July 16, 1908: Christy Mathewson bolts from the shower to preserve Giants’ victory over Cubs

This article was written by Gary Belleville

Christy MathewsonThe New York Giants appeared to be well on their way to winning their July 16, 1908, game against the defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs. But Giants rookie starting pitcher Doc Crandall suddenly began to buckle under the pressure in the ninth inning. The Cubs loaded the bases with one out, bringing the potential go-ahead run to the plate.

Since the Giants were just a half-game out of first place – the closest they had been since late April — manager John McGraw was taking no chances. He called for his ace, Christy Mathewson, to extinguish the rally.

The only problem was Mathewson was nowhere to be found.1

The two teams had kicked off the second half of the season the day before in the opener of a crucial four-game series at Chicago’s West Side Grounds. The Giants knocked Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown out of the game in the fourth inning en route to an 11-0 blowout, handing the Cubs ace just his second loss of the season against 14 victories.

The lopsided affair dropped the Cubs from first to third place and kept the Giants (46-32) a half-game behind the Pittsburgh Pirates. Although New York had been 6½ games out of first place in mid-June, a 23-9 run had them back in the thick of the pennant race.

Chicago had been stumbling after a recent string of injuries.2 The Cubs spent only nine days out of first place in the first half, but eight of those days had come since June 29. The July 15 loss was their fourth in a row, putting them one game behind the Pirates and a half-game back of the Giants. Unlike the previous two seasons, the Cubs were not going to waltz to the National League pennant in 1908.    

Chicago player-manager Frank Chance received more bad news on July 16. Third baseman Harry Steinfeldt was sick in bed with a stomach ailment,3 forcing Chance to juggle his lineup once again. Fortunately for the Cubs, center fielder Jimmy Slagle was healthy enough to return to action, which allowed Chance to slide utilityman Solly Hofman over to third base for his first start of the season at the hot corner.4 Catcher Johnny Kling and right fielder Frank Schulte remained on the sidelines with injuries.5

In accordance with baseball’s rules in 1908, Chance chose to have the Cubs bat first, attempting to shake things up and snap the team’s losing streak.6 Chance’s move – a frequent tactic in the nineteenth century – stands as the last time that a National League manager ever made that election.7

Crandall, a 20-year-old right-hander with a 6-5 record, took to the hill for the Giants in the top of the first.8 He retired the Cubs in order.9

In the bottom of the first, Ed Reulbach (9-2), the Cubs’ number-two starter, was victimized for a pair of runs on a walk, an infield single, a botched fielder’s choice, Mike Donlin’s fly ball, and a fielding error by Chance at first.10 The Giants led 2-0 after an inning of play.

New York extended its lead to 4-0 in the bottom of the fifth on RBI singles by Donlin and Cy Seymour.11

The Cubs got on the scoreboard in the seventh when catcher Pat Moran, who had tripled off Crandall to open the inning, scored on Slagle’s fly ball to short left field.

McGraw had both Mathewson and Luther Taylor warming up in center field in case his young starter faltered.12 Crandall bounced back and had a one-two-three eighth inning,13 which may have given the relievers a false sense of security, because Mathewson and Taylor made the curious decision to retire to the nearby visitors’ clubhouse.14

The reason for their early departure may have also had something to do with the spartan facilities at the West Side Grounds; visiting teams had to make do with only two showers and some unreliable plumbing.15 Perhaps Mathewson simply wanted to beat the rush for a postgame shower.  

The top of the ninth began with a light rain falling and the Giants holding a 4-1 lead. A limping Johnny Evers, who had returned to full-time action only two days earlier after spraining his ankle on June 26,16 beat out an infield single and took second on shortstop Al Bridwell’s wild throw to first.

The next batter, Moran, hit a grounder to Bridwell,17 and an overly-aggressive Evers was caught in a rundown; by the time he was tagged out, Moran had advanced to second on the fielder’s choice.

