Ernie Shore’s ‘perfect game’ against the Nats

December 9, 2019:

One of the most famous stories about Babe Ruth’s career – especially when he was a pitcher – was the day he started a game against the Senators and was ejected after walking the first batter.

The runner was thrown out trying to steal on the first pitch by Ruth’s replacement, Ernie Shore. Shore proceeded to retire the next 26 Washington batters in a row. His performance until a 1991 rules change was considered a perfect game, but today, Shore is credited only with pitching in a combined no-hitter.

More than once, I’ve read that Walter Johnson was the Senators’ starter in this game against Boston at Fenway Park on June 23, 1917. That’s probably because Shore’s

Ernie Shore

performance came in the first game of a double-header. Johnson in fact started – and lost – the second game. Right-hander Doc Ayers started the first game.

The lead-off batter who walked on four pitches against Ruth was Ray Morgan, the Senators regular second baseman for nearly seven years from 1912 to 1918. Ruth began jawing with plate umpire Brick Owens after the second and third pitches. When what Ruth thought was a perfect strike was called ball four, the pitcher hurled some choice words at Owens, who told him to shut up or get thrown out of the game. Ruth said if he was tossed, he’d punch Owens in the nose. When the umpire ejected him, Ruth came charging at Owens, fists flying.

Shore always maintained that Ruth did not strike Owens. Most accounts say the Bambino hit Owens with a glancing blow and knocked him down, but Ruth in his autobiography claimed he hit Owens hard in the jaw. In any case, Ruth was immediately ejected as was Red Sox catcher Pinch Thomas. His replacement, Sam Agnew, came off the bench to throw out Morgan.

Red Sox manager Jack Barry told Shore, who was allowed five warm-up pitches,  just to try to get through the first inning. But after retiring the Nats on a handful of pitches, Shore told Barry he felt fine and could kept going. Shore ended up throwing about 75 pitches in a game that took just an hour and 40 minutes.

Sox left fielder Duffy Lewis kept the Nats hitless in the ninth with a shoestring catch of a liner by catcher John Henry. The final out came when Senators manager Clark Griffith signaled to Mike Menosky to lay down a bunt, although some sources describe the ball Menosky hit as a “swinging bunt.” In any case, the throw from second baseman Barry, the player/manager, was in time at first, and the no-hitter was in the books.

Ruth, meanwhile, got off relatively easily: a $100 fine, a 10-game suspension and an agreement to make a public apology.

Ayers pitched a complete game but lost 4-0, dropping his won-loss record to 1-6. From there, he went 10-4, however, to finish at 11-10 with a career-best 2.17 ERA. He started just 15 of the 40 games in which he pitched, but had 12 complete games.

Morgan was a dead-ball era equivalent of Eddie Yost with a career on-base percentage of .348 on just a .254 batting average. He must have taken a lot of pitches: His 68 walks were eighth best in the A.L. in 1913, but his 63 strikeouts ranked third. Morgan’s .398 OBP in 1916 was fourth highest in the league. He also had three seasons in which he ranked in the top 10 in being hit by pitches.

The Nats were shut out again, 5-0, in the second game. Morgan had one of Washington’s four hits.

Four days later, on June 27 at Fenway Park, the Nats got some revenge on Shore. Joe Judge, leading off for Washington, hit Shore’s second pitch for a triple to deep center. Although Shore went the distance, he gave up 13 hits and lost, 7-6, in 11 innings. Ayers tossed three shutout innings in relief for the win.

The 20-year-old Ruth was 24-13 for the Red Sox with a 2.01 ERA that season, his last primarily as a pitcher. Oh, and he hit .325, producing what today would be a .857 OPS. The next season, he would win 13 games while leading the league in home runs (11) and, retrospectively, a .966 OPS.

Shore was 13-10 with a 2.22 ERA in 1917. He was good enough to have started the first games of the 1915 and ’16 World Series.

Johnson had what by his standards was a sub-par season: 23-16 with a 2.21 ERA. He pitched much better after dropping to a 5-9 record with this loss, winning 18 games and losing just seven the rest of the year.

The two losses dropped Washington to 21-35, just a half game ahead of the A’s and out of the A.L. basement. The sweep allowed the Red Sox to move to within a game and a half of the first-place White Sox. Chicago pulled away, however, and won the pennant by nine games over the Boston. The Nats played better the rest of the season, finishing fifth at 74-79.

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