The 1910 Pittsburgh Pirates were tied for third place in the middle of July with the Reds as the second place New York Giants came into Forbes Field for a four game series. The Pirates and Giants were perennial top finishers in the National League, along with the first place Chicago Cubs, and a mid-season series between the clubs was always a big deal. On July 13,1910, the Pirates stood 7.5 games out of first place with a 35-32 record. Pittsburgh had just received a one-sided beating from the Philadelphia Phillies on July 11th, losing 18-0 at home. After an off-day due to the weather, they were ready to take on the Giants, with Howie Camnitz on the mound, opposing rookie Louis Drucke, who had defeated the Pirates 6-3 in New York a month earlier. For parts 1-3 of the 1910 season, check the links below.
The Pirates had their best pitchers lined up for the Giants series, Camnitz, followed by Lefty Leifield, who would face Christy Mathewson, then Nick Maddox and Babe Adams. In the opener, Camnitz held up his end on the pitching side, throwing a three-hit shutout as the Pirates won 4-0. In game two, Leifield gave up three runs through eight innings and Deacon Phillippe threw a scoreless ninth, but the Pirates were down 3-0 with Mathewson still on the mound.
The ninth inning for the Pirates started with a walk to Fred Clarke. Honus Wagner followed with a sharp grounder to shortstop Art Fletcher, who threw wildly to first base for an error, putting runners on first and second with no outs. Mathewson retired Ham Hyatt, as both runners moved up. Pinch-hitter John Flynn, batting for rookie Bill McKechnie, then singled home a run, putting runners on the corners with one out. Chief Wilson collected his fourth hit of the game, making it 3-2 but the Pirates hopes seemed to fade as George Gibson’s weak grounder ended up with Flynn getting throw out at home trying to score the tying run.
That brought up Paddy O’Connor to pinch-hit for Phillippe. Not only was O’Connor a weak hitter, he was rarely used, getting 36 AB’s over his three seasons as the Pirates third string catcher. Luckily, Paddy didn’t have to take the bat off his shoulder, as Mathewson walked him to load the bases. That walk ended up being the only one O’Connor drew during his three years on Pittsburgh. Lead-off hitter Bobby Byrne, then drew a second walk from Christy, forcing home the tying run. The Giants star pitcher couldn’t find the plate all of a sudden, and with the ninth Pirates batter up of the inning(Tommy Leach), manager John McGraw pulled Mathewson after he went 2-0 on Leach. Reliever Red Ames came in and threw two pitches, both balls, bringing home the winning run for the Pirates.
After the game, manager Fred Clarke declared that the game was a confidence booster for the Pirates. Game three turned out to be a slugfest early, that went into the ninth inning tied at seven apiece. The Giants scored all of their runs in the second and third innings, leading 7-5 after three. Kirby White pitched six scoreless innings in relief and for the second day in a row, the Pirates won on a game-ending bases loaded walk. The fourth game turned out to be the third game, as in third game the Pirates came from behind for a win. For the second time in the series, the losing pitcher was Christy Mathewson, an astonishing fact considering how easily he had handled the Pirates over the years and prior to this series, the Giants had won in 13 of his 16 starts.
A four game sweep left the Pirates all alone in third place, 5.5 games back of the Cubs and just two games behind the Giants. They also had a day off following to series to gear up for a scheduled eight games over the next six days. The good thing about the upcoming week for the Pirates was the fact they took on Boston and Brooklyn, two teams with the worst record in the NL and also the two lowest scoring teams in the league. Clarke stressed to his team how important it was for them to beat up on the second division teams, something they weren’t doing early. The Pirates went 5-4 in the first nine games against Boston and just 1-6 against Brooklyn, with six losses in a row.
Boston provided the Pirates with a tightly contested series, splitting the four games while making Pittsburgh work hard for the win in game three, a 5-4 victory in 11 innings. Whatever power that Brooklyn had over the Pirates prior to their four game series in late July, had disappeared by the time the two teams met up again. Pittsburgh took the series sweep easily, winning by a combined 33-4 score.
A Sunday off brought the fifth place Phillies into Pittsburgh for two games. Philadelphia took the opener, but ran into the strong pitching of Kirby White in the second game and the two teams split the short series. At this time, a few interesting things of note happened to the Pirates on July 27th. White had allowed two ninth inning runs, although both were unearned. Those runs ended a 32 inning shutout streak he had dating back to his six shutout innings in relief against the Giants. On the 18th against Boston and the 21st against Brooklyn, both being second games of doubleheaders, Kirby threw complete game shutouts.
Also there were some transactions and moves of note, two due to pitchers being healthy, while another was due to an infielder not recovering from an injury in a timely manner. The Pirates cut down their pitching staff to nine by releasing Bill Powell and Skip Dowd. The only game Dowd had pitched since being signed out of college was on July 5th, when he came in to pitch in relief for Bill Powell during an eventual 11-3 loss. Not only was it the last game for Dowd, it was the last start for Powell, who was getting a regular turn early in the season, and he had been with the team since the beginning of the 1909 World Series winning season. The team thought Powell didn’t put forth much effort to make himself a strong pitcher, noting that he should’ve been a much better but didn’t do the work or have the disposition to reach his potential.
Pittsburgh had eight healthy regulars on the pitching staff and then a rookie named Jack Mercer, who was just signed out of the Three-I League, where he pitched the last two seasons for Peoria. He was said to have above average velocity and deception in his delivery. With some training, Clarke thought he would eventually make a good major leaguer, but for the time being his role would be limited to any mop-up duty that should arise.
One player that was missing was Dots Miller. He started off the season hitting strong, but went into a slump at the same time the team did in June, then injured his leg, which was slow to heal. On the same day as White’s shutout streak ended, and Powell and Dowd were sent packing, the Pirates sent Miller back to his home in Kearny,NJ to recoup. He would return a week later, ironically the same day Mercer made his debut, and then get back into the lineup after a week of rehab work to get back into shape. Once he was back, he remained in the lineup everyday, playing 55 of the last 61 games of the season. Miller was replaced at second base during his injury time by future Hall of Fame manager, Bill McKechnie. Bill played the position defensively as well as anyone in the league during Miller’s absence, although his offense left something to be desired.
The Pirates finished July with a five games series against Cincinnati before embarking on a 16-day, 17-game road trip that would take them from Philadelphia to Boston to Brooklyn to New York, before returning home. It would be an important trip for them to try not to lose ground to the Cubs, who were playing well. After taking four of the five games against the Reds, Pittsburgh had a 50-36 record. It was a 15-4 stretch for the team, one that immediately followed their 18-0 loss against the Phillies. The problem was that they didn’t pick up any ground on the Chicago Cubs, who posted an identical 15-4 record over that time. The Giants had dropped back to seven games behind Chicago, though still a half game ahead of the Pirates in the standings.
Before Pittsburgh could play another game, the Giants moved another half game ahead with a win over Boston on August 1st. When we return, we will see how the Pirates handled the big road trip and then how they did as they returned to Forbes Field for 13 games over 13 days, playing five different teams during that homestand that took them through the end of August.