The Chicago Cubs had their work cut out for them if they were going to repeat as World Series champions in 1908. When they left Chicago on September 9 for a grueling 24-game road trip, they were mired in third place, two games behind the red-hot New York Giants and 1½ games behind the surging Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Cubs played extraordinarily well on their pivotal road trip.1 They also caught a couple of huge breaks. The first was on September 23, when they escaped with a tie in the controversial Merkle Game. Two days later, the fifth-place Cincinnati Reds swept the Giants in a doubleheader.2 Since Chicago also beat Brooklyn that day, the Cubs suddenly jumped 1½ games in the standings. Coming into their September 26 doubleheader with Brooklyn, the Cubs had pulled a half-game ahead of both the Giants and Pirates, although New York narrowly led in winning percentage.3
Chicago sent 25-year-old right-hander Ed Reulbach (20-7, 2.27 ERA) to the mound to pitch the first game of the twin bill. Reulbach had posted a stellar 1.42 ERA in his rookie season of 1905, and his streak of brilliance continued throughout the decade. In both 1906 and 1907, Reulbach was one of five Cubs starting pitchers to post an ERA below 2.00. Despite his dominance, he remains less well known to contemporary baseball fans than other Cubs pitchers of this era, such as Mordecai Brown, Jack Pfiester, and Orval Overall.4
Reulbach was opposed by 31-year-old right-hander Kaiser Wilhelm. The side-arming spitballer came into the game with a 14-21 record, which was not indicative of his performance. Wilhelm finished the season with a 1.87 ERA for the woeful Superbas.5 Brooklyn, loser of 23 of its previous 28 games, started the day in seventh place.
Neither team could get on the scoreboard in the first four innings. Reulbach scattered three singles and a walk, while Wilhelm limited the Cubs to just a pair of singles and a base on balls.
Cubs catcher Johnny Kling led off the top of the fifth with a double down the left-field line. After Reulbach sacrificed him to third, Jack Hayden hit a long sacrifice fly to score Kling and give Chicago the lead, 1-0.6
In the bottom of the fifth, Brooklyn third baseman Tommy Sheehan led off with a line-drive single to center field and Joe Dunn followed with an infield single, putting runners on first and second with nobody out. Wilhelm failed to advance the baserunners when he popped up his bunt attempt for the first out.7 The next batter, Tom Catterson, hit a foul fly that third baseman Harry Steinfeldt tracked down for a brilliant running catch. Reulbach escaped the inning unscathed by retiring Harry Lumley on a sharp comebacker.
The Cubs added a single run in the seventh on Kling’s RBI single and two more in the eighth on RBI singles by Steinfeldt and Solly Hofman. They extended their lead to 5-0 in the ninth inning on an RBI double by Johnny Evers.
Reulbach used his wicked curve and blazing fastball to retire the final 15 Brooklyn batters of the game.8 He finished with a five-hitter – all singles – and five of his seven strikeouts were recorded in the last four innings.
Reulbach neutralized the Superbas with such ease that he asked player-manager Frank Chance to let him return to the mound for the second game. While it’s unclear whether Reulbach’s thinking was impacted by Ed Summers’s back-to-back complete-game victories for Detroit the previous day,9 Chance granted Reulbach his wish.10
After a 10-minute rest break, the Cubs and Superbas were back on the field. The only change to either team’s starting lineup was the insertion of Jim Pastorius as Brooklyn’s new hurler. The 27-year-old left-hander may have been nicknamed Sunny Jim, but he had few reasons to smile during the 1908 season. Pastorius had dropped each of his previous 13 decisions, and he sported a miserable 3-19 record.
The game remained scoreless until the Cubs batted in the top of the third. Kling opened the inning with a single to center field, and Reulbach sacrificed him to second.11 Hayden’s groundball to shortstop Tommy McMillan was thrown wildly to first, allowing Kling to score the game’s first run.12
Reulbach was as effective in the second game as he was in the opener.13 He faced the minimum number of batters through six innings, with only Lumley reaching base on an infield single in the bottom of the first inning.
Brooklyn’s best scoring chance in the second game came in the bottom of the seventh. With two outs and a runner on second, Reulbach intentionally walked the Superbas’ only above-average hitter, Tim Jordan. In response, the Washington Park crowd of close to 15,000 fans “hissed disapproval.”14 The move had the desired effect, because the next batter, Al Burch, grounded into a fielder’s choice to end the inning.
Reulbach drew a walk to start a two-out rally in the top of the eighth. Singles by Hayden and Evers brought him home, and Hayden scored when the throw from the center fielder Burch got by the catcher Dunn and bounded to the screen, some 90 feet from home plate.15 Dunn was slow to retrieve the ball, so Evers attempted to circle the bases, but the catcher’s throw to Pastorius nabbed Evers at the plate by several steps.16
Reulbach limited Brooklyn to a single by Lumley in the final two innings, and Chicago held on for a 3-0 victory.
