We now wrap up the series of best Cleveland Indians postseason games with a game from 70 years ago. But until we win a World Series, this one has to sit at the top.
And yet, it almost didn’t happen.
On a Cleveland Indians team that had six future Hall of Famers (Joe Gordon, Lou Boudreau, Larry Doby, Bob Feller, Bob Lemon and Satchel Paige) the man who won the world championship was a southpaw rookie pitcher.
The Indians finished the 1948 season tied for first place with the Boston Red Sox. That meant a one-game playoff, in Boston.
For the one-game playoff the Indians went with rookie lefty Gene Bearden, one of eight sub 3.00 ERA pitchers on their staff.
Things were a little different back then. Bearden pitched the playoff game on one day’s rest. But one day was enough. Player-manager Lou Boudreau hit two home runs, and Bearden went the distance in an 8-3 win. This gave Bearden 20 wins on the season.
The Indians didn’t need to take a train to their World Series game, as the opponents were the Boston Braves. The Braves were in the height of the “Spahn and Sain and pray for rain” days. Johnny Sain out-dueled Bob Feller in Game 1, 1-0.
The Indians, behind Bob Lemon, beat Spahn, 4-1, in Game 2.
The next day, in Cleveland…
Wait… the next day?
Yeah, back then they played the game, got on the train, and went to the other park without taking a day off. Not sure how long a train ride from Boston to Cleveland took, but that’s how they rolled.
Back to the story
The next day, in Cleveland, the man of the hour Gene Bearden threw a shutout. The Braves, without the rain, had to go with someone other than Spahn or Sain. In this case it was Vern Bickford. Indians 2, Braves 0.
Johnny Sain went back to the mound for Game 4. Steve Gromek, a part-time starter, went for the Indians. Larry Doby hit a home run, and Gromek rained on Sain’s parade. Indians 2, Braves 1.
Bob Feller went to the mound for Game 5. It was a chance to win the World Series in front of the home fans. Instead, the Braves took batting practice and beat the Tribe, 11-5.
Back on the trains boys, we’re heading back to Boston.
Which brings us to the greatest game ever
Bob Lemon opposed Bill Voiselle. This game was almost a must win – because Johnny Sain was up next, and even if Gene Bearden was facing him, Sain at home in Game 7 would have been a tough assignment.
The Indians drew first blood in the third inning with a Dale Mitchell double and a Lou Boudreau double. That Boudreau would be a hitting hero in 1948 was completely expected. In the regular season he hit .355 with a career high 18 home runs (he only hit 68 for his entire career) and 106 RBI. The numbers earned him the American League MVP award.
The Braves tied the game in the bottom of the fourth.
The Indians used a Joe Gordon home run and a Jim Hegan RBI ground out to go up 3-1 in the sixth.
In the eighth the Indians opened the lead to 4-1.
And then things got interesting.
We now have the tying run on first. What to do?
Bring in the rookie!
Gene Bearden for the save.
But it was a bit bumpy. Sacrifice fly and a double, and now it’s 4-3. Bearden then got a groundball to the mound to end the inning.
In the ninth it was a walk, pop up bunt for a double play and a fly out. And the Indians had their first world championship in 28 years.
Bearden was hailed as the hero. In a UPI article after game six, Lou Boudreau said “Give him all the credit. That goes back to the playoff game too.” Bearden was described as “a carefree rookie with ice water in his veins.”
Cleveland mayor Thomas Burke won 100 pots of Boston baked beans in a wager with Boston mayor James Curley. Had the Braves won, Burke would have given a wooden Indian to the Boston mayor.
Gene Bearden never came close to his rookie season again, winning no more than eight games in any season after.
Despite a great career, Bob Feller never won a World Series game.