Tinker worked Crandall for a walk and suddenly the potential tying run was coming to the plate with one out. The Chicago Inter Ocean observed that “Cubs’ fans, who have been giving life-like imitations of tombstones for two afternoons, came to life.”18

Chance sent 21-year-old Blaine Durbin up to the plate as a pinch-hitter for Reulbach.19 After Crandall got ahead in the count, the young hurler lost control of a curveball, nicking Durbin on the jaw and loading the bases.20

At this point McGraw made his vain attempt to replace Crandall with Mathewson, and the search for Matty began. Moments later, “fleet Giants rushed to the club stables,” where they found Mathewson enjoying an early shower.21

McGraw’s men did their best to stall for time. New York infielders held “lengthy conferences.”22 Captain Donlin made a slow trek from his position in right field to the Giants bench. Eventually, home-plate umpire Jim Johnstone threatened McGraw with a forfeit if he didn’t put another pitcher in the game, and so “Iron Man” Joe McGinnity came in and leisurely warmed up.23

Meanwhile, a soaking-wet Mathewson was dressing frantically. He had difficulty getting his wet feet into his spikes and decided to don his street shoes instead.24

The game resumed with McGinnity facing Slagle — more than eight minutes after Crandall threw his last pitch.25 Slagle hit a hard groundball to first baseman Fred Tenney, but the 37-year-old McGinnity neglected to cover first base and Tenney narrowly lost a footrace to the bag. The Chicago outfielder was credited with an infield single and an RBI, cutting the Giants’ lead to 4-2.

New York second baseman Larry Doyle disagreed with the call at first and got into a heated argument with base umpire Hank O’Day, who tossed him from the game. Not surprisingly, Doyle’s replacement, Dave Brain, was in no rush to take to the field.26

To McGraw’s relief, Mathewson was finally seen running in from center field, sockless.27 As Mathewson approached the mound, he was still buttoning his uniform and securing his belt. After taking his warm-up tosses, he was ready to face Jimmy Sheckard with one out, the bases loaded, and the potential tying run on second.

Sheckard grounded a Mathewson curveball right at Tenney, who stepped on first for the second out; Tinker crossed the plate to make it a one-run game.

Del Howard, hitting .273 coming into the game, was the next batter. After fouling off the first pitch, Howard flailed at a pair of nasty fadeaways that ended up near his feet. Catcher Roger Bresnahan dug both pitches out of the dirt and the game was over.28

McGraw had some choice words for Mathewson after the chaotic finish. “The next time,” he implored, “damn it, don’t take your shower in the middle of a pennant race.”29

The victory gave the Giants an 8-2 record in the season series with the Cubs. With their best pitchers — Mathewson and George “Hooks” Wiltse – starting the next two games, it appeared that the Giants were poised for the series sweep. But Brown continued his dominance over Mathewson the next day,30 winning a pitchers’ duel, 1-0, and in the series finale the Cubs rallied from a 4-1 deficit in the bottom of the eighth to earn a 5-4 walk-off win against Wiltse.31 One of the wildest National League pennant races ever seen had kicked into high gear.

The Pirates held on to first place until August 24 when the Giants leapfrogged them in the standings. New York, powered by complete-game victories from Wiltse and Mathewson, swept Pittsburgh in a pivotal doubleheader that afternoon.

The Giants stayed in the top spot until they dropped a twin bill to the fifth-place Cincinnati Reds on September 25, two days after the Merkle Game. The lead changed hands several more times during the final stretch, with all three contenders occupying first place on multiple days.32

When the National League’s regular season ended on October 7, New York and Chicago were tied atop the standings and Pittsburgh was a half-game back. The next day, Brown outpitched Mathewson in a thrilling one-game playoff and the Cubs claimed their third consecutive pennant. They went on to defeat the Detroit Tigers in the World Series for the second straight year.

Mathewson had enjoyed the finest season of his Hall of Fame career, going 37-11 with a 1.43 ERA and winning the Triple Crown in pitching.33 But his season ended in frustration, largely because of Brown’s knack for outpitching him in head-to-head competition. In the five games that season in which both hurlers appeared, Mathewson went 1-3, while Brown was an impressive 4-1.34



This article was fact-checked by Kurt Blumenau and copy-edited by Len Levin.