Pastorius stretched his team record for consecutive losses to 14 despite throwing a complete-game five-hitter. As of the end of the 2020 season, Pastorius still held the Dodgers franchise record with 14 consecutive losses.17
In 18 shutout innings, Reulbach allowed only nine singles, including three infield hits and a bad-hop single.18 He struck out 11 and walked just two Brooklyn hitters. Only four times in the twin bill did the Superbas get a runner as far as second base.
Reulbach’s performance in the doubleheader was so impressive that he received several invitations to deliver a monologue about it on the vaudeville stage during the offseason. He declined, stating that he would rather go fishing.19 As of the end of the 2020 season, he remained the only National or American League pitcher to throw two shutouts in a doubleheader.
The back-to-back shutouts gave Reulbach a streak of 30 scoreless innings, including 10 innings in a scoreless tie with the Philadelphia Phillies in his previous outing, on September 19. He added 14 more scoreless frames by season’s end and another six at the start of the 1909 season to set a National League record with 50 consecutive scoreless innings pitched.20 Reulbach’s mark stood until Don Drysdale tossed 58 consecutive scoreless innings in 1968.21
The extremely tight three-way pennant race continued unabated. The Cubs wrapped up their marathon road trip by winning four of five games in Cincinnati, with Brown and Reulbach each winning a pair of starts.22 Reulbach threw a two-hit shutout in the third game of the series, and two days later he won the series finale. With the Cubs ahead 15-0 after five innings in the fifth game, Chance removed Reulbach so that he would to be available to pitch in relief in their critical meeting with the Pirates the next day in Chicago.23
With the Giants’ appeal of the (tied) Merkle Game still outstanding,24 it was unclear if the Cubs’ October 4 game against the Pirates would be their final regular-season tilt. What was clear was that a loss to Pittsburgh would eliminate Chicago from the pennant race.25 But Brown kept the Cubs’ hopes alive by going the distance in a thrilling 5-2 victory.
At the close of play on October 4, the Cubs led the Pirates by a half-game and the Giants by 1½ games. The Pirates had played all 154 games and could only watch the drama unfold. The Giants still had a three-game series to play against the Boston Doves.26
Just before the start of the second game of the Giants-Doves series, the NL Board of Directors upheld the decision to count the Merkle Game as a tie.27 After New York won the first two games against Boston, there was still the chance of a three-way tie for the pennant. That possibility evaporated when the Giants took the third game against the Doves to eliminate the Pirates and set up a winner-take-all contest with the Cubs in the replay of the Merkle Game.
In that historic rematch, the Cubs roughed up Christy Mathewson for four runs in the third inning and Brown pitched 8⅓ gutsy innings of relief for a 4-2 Chicago win. Although Brown deserved much of the credit for the Cubs’ third consecutive pennant, one should not overlook the contributions of Reulbach, who finished the season with a 24-7 record and a 2.03 ERA in 297⅔ innings pitched.
Chicago went on to win its second consecutive World Series championship by defeating the Detroit Tigers, four games to one. It was 108 long years before the Cubs won the World Series again.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org.
1 As of the start of play on September 26, 1908, Chicago had gone 12-3-2 on the road trip.
2 A nervous 21-year-old Rube Marquard made his major-league debut in the first game of New York’s September 25, 1908, doubleheader. He took the loss in what was his sole appearance for the Giants that season. A fading Joe McGinnity lost the second game of the twin bill. It was the final start of his 10-year major-league career. Both the Giants and Cubs played 10 games between September 18 and 25, but New York lacked the depth of Chicago’s pitching staff. The Reds’ doubleheader sweep of the Giants was a key point of the pennant race – perhaps just as important as the “Merkle Boner.”
3 New York boasted a .629 winning percentage (88-52), while Chicago had a .628 mark (91-54). The “Games Behind Leader” concept was not used in 1908, so the Giants were generally considered to be in first place at the start of play on September 26.
4 Reulbach’s 1906 ERA of 1.65 was third best on the Cubs, behind Brown (1.04) and Pfiester (1.51). In 1907 his 1.69 ERA was fifth best on the Cubs, trailing Pfiester (1.15), Carl Lundgren (1.17), Brown (1.39), and Overall (1.68). In 1908 Reulbach’s 2.03 ERA was fourth best on the Cubs, behind Brown (1.47), Overall (1.92), and Pfiester (2.00).
5 As of the end of the 2020 season, 1908 was the lowest-scoring season in National League history. Kaiser Wilhelm’s 1.87 ERA was only seventh best in the National League that season. That stingy ERA resulted in a 16-22 record.
