Cleveland Municipal Stadium, October 10, 1948 – Satchel Paige comes in relief in his only World Series appearance and puts out the fire for the Indians

Cleveland Municipal Stadium, October 10, 1948 – Satchel Paige comes in relief in his only World Series appearance and puts out the fire for the Indians

Here is photo of the only time the great Satchel Paige appeared in the World Series. The Cleveland Indian hurler came in out of the bullpen in Game Five and only pitched just 0.2 innings of scoreless relief against the Boston Braves.

I’ve been aware of this stat line for some years now and wondered if Paige, who pitched splendidly during the 1948 season (6-1, 2.48 ERA and giving up only two home runs in 72.2 innings), was maybe slighted by only making one appearance and not till the fifth game to boot – until I did some basic research and found out that NO Indians reliever made an appearance in the series until that fifth game.

All first four games were complete games by the Indians staff of Bob Feller, Bob Lemon, Gene Bearden and Steve Gomek, in that order, limiting the Braves bats to just three runs and 22 hits over four games and 35 innings. In fact the Indians starters gave up just one earned run in the first 32 innings of the series.

That’s how dominant they were.

And in Game Five, with the Tribe up three games to one, Rapid Robert on the mound and at home in front of 86,228 rabid fans anticipating Cleveland’s first World Series title in quite some time, things looked dim for the Braves and possibly another whitewash by an Indians starter. But unexpectedly, as was the case in sports then as it is today, the Braves defied the odds and hit Feller hard in the first inning for three early runs. They then tagged him for a run in both the third and sixth inning but despite their bats finally awakening it was only good enough for a 5-5 tie going into the seventh inning.

But in that seventh the Braves got to Feller for good chasing him to the showers after he gave up a one-out single that scored the go ahead run, from there the Indians bullpen made their series debut a less memorable one for the rest of the inning. Making the unit’s first appearance in the series was Ed Klieman, who gave up a hit and two walks to the first three batters he faced and let two more runs to score putting the Braves up 8-5, with seven of those runs charged to Feller. Next came Russ Christopher in to relieve Klieman and he too stunk up the house promptly giving up run scoring singles to the first two batters he faced.

Now 10-5 and only one out and the Braves looking to add more to the scorecard, in came Paige for his first, and only, postseason appearance with runners on the corners. Paige first batter, Braves ace Warren Spahn, hit a fly ball that scored Mike McCormick from third base for a 11-5 lead. After being called for a balk for using his signature hesitation pitch that was outlawed during the season, the legendary hurler got the final out of the this disastrous inning by getting Tommy Holmes to hit a ground ball to shortstop Lou Boudreau.

And while there was nothing really remarkable about Paige’s performance other then him coming in and dousing the flames like the old pro that he was, it was still the best effort put forth by Cleveland’s four hurlers in that inning, including the great Bob Feller.

The Indians would lose by that 11-5 score sending the series back to Boston for Game Six and one more try for Cleveland to clinch their first World Series since 1920.

But the Tribe built a 4-1 lead late into the game and had the reliable Lemon on the mound to hold off the bats of Boston, even surviving a late rally with the help of Bearden, the star hurler of Game Three, who put out the fire in the eighth inning when the Braves cut the Indians lead to one run and then closing the door in the ninth to secure the World Series title for Cleveland, their first in 28 years.

So while at first glance it looked like the great Paige was overlooked in the Indians series win, when in reality it was the Indians starting four who made their bullpen spectators for the first four games with spectacular pitching. In six series games the relievers were needed in just 2.2 innings, minus starter Bearden’s relief effort in the final game.

But the bigger picture for Satchel Paige and teammate Larry Doby was also an historical one in that they became the first African-American players to be part of a World Series winning team. A feat, if one could back in time and fix the injustices of the color barrier, should have taken place many years before, not when arguably the best pitcher of all-time was now a wily 41-years-old rookie.

-Ron A. Bolton

Photo Source – New York Times
Info Source – Baseball-Reference.com

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