In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org. Game logs were downloaded from Retrosheet.org in order to identify games in which home teams batted first. Unless otherwise noted, all play-by-play information for this game was taken from the article “Mathewson Rushed to Rescue Just in Time to Beat Cubs” by Hugh S. Fullerton on page 9 of the July 17, 1908, edition of the Chicago Examiner.




Photo credit

Photo of Christy Mathewson courtesy the Library of Congress.



1 Cait Murphy, Crazy ’08 (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2007), 117-18.

2 Regulars injured recently included second baseman Johnny Evers, catcher Johnny Kling, center fielder Jimmy Slagle, right fielder Frank Schulte, and pitcher Orval Overall. Evers sprained his ankle on June 26 and returned to action full-time on July 14. Kling injured his right thumb on a foul tip on July 2; he returned to the lineup on July 18. Slagle returned to the lineup on July 16; he hadn’t played since July 4. Schulte had been out with a groin injury since June 30. He returned to action on August 18. Overall had a bad back and missed almost the entire month of June. I.E. Sanborn, “Johnny Evers Injures Ligaments of Leg in a Slide to the Second Base,” Chicago Tribune, June 27, 1908: 10; Charles Dryden, “Kling Hurts His Thumb,” Chicago Tribune, July 3, 1908: 12; “Chicago National League Ball Club Is Seriously Crippled,” Chicago Daily News, July 6, 1908: 6; “Notes of the Cubs,” Chicago Tribune, July 2, 1908: 13; “World’s Champions Win the Odd Game from Phillies, 3-2,” Chicago Inter Ocean, June 18, 1908: 13.

3 Frank B. Hutchinson Jr., “Cubs’ Great Finish Fails to Defeat the Chesty Giants,” Chicago Inter Ocean, July 17, 1908: 4.

4 “Bad Playing by the Cubs,” Chicago Daily News, July 16, 1908: 2.

5 “Kling Hurts His Thumb”; “Notes of the Cubs.”

6 Charles Dryden, “Cubs Pipe Failed, and Giants Land,” Chicago Tribune, July 17, 1908: 6.

7 According to the game logs on Retrosheet.org, an American League manager chose to have his team bat first at home three more times after this game. In the first game of a doubleheader on August 14, 1908, Washington Senators manager Joe Cantillon had his team bat first at home against the Chicago White Sox. The move paid off, as Washington scored a run in the top of the first inning and won, 1-0. The Senators batted last in the second game of the twin bill. In the second game of a doubleheader on June 2, 1913, New York Yankees manager Frank Chance had his team bat first at home against the Boston Red Sox. As was the case the last time Chance pulled that maneuver, his team lost. The Red Sox beat the Yankees, 8-6. The last American League manager to have his team bat first at home was Senators manager Clark Griffith in the second game of a June 26, 1913, twin bill. The Senators lost to the Philadelphia Athletics, 10-3. The option of batting first at home was removed from the rule book in time for the 1950 season. Fritz Howell, “Chandler Predicts Few Players to Be Drafted, Idaho Falls (Idaho) Post-Register, November 17, 1949: 11.

8 Doc Crandall went on to become one of the top relievers of the Deadball Era. He led the major leagues in games finished for five consecutive seasons (1909-13). During this period, he finished 120 games, posted 24 saves, and had a 2.88 ERA.

9 “Bad Playing by the Cubs.”

10 According to the Chicago Examiner, Larry Doyle was credited with an infield single when Evers failed to cover second on his slow groundball to Tinker, who ended up throwing to first in vain. The botched fielder’s choice occurred with runners on first and second and nobody out. Roger Bresnahan bunted the ball to Reulbach, who threw to third in an attempt to nail the lead runner. The Chicago Examiner and the Chicago Tribune both reported that the throw was muffed by third baseman Solly Hofman. According to the Chicago Daily News, Reulbach threw late to third. No error was charged on the play. “Cubs Pipe Failed, and Giants Land”; “Bad Playing by the Cubs.”