6 “Cubs Shut Out Brooklyn in First Game,” Evening World (New York), September 26, 1908: 2; Bill Nowlin, “Jack Hayden,” SABR BioProject, https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/jack-hayden/, accessed April 15, 2021. The Cubs selected Hayden in the Rule 5 Draft at the beginning of September 1908 to fill a hole in their roster caused by an injury to starting outfielder Jimmy Slagle. Hayden had been playing for Indianapolis of the American Association. He appeared in 11 games for the Cubs between September 19 and September 26. Hayden returned home after the September 26, 1908, doubleheader. It was the last time he appeared in the major leagues.
7 “No Change in League Race; Both Leaders Win Twice,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, September 27, 1908: 49.
8 Reulbach set down Brooklyn in order in the final four innings. He also retired the last three batters in the fifth inning after Sheehan and Dunn had reached base.
9 This was the only time in Reulbach’s 13-year major-league career that he started both ends of a doubleheader.
10 The Cubs were about to play their 10th game in eight days. However, they could have used their emergency starter, Floyd “Rube” Kroh, in the second game of the September 26 twin bill. Kroh had pitched eight solid innings against the Phillies on September 21. Another option was Andy Coakley, who had won two of his three starts with the Cubs since his contract was purchased from the Cincinnati Reds on September 2.
11 Johnny Kling was Chicago’s unsung hero in the doubleheader. He went 5-for-7 with two stolen bases and three runs scored in the twin bill. He also picked Catterson off second base in the seventh inning of the second game.
12 “Reulbach Shuts Out Brooklyn in a Double Header,” Evening World (New York), September 26, 1908: 1. McMillan’s throwing error was one of four errors he made in the doubleheader.
13 Reulbach registered a Bill James Game Score of 83 in the first game and 82 in the second contest.
14 “No Change in League Race; Both Leaders Win Twice”; Charles Dryden, “Cubs Take Two from Brooklyn,” Chicago Tribune, September 27, 1908: 15; “Superbas Fail to Score in Two Games with Cubs,” Brooklyn Citizen, September 27, 1908: 6. The crowd was more than four times bigger than Brooklyn’s average attendance in 1908. Ticket sales were boosted by the many New Yorkers who crossed the Brooklyn Bridge to cheer against the Cubs a mere three days after the Merkle Game. The hostile attitude of the New York fans toward the Cubs prompted Superbas owner Charles Ebbets to request a police presence at Washington Park for the first time that season.
15 Andrew Ross and David Dyte, “Washington Park,” BrooklynBallParks.com, http://www.covehurst.net/ddyte/brooklyn/washington_park.html, accessed April 13, 2021.
16 “Reulbach Blanks Brooklyn in Both Bargain Day Games,” Inter Ocean (Chicago), September 27, 1908: 17; “Injury to Bergen Will Keep Him Out of the Game All Season,” Brooklyn Citizen, September 8, 1908: 3. Although Joe Dunn wasn’t charged with any errors or passed balls in the doubleheader, he played poor defense in both games. Dunn had played in only nine major-league games prior to this doubleheader. His contract was purchased from Evansville of the Class B Central League in early September 1908. Brooklyn’s regular catcher, Billy Bergen, had suffered a season-ending ankle injury on September 7.
17 Mercifully, Pastorius won his final start of the season on October 2 against the Boston Doves. He finished the 1908 season with a 4-20 record and a 2.44 ERA.
18 “Cubs Shut Out Brooklyn in First Game.” The bad-hop single was by McMillan in the second inning of the first game.
19 Charles Dryden, “Cubs to War on Reds Today,” Chicago Tribune, September 28, 1908: 10; Cait Murphy, Crazy ’08, (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2007), 238.
20 Reulbach also briefly held the major-league record with 50 consecutive scoreless innings. His major-league record was broken when Jack Coombs of the Philadelphia Athletics tossed 53 consecutive scoreless innings in September 1910.
21 As of the end of the 2020 season, Orel Hershisher held the National (and American) League record with 59 consecutive scoreless innings pitched in 1988.
22 The indefatigable Cubs went 18-4-2 (.818) on their 24-game, 24-day road trip from September 10 to October 3, 1908.
23 “World’s Champions Give Reds an Awful Walloping, 16 to 2,” Inter Ocean (Chicago), October 4, 1908: 21.
24 Murphy, 253.
25 The Pirates could have clinched the National League pennant with a victory over Chicago on October 4.
26 The National League schedule had the four Eastern teams finishing the regular season on October 7. The four Western teams (St. Louis, Cincinnati, Chicago, and Pittsburgh) were to wrap up the regular season on October 4.
27 Murphy, 254.