The 1911 Boston Red Sox were nothing to write home about. They finished tied for fourth place with the Chicago White Sox, both 24 games behind the pennant-winning Philadelphia Athletics. Any Red Sox fan who happened to be in Detroit’s Bennett Park, though, on this Saturday afternoon might have written back to Boston about this one.
Ed Willett pitched for Hughie Jennings and the Detroit Tigers. He gave up one run in the first inning but didn’t give up another until the sixth. By that point, it looked as though he had the game well in hand.
Ed Karger, a left-hander, started for the Red Sox. He held the 1-0 edge until the bottom of the third but then saw the Tigers erupt for six runs. Catcher Oscar Stanage started the inning with a solo home run over the bleacher screen in left field, tying the game.
The next three batters reached base, and center fielder Ty Cobb drove them all in with a grand slam over the fence in right field that all news accounts of the game declared to be the longest hit to date at Bennett Park, and one of the longest ever hit in the American League.
Detroit did not stop there. Third baseman Sam Crawford singled and made it all the way to third base on a bad throw from Boston center fielder Tris Speaker. He scored, too, on a sacrifice fly to right by second baseman Jim Delahanty. The Tigers led 6-1.
The Tigers added two more in the fourth and yet two more in the fifth. Left fielder Delos Drake tripled in the fourth, driving in Stanage, who had singled. Shortstop Donie Bush then singled in Drake. Three Boston errors in the fifth combined with two singles for two more Tigers runs. Detroit’s lead was now 10-1.
The Red Sox got a pair of runs back in the top of the sixth (on singles by Duffy Lewis, Rip Williams, Bill Carrigan, and pinch-hitter Jack Thoney) and one more in the seventh on a double by Lewis and a single by Clyde Engle, but the score was still a pretty hopeless 10-4, Detroit, heading into the ninth inning. Red Sox manager Patsy Donovan had used three pitchers — Karger, Charley Hall, and Jack Killilay.
Willett seemed to have everything under control. The Red Sox went down in order in the eighth without getting a ball out of the infield.
The top of the ninth seemed similarly unpromising for Boston when Harry Hooper made the first out. But Gardner singled to shortstop, and Speaker also singled. Duffy Lewis hit a home run, a ball that got past Cobb and rolled to the center-field fence. Detroit’s lead was down to 10-7.
The tying run was on first, but Bill Carrigan popped up to short for the second out. Pinch-hitting for Killilay was Joe Riggert, playing in just his third big-league game. Fans began to edge toward the exits.
But Riggert tripled, a “shrieking three-bagger over Crawford’s head,” driving in Wagner and Williams to tie the game.1 The Boston Globe reported “great uneasiness in the grandstands.”2 Hooper grounded to Delahanty at second base, but he fumbled the ball, allowing Riggert to score the go-ahead run. Gardner grounded out to first base, but it was a seven-run ninth inning. The Red Sox had an 11-10 lead.
Detroit tied it in the bottom of the ninth off Killilay’s replacement, Smoky Joe Wood. They got the run on a Texas Leaguer by Bush and then a double off the left-field screen by Ty Cobb, for his fifth run batted in of the game.
An intentional walk put Sam Crawford on first base, but then he and Cobb executed a double steal. Detroit had runners on second and third with one out. Cobb had stolen home and won the Tigers’ game, 6-5, against New York just the day before, but now there were so many other possibilities to bring him home and gain another victory.
Delahanty was walked intentionally to load the bases. Boston’s biggest defensive play of the game followed. Wood struck out pinch-hitter Boss Schmidt; Carrigan fired the ball to Engle at third and caught Cobb off the base. The game was headed for extra innings.
In the top of the 10th, Delahanty’s second fielding error of the game allowed Speaker to reach first. Speaker suffered a sprained ankle on the play and had to be carried off the field.3 Billy Purtell entered the game as a pinch-runner. He advanced to second on a sacrifice by Lewis. Wagner singled and scored Purtell. Then Williams doubled to left and scored Wagner. The Red Sox held a 13-11 lead.
The Red Sox had 20 base hits and the Tigers had 14. Each team hit for 24 total bases. There were two Tigers errors but four by Boston. The game lasted 2 hours and 35 minutes and was witnessed by about 12,000.
Why had Willett fallen apart so abruptly? Herman Nickerson of the Boston Journal suggested that he “pitched a fine game, but his fast ball had no break on it and he was forced to use his curve. That tired him out, not perceptibly, but when the Bostonians found him, they pounded out five nice clean hits in a row and Jennings delayed yanking him until it was too late.”4
Mullin bore the loss and Wood got the win. They each had a record of 6-2 after the game. Wood wound up with a 23-17 (2.02 ERA) record at the end of the season. (Karger was 5-8 and Willett was 13-14.) Mullin finished the season with a record of 13-10 (3.07).
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org.
1 Paul H. Shannon, “Tigers Beaten by Terrific Batting,” Boston Post, May 14, 1911: 15.
2 “Red Sox Win Out in Sensational Finish,” Boston Globe, May 14, 1911: 1, 17.
3 Speaker missed eight games, returning to action on May 25.
4 Herman Nickerson, “Red Sox Beat Tigers in 10-Inning Clash,” Boston Journal, May 14, 1911: 8.