A game-winning home run can come in the first inning, as when Ted Williams hit a two-run homer a little over a year before this one – on August 2, 1947, beating the Detroit Tigers, 2-1. In this day’s game against the visiting St. Louis Browns, Williams also hit a game-winning homer in the first inning – but the game was not as close as that struggle with the Tigers. This time, the Red Sox scored 10 runs, but it was the three-run homer that Williams hit in the first inning that carried the day. Boston added seven more runs before the game was over, but the Browns scored only twice.
This homer was, like the one in 1947, a come-from-behind blast. The Browns had scored once in the top of the first.
Every Red Sox game was important in 1948. They lost the pennant by just one game; tied with the Cleveland Indians at season’s end, the Red Sox lost a one-game playoff. They came into this Sunday afternoon doubleheader at Fenway Park in first place, with a 1½-game lead over the New York Yankees. The Cleveland Indians (two games back) and Philadelphia Athletics (three games back) lurked nearby. The Browns were in sixth place, a distant 26½ games behind. The doubleheader drew 27,522 on a hot afternoon.
Joe Dobson was Boston’s pitcher for first-year Red Sox manager Joe McCarthy. Mickey Harris was to start the second game of the doubleheader. Dobson was 13-7 but he hadn’t won a game since a 3-0 shutout of Cleveland more than a month earlier, on July 25. The Browns scored once off him in the very first inning.
The first two batters singled – third baseman Bob Dillinger and center fielder Al Zarilla. Jerry Priddy, the second baseman, successfully sacrificed, bunting back to Dobson and putting both runners in scoring position. Left fielder Whitey Platt flied out to right field; Dillinger tagged and scored. Right fielder Dick Kokos flied out to Dom DiMaggio in center to end the inning.
The Red Sox came to bat. Pitching was a right-hander in his third year in the major leagues, Karl Drews. He was 3-3 so far in 1948; this was his first start of the season. Drews walked the leadoff batter, DiMaggio, on four pitches. Johnny Pesky, playing third base for the Red Sox, also saw four balls go by.
That brought up the left fielder, number 9 – Ted Williams. Ball one. Ball two. Drews had now thrown 10 straight balls. Finally he put one over the plate – and Williams “hit it sky-high. A heavy wind caught the ball and sent it sailing into the concrete bleacher.”1 The Red Sox took a 3-1 lead.
Drews got shortstop Vern Stephens to foul out to his catcher (and former Red Sox player) Roy Partee. But second baseman Bobby Doerr singled to left. And Red Sox right fielder Stan Spence hit an infield single.
The catcher, Birdie Tebbetts, stepped into the batter’s box. The bases were loaded “and ‘Tarzan’ Tebbetts promptly unloaded them with a drive into the netting, above the wall in left field.”2 Grand slam. Four more runs. Dobson struck out and DiMaggio flied out, but the Red Sox took the field for the second inning with a 7-1 lead.
Gene Mack’s sports-page cartoon in the Boston Globe showed Williams’s home run going over the bullpen and landing several rows into the seats, with Tebbetts’s home run maybe five feet fair inside the left-field foul pole.3
The first batter for the Browns in the second inning homered. First baseman Hank Arft had just broken into the big leagues a month earlier, homering in his first game on July 27 against the Yankees to add to the two runs he’d tripled in earlier in that game. Arft hit Dobson’s pitch for a home run to deep right field, cutting the deficit to 7-2. Catcher Partee walked, but Dobson retired the next three.
The next score in the game was one run by Boston, reasserting its six-run lead. With one out in the bottom of the third, Stan Spence walked. Billy Goodman doubled to left field and Spence circled the bases and scored.
After one out, Dobson walked back-to-back Browns in the top of the fourth, but no one got as far as third base. The Red Sox put two on base, too, in the bottom of the inning, on a DiMaggio single and a Williams walk, but likewise no runner got to third.
Bob Dillinger led off the St. Louis fifth with an infield single. He got no farther. The Red Sox, however, added two runs to their total. Doerr led off with a single. Spence singled and Doerr ran to third. Goodman hit a fly ball to left and Doerr scored. After a fly ball and a walk to Dobson, DiMaggio doubled to right field and Spence scored the 10th run.
Dick Kokos led off the sixth with a single, but Arft grounded into a double play and Partee grounded out. For the Red Sox, Williams grounded out to first base unassisted, followed by fly-ball outs from Vern Stephens and Doerr.
The Browns went down in order in the seventh. Blackie Schwamb relieved Bryan Stephens in the bottom of the seventh. Vern Stephens singled with one out, but Tebbetts grounded into a double play.
Zarilla walked to lead off the top of the eighth, but pinch-hitter Paul Lehner hit into a 3-6-3 double play. Nobody on either team reached base after that. Dobson went the distance and booked the 10-2 win, raising his season record to 14-7.
There was a second game, and this time it was St. Louis that won by a lopsided score, 12-4, similarly scoring enough runs (five) in the first inning to win the game and collecting 20 base hits to Boston’s 10. The split maintained Boston’s 1½-game hold on first place, which they held through September 25. After two losses, they won five in a row to force the one-game tiebreaker with Cleveland for the pennant.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball-Reference.com, Retrosheet.org, and a game story from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, courtesy of Carl Reichers.
1 Burt Whitman, “Browns Pummeled, 10-2, Then Come Back, 12-4,” Boston Herald, August 30, 1948: 1, 13.
2 Hy Hurwitz, “Doerr Out Indefinitely as Sox Split, Retain 1½-Game Lead: Dobson Coasts to 14th, 10-2, Then Browns Retaliate, 12-4,” Boston Globe, August 30, 1948: 4. Doerr pulled a muscle late in the second game. In fact, he was back two days later and didn’t miss a game.
3 Gene Mack, cartoon, “Oh Well, No Ground Lost,” Boston Globe, August 30, 1948: 4.