11 Hofman was normally an outfielder and he was not having a great day at third base. Donlin’s RBI single was a slow roller that got by him at third and was fielded by shortstop Tinker. Hofman also muffed a throw from Reulbach in the first inning, but he was not charged with an error in the game.

12 Although saves weren’t an official statistic until 1969, Mathewson tied Joe McGinnity for the team lead with five saves in 1908. William F.H. Koelsch, “New York News; The Giants’ Followers Now in Fine Feather,” Sporting Life, July 25, 1908: 3.

13 “Latest Sporting News,” Chicago Daily News, July 16, 1908: 1.

14 Koelsch, “New York News; The Giants’ Followers Now in Fine Feather.”

15 Murphy, 117; “Wrigley 100: Before the Confines, There Was the West Side Grounds,” Cubs Vine Line Blog, January 24, 2014, https://mlblogsvineline.wordpress.com/2014/01/24/wrigley-100-before-the-confines-there-was-the-west-side-grounds/, accessed September 29, 2022.

16 Sanborn, “Johnny Evers Injures Ligaments of Leg in a Slide to the Second Base.”

17 The Chicago Inter Ocean incorrectly reported that Moran’s grounder was hit to third baseman Art Devlin. According to several sources, including the Chicago Examiner, Moran’s grounder was fielded by the shortstop Bridwell, the only Giant charged with an error in the game.

18 Hutchinson, “Cubs’ Great Finish Fails to Defeat the Chesty Giants.”

19 Durbin had been unable to crack the Giants’ lineup as a pitcher and was now a backup outfielder and pinch-hitter. Mike Mattsey, “Blaine Durbin,” SABR BioProject, https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/kid-durbin/, accessed September 30, 2022.

20 Hutchinson, “Cubs’ Great Finish Fails to Defeat the Chesty Giants.”

21 Dryden, “Cubs Pipe Failed, and Giants Land.”

22 Hutchinson, “Cubs’ Great Finish Fails to Defeat the Chesty Giants.”

23 Hutchinson, “Cubs’ Great Finish Fails to Defeat the Chesty Giants.”

24 Murphy, 118.

25 “Notes of the Cubs,” Chicago Examiner, July 17, 1908: 9.

26 The Giants had just acquired Brain from the Cincinnati Reds six days earlier. Murphy, 118.

27 Koelsch, “New York News; The Giants’ Followers Now in Fine Feather.”

28 Dryden, “Cubs Pipe Failed, and Giants Land”; Murphy, 118-119.

29 Murphy, 119.

30 Mathewson tossed a no-hitter against Brown and the Cubs on June 13, 1905. For the next four years, Mathewson was unable to defeat Brown in head-to-head starts. In the next nine games in which both pitchers started, Mathewson went 0-9 and Brown went 8-0. (He took a no-decision on August 17, 1907.) Mathewson finally snapped the streak on June 8, 1909, in a 3-2 New York win. He went 3-for-4 with an RBI in the game.    

31 Wiltse was pitching on two days’ rest after tossing a complete-game shutout in the series opener against Brown. Wiltse pitched 17 innings in the four-game series. He finished the season with a 23-14 record and a 2.24 ERA in 330 innings. Mathewson was the only Giants pitcher to toss more innings (390).

32 The Cubs held at least a share of first place for seven days between September 25 and the end of the season. The Pirates held at least a share of the top spot for four days during that period, while the Giants had a share of first place for four days.

33 Mathewson won the Triple Crown based on his 37 wins, 1.43 ERA, and 259 strikeouts. He had also won the Triple Crown in 1905. As of the end of the 2022 season, Mathewson’s 37 wins still stood as the most wins in the National League in a season since the start of the twentieth century.

34 In 1908 Mathewson and Brown pitched in the same game on May 25 (Mathewson no-decision, Brown win in relief), July 17 (Mathewson loss, Brown win), August 29 (Mathewson loss, Brown win), September 24 (Mathewson win in relief, Brown loss), and October 8 (Mathewson loss, Brown win in relief).

Additional Stats

New York Giants 4
Chicago Cubs 3

West End Grounds
Chicago, IL


Box Score + PBP:

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1900s ·