble or a divot or a minefield, it took a freak hop over Lindstrom’s head into the outfield for a single and Ruel flew home from second with the run that won everything for the Senators.

In Griffith Stadium the crowd catapulted out of the stands to thrash onto the field and to dance on the dugout roofs, refusing to leave the park until long after nightfall.

The next day, of course, it was up Pennsylvania Avenue toward the White House for the World Series champions, the streets lined by tens of thousands. The city’s joy was best expresses, perhaps, by the enthusiasm of the men on the hook-and-ladder float of the Cherrydale, Va., Fire Department, which flaunted a huge banner that read: “Let Cherrydale Burn.”

It doesn’t seem like 70 years ago.

- Oct. 22, 1994

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