January 1, 2019
As the 1940 season was ending, three Senators’ pitchers combined on Sept. 27 to surrender the most runs allowed in an American League game that year.
The potent Red Sox lineup of 1940 hadn’t been enough to overcome weak pitching. In between four second-place finishes (1938-39 and 1941-42), the Sox were mired in fifth place when the team began its final home stand on Sept. 26.
At the plate, the Sox were the equal of the first-place Tigers, a tick behind Detroit for the lead with a .286 team batting average, scoring an average of 5.66 runs-per-game – barely behind the Tigers — and out-homering all but the Yankees. Boston’s lineup featured four future Hall-of-Famers: shortstop-manager Joe Cronin, second baseman Bobby Doerr, first baseman Jimmie Foxx and left fielder Ted Williams. Rookie Dom DiMaggio, who would hit .301, had taken over center field from veteran all-star Doc Cramer, another .300 hitter, who
started in right. Cronin had been playing-manager with the Senators, leading Washington to its third and last pennant in 1933. In the depth of the Depression, team owner Clark Griffith sold Cronin, by then married to Griffith’s adopted daughter, after the 1934 season to the Red Sox for $250,000 and a far lesser shortstop.
The Sox downfall was pitching. Lefty Grove was about to turn 40 and was a season past his final good one. The top starter, Jim Bagby Jr., was not yet the all-star he would become with Cleveland. The staff’s 4.89 earned run average was sixth in the league, lower only than the sixth-place Browns and last-place Athletics.
Still, Boston left Philadelphia on Sept. 25 having beaten the Athletics twice. Those victories pulled the team out of a stretch of 11 losses in 14 games that had dashed any hope of a late charge. The 16-8 victory on Sept. 24 had been one for the books. The Sox had scored seven runs in the sixth inning with a Major League record seven extra-base hits: four homers, two triples and a double. A single gave the Sox 25 total bases in the inning, an American League record. One of the four home runs was by Foxx, the 500th of his career. He became the second player to reach that milestone.
Seventh-place Washington, playing out the string, arrived in Boston from New York for two late-afternoon games on Thursday and Friday at Fenway Park. Washington had lost both games at Yankee Stadium as the Bombers tried to make a run at a fifth-straight title. With two runs in the ninth, the Nats beat the Red Sox, 6-5, on Thursday. The next day, as Detroit clinched the pennant, beating Bob Feller in Cleveland, and with the Yanks losing to the A’s, Red Sox batters took out their frustrations on three Washington pitchers.
Veteran lefty Fritz Ostermueller, in his seventh season with the Red Sox, started for Boston. He had won just four games all season, moving between the rotation and the bullpen. Rene Monteagudo, a 5-foot-7 Cuban left-hander, started for Washington. This would be his only full season as a pitcher in the majors, although he resurfaced during the war as an outfielder and pinch-hitter. After being sent to the minors, Monteagudo hit .326 in the South Atlantic League in 1943 He got into 10 games with Washington at the end of 1944 and appeared in 114 games with the Athletics in 1945, hitting .301 and pitching 45.2 innings in 14 games.
Other than the pitcher, the Red Sox started the same lineup that had taken the field on opening day. The crowd, reported as 2,200 for the 3 p.m. game, saw Washington take the lead with two runs in the first. Nats shortstop Cecil Travis, given new life when his foul pop was dropped, singled in the first run. First baseman Jack Sanford doubled Travis home.
Travis, 3-for-5 in this game, would finish the season at .322, the sixth time in his seven full seasons he had hit .317 or better. His .359 average in 1941 was second only to Ted Williams and his 218 hits led the league. He missed nearly all of the next four seasons in the army. He saw combat near the end of the Battle of the Bulge, where he suffered frostbite in two toes. When he returned, he was not the same player and retired after the 1947 season.
