They were emerging from a streaky stretch. They lost eight games in a row, then won eight games in a row. They had lost 8-7 on July 15 when the Tigers rallied for four runs in the bottom of the ninth. The Red Sox were 9½ games behind the first-place New York Yankees, and probably wouldn’t have believed they would eliminate that gap and approach the end of the season tied with the Yankees for first place.1 The Tigers were only two games behind the Red Sox, in fifth place.
After first baseman Billy Goodman inauspiciously grounded the ball right back to Trucks for the first out of the game, third baseman Johnny Pesky reached on an error and Boston left fielder Ted Williams hit a Trucks fastball “about 12 rows back in the upper right-center tier.”2 It was, wrote the Detroit Times, “a mighty drive high up into the second deck of the right field stands.”3
Two runs, but enough to win the game as things played out.
Left-hander Mel Parnell started the game for the Red Sox. He finished it, too, throwing a complete game, his 15th of the season. (Parnell led the American and National Leagues with 27 complete games in 1949.)
No one reached for the Tigers in the first. Parnell was 11-5 with a 3.25 ERA before the game, comparable stats to Trucks.
The Red Sox added a run in the second. Both catcher Birdie Tebbetts and Goodman walked, and Pesky singled, scoring Tebbetts from second base. Parnell walked right fielder Vic Wertz to open the bottom of the second. An error by Bobby Doerr allowed another Tiger to reach base, but shortstop Johnny Lipon hit the ball back to Parnell, who started a 1-6-3 double play.
Doerr and center fielder Tommy O’Brien both singled in the Boston third and Tebbetts hit a two-out three-run homer into the lower deck in left field. O’Brien was filling in for Dom DiMaggio, out with a sore thumb.
After catcher Hank Riebe singled to lead off the bottom of the third, Rolfe decided to pinch-hit for Trucks, but Eddie Lake struck out. A walk followed and then another inning-ending double play got Parnell off the hook.
Marv Grissom was the new Detroit pitcher. The Red Sox made it 10-0, adding four more runs in the top of the fourth. Ted Williams surprised everyone with a bunt to the left side of the infield. With the “Williams Shift” deployed, it was just too easy. He “bunted the first pitch down toward the third base and didn’t even have to hurry to get himself a base hit.”4 Vern Stephens walked. Doerr doubled, scoring Williams. Al Zarilla hit a three-run homer into the lower deck in right field.
Left fielder Hoot Evers singled off Parnell, the only Tiger to reach in the fourth. No one from Detroit reached in the fifth. The Red Sox had gotten singles by Parnell and Pesky but – for the first time in the game – scored no runs.
In the sixth, with Grissom still pitching, Doerr hit a one-out solo home run that made the score 11-0. It landed about six rows deep in the left-field stands.
The Tigers broke their string of zeroes on the scoreboard with a run in the bottom of the sixth inning. Second baseman Neil Berry led off with a double down the left-field line. Paul Campbell, the first baseman, grounded out, the play going Doerr to Goodman as Berry ran to third base. George Kell grounded out to Stephens, who took the surer out at first base as Berry ran home. When the run scored, many of the 20,520 at the ballpark cheered derisively.5 Wertz also grounded out to short.
The only Red Sox batter to get on base in the seventh was Williams, who received a base on balls.
No one from the Tigers reached base in their seventh, with a groundout to Pesky at third and two fly balls to Williams in left field.
O’Brien walked in the eighth, the only one from Boston to get on. Manager Red Rolfe had Don Kolloway pinch-hit for Grissom. He grounded back to Parnell, who threw him out at first base. Berry singled and Campbell walked, but Kell popped up to Pesky for the third out.
Marlin Stuart was the new pitcher for the Tigers in the top of the ninth. The first batter he faced was Parnell, who popped up to second base. Goodman singled. Then Pesky singled, but Goodman was thrown out trying to go from first to third. Williams grounded to second base for a force play.
In the bottom of the ninth, Wertz grounded out and Evers reached on an error by Pesky. Center fielder Johnny Groth ended the game hitting into a 6-4-3 double play.
“Marvelous Mel” Parnell got the win, of course. He allowed only four hits, though he did walk three. It was his third win of the season against Detroit; his career record against the Tigers improved to 8-0. As the season played out, Parnell won 15 of his next 17 decisions and finished with a record of 25-7 and a 2.77 ERA, the best in the American League.6
Tebbetts, Zarilla, and Doerr all homered for the Red Sox, too. The four home runs accounted for nine of Boston’s 11 runs. It was Ted Williams’s third homer of the year off Virgil Trucks and his seventh of the year (of the 21 he had hit) against Tigers pitching.
This was the year that George Kell beat out Williams for the American League batting title, by less than one percentage point (Kell was .3429 and Williams was .3427). Kell was 0-for-4 in this game, and Williams was 2-for-5. Had Williams had one more base hit by season’s end, he would have won the title, but that is maybe something more for another day. Homering and winning another game was no doubt good enough for the moment. (At game’s end, both Dom DiMaggio and George Kell had batting averages of .341. Williams was hitting .330.)
This article was fact-checked by Bill Marston and copy-edited by Len Levin.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org.
1 The Red Sox were indeed tied with the Yankees on the next-to-last day of the season. The two teams played head-to-head in the final game, on October 2, New York winning the game and the pennant, 5-3.
2 Jack Barry, “Four Red Sox Homers Rip Tigers as Parnell Wins 12th, 11-1,” Boston Globe, July 17, 1949: B-31.
3 Leo MacDonnell, “Bosox Belt 4 Homers, Blast Tigers, 11-1,” Detroit Times, July 17, 1949: C-1.
4 Boston Post, quoted in Bill Nowlin, 521 – The Story of Ted Williams’ Home Runs (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Rounder Books, 2013), 151.
5 Will Cloney, “Hose Homers Ruin Tigers,” Boston Herald, July 17, 1949: 29, 31.
6 Game logs show a final ERA of 2.80.