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Monday, October 8, 2012

Giants Must Channel the Comeback Spirit of 1921

Posted By on Mon, Oct 8, 2012 at 1:30 PM

Bruce Boche will have to channel the ghost of John McGraw.
  • Bruce Boche will have to channel the ghost of John McGraw.

It's not looking good.

"The Giants are on the verge of elimination," wrote the Contra Costa Times' Alex Pavlovic. "They are going, going, going ... and they probably aren't coming back," mused the Merc's Tim Kawakami. "Doomsday Tuesday," proclaimed the Chron's Scott Ostler.

Indeed, down 0-2, with the best-of-five series now planted in Cincinnati, the team's proud aces having been walloped, the offense looking more like the 2006 Giants, the AT&T Park season ticket-holders hugging goodbye to the ushers, plus gas prices are rising -- you get the point.

But all hope is not lost. This wouldn't be the first time the franchise storms back from an 0-2 hole to win a playoff series. Just the first time in 91 years.

The 1921 (New York) Giants looked pretty crappy after two games, too. They totaled seven hits, two errors, and zero runs.

The New York Yankees, after all, were a juggernaut. They featured the most powerful lineup in baseball, a hard swinging club that led the majors in both runs scored and strike-outs. The team slugged .464, 27 points higher than the next best squad, and smacked 134 home runs, 46 more than second place (and 31 more than the 2012 Giants). Their superstar Babe Ruth had completed the most absurdly dominating offensive season in baseball history. He batted .378, slugged .846, drove in 171 runs, and hit 59 home runs (more than eight teams).

The Giants, in contrast, were masters at manufacturing runs. A reflection of their ferocious and brilliant manager, John McGraw, the Giants scratched, kicked, and bit for every point, leading the majors in stolen bases. The offense didn't need to put much on the scoreboard, though, as the pitching staff allowed fewer walks, hits, and runs than any other team in the National League.

The match-up, which would be the first ever Subway Series, was a compelling battle of styles.

"Ruth's presence in the Yankee lineup assured that the 1921 Series between the Yanks and John McGraw's New York Giants would be the most closely followed championship series ever," wrote Lyle Spatz and Steve Steinberg in 1921: The Yankees, the Giants, and the Battle for Baseball Supremacy in New York. "Even before the first pitch was thrown, fans were discussing whether McGraw's pitchers would be able to handle the Yankee sluggers as a group and in particular, Ruth."

For the first two games, Ruth and Co. were beating the Giants at their own game. They won the opener 3-0, led Ruth's RBI single, third baseman Mike McNally's steal of home, and Carl Mays' shutout pitching. The Giants couldn't get more than one hit in any inning.

Game two was more of the same: the Yanks scored twice on fielders choices and once more on a steal of home. Babe Ruth walked three times and stole two bases. The Giants managed just two hits.

So far the series had gone perfectly for the Yankees, except for a single thing: On one of Ruth's steals, he scraped his elbow, and it would soon become infected. The arm would bother him for the rest of the series.

The Yankees' success continued into the third game, with a four-run fourth inning. Hope seemed lost for Giants fans back then too. Pitcher Jesse "Nubby" Barnes led off the bottom of the fourth. He singled to left. Then came another single. Then three walks, scoring two runs. Then a ground-out RBI. Then a single. the Giants tied the game that inning, scoring four runs on three singles.

They blasted the game open with an eight-run seventh inning and won 13-5.

In game four, the Giants headed to the top of the eighth down 1-0. Carl Mays was six outs away from another gem. Mays had allowed just two hits, and no Giants runner had advanced past first base. But Irish Meusel led off the inning with a triple, sparking a three-run rally that would tie the series at two games each.

The Yankees won the next game 3-1. Ruth scored the go-ahead run in the fourth after reaching first base on a bunt, and then racing around to score on Bob Meusel's subsequent double.

Led by RBIs from Irish Meusel and catcher Frank Snyder, the Giants erased early deficits in each of the next two games to take a 4-3 lead in the best-of-nine series.

The eighth game pitted against each other two of baseball's all-time great playoff pitchers, the Yankees' Waite Hoyt and the Giants' Art Nehf. In game two, Hoyt had out-dueled Nehf with a two-hit shutout. Once again, this time in game eight, the two hurlers would battle for nine innings. And over 18 combined innings, they would allow zero earned runs.

The Giants scored in the top of the first on an error by short stop Roger Peckinpaugh. Hoyt had started off shaky, walking two of the first four batters.

Nehf had his own early struggles. After striking out the Yankees' first batter, he walked Peckinpaugh, then gave up a single to center fielder Elmer Miller. A wild pitch advanced both runners. With Ruth out of the line-up due to the infection, Nehf got Bob Meusel to pop out to first and then struck out first baseman Wally Pipp.

Both pitchers would settle down over the next couple of innings, allowing just seven combined hits from the third inning on. The score remained 1-0, Giants.

Babe Ruth, pinch-hitting, led off the bottom of the ninth. He grounded out to first. Then, Nehf walked Aaron Ward. Next, Frank "Home Run" Baker slapped a sharp grounder to the right side of the infield. Second baseman Johnny Rawlins made a diving pick and threw to first for the out. Ward, perhaps sensing the team's impending doom, rounded second base in an aggressive sprint before committing one of baseball's cardinal sins: he made the third out at third base. Double play. Game over. Giants won the World Series.

The franchise would go at least 90 years without coming back from an 0-2 deficit to win a playoff series. Which means they're due.

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Albert Samaha


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