A walk and a single put runners at the corners for the Sox with no outs in the first, but Williams hit into a 3-6-3 double play. DiMaggio scored to make it 2-1. Neither team scored in the second. The Nats still led by a run when the Sox came up in the bottom of the third.
Three singles leading off the inning loaded the bases for Williams. Again, he grounded to first. This time Washington couldn’t turn a double play, and Williams was credited with an RBI. A Foxx single drove in Cramer and DiMaggio. Cronin’s 24th homer brought in two more, putting the Sox up 6-2 after three.
The Senators pinch-hit for Monteagudo in the fourth. Right-hander Lou Thumon, a September call-up, took the mound in bottom of the inning. He walked the number eight hitter and then the pitcher. Washington second baseman Jimmy Bloodworth booted DiMaggio’s grounder to load the bases. Cramer’s single drove in two. Williams’ single drove in another.
Thumon, who pitched five inning in his only other 1940 appearance, left the mound for the final time in the majors after walking Foxx. Canadian lefty Joe Krakauskas relieved Thumon with the score 9-2 and the bases loaded. Krakauskas had been a serviceable starter for the Senators in 1939, throwing 217.1 innings and winning 11 games, but 1940 found him relegated mostly to the bullpen. On this day, he was about to take one for the team.
With Cronin up, a passed ball brought in Cramer with the 10th run. Cronin then walked to re-load the bases. Doerr walked, forcing in another run. Sox third baseman Jim Tabor singled, driving in Foxx and Cronin.
After a fly-out and a fielder’s choice grounder, DiMaggio’s single brought in another run. Cramer’s walk loaded the bases again. Williams’ single brought in the final two runs of the inning before Foxx struck out. The totals: five walks, five singles and 10 runs. Six of the runs, five earned, were charged to Thumon. The Red Sox led, 16-2, after four. Cronin and Foxx were given the rest of the day off, but the scoring barrage continued.
Krakauskas gave up a solo homer to Doerr, his 22nd, in the fifth, but held the Sox scoreless in the sixth and seventh. Left in to bat, the Nats pitcher singled and scored in the seventh. A single by Bloodworth scored George Case with the Senators fourth run.
Washington manager Bucky Harris understandably saw no need to waste another pitcher, so Krakauskas stayed in for a fifth inning. It got ugly fast.
Charlie Gelbert, who had replaced Tabor at third base in the sixth, led off with a double. He moved to third on catcher Gene Desautels’ single. Ostermueller, the pitcher, raised his average to .315 with an RBI single. A wild pitch scored Desautels. DiMaggio doubled home Ostermueller, who scored four runs himself, a Sox record for a pitcher (at least since 1908).
After a strikeout, Williams walked. Tony Lupien, who had replaced Foxx, tripled. A sacrifice fly scored him. Doerr doubled and scored the final run on Gelbert’s single.
Mercifully, the Sox needed just 24 outs. Thanks to nine walks, Boston scored a season-high 24 times on 22 hits, 17 of them singles, and 34 total bases. The 24 runs were the most scored in the majors by any team in a 1940 game.
The Red Sox were not done, however. In double-headers the next two days, Boston pummeled the Athletics again, 16-4 and 8-1 on Saturday and 9-4 and 4-1 on Sunday. In winning the last five games of the season, the Sox scored 61 runs, allowed just 14, and pulled into a fourth-place tie with the White Sox at 82-72.
The 40 runs in back-to-back games, not a record even then, was topped by the Red Sox in beating the Browns 20-4 and 29-4, in the two games of June 7-8, 1950.
The pummeling taken by the Nats didn’t carry over. Washington beat the Yankees, 4-3, the next day at Griffith Stadium behind Sid Hudson, who won his 17th. The team lost its last two games to finish at 64-90, three games behind the sixth-place Browns and 10 games ahead of the Athletics.
This is adapted from a Games Project story I wrote for forthcoming SABR book. Clicking on the player names should take you to the SABR biographical essay for each (if it’s been written).