The 1903 Pirates Season Part Two: The Streak
When I left off last week the Pirates had dropped to four games back in the standings, trailing the first place Cubs and also the Giants who were making their way to Pittsburgh for a pivotal three game series to start the month of June. On the mound for the Giants in game one was Christy Mathewson. He was just 22 at the time but establishing himself as the dominant pitcher he is now known to have been. Prior to 1903 he had a losing record in his three seasons going 34-37, but things turned around in 1903 and in game one of that series not only did Mathewson shut the Pirates down but the NY offense beat up on Ed Doheny handing him a 10-2 loss. Things did not look good at that point for the two time defending National League Champs but little did everyone know, they were about to turn their season around in a big way.
On June 2nd Deacon Phillippe faced off against Luther “Dummy” Taylor, a 28-year-old deaf pitcher who was marginal at the time, but his best days were ahead of him just like the 1903 Pirates. Phillippe was already a four time 20 game winner to start his career but he stepped up his game this season and the major turnaround after a slow start happened on this day, not only for him but for the team. He threw a 7-0 shutout that started and string of terrific pitching performances that would be hard for any team to match.
On June 3rd Sam Leever threw a shutout at the Giants, winning 5-0 and defeating future Hall of Famer Joe McGinnity in the process. The Pirates also took the series from the Giants picking up a game in the standings. The Boston Beaneaters came into town for three games and Kaiser Wilhelm, Ed Doheny and Phillippe shut them out for the series winning 5-0, 9-0 and 4-0. In game three of that series Boston went to their ace, future Pirates star and another future Hall of Famer, Vic Willis.
The shutout streak would reach six games as Sam Leever shut down the Phillies on June 8th. Just seven games into the month the Pirates had made this a tight race with 1.5 games separating the three teams but they were far from finished, even though the 6 game shutout streak ended the next day.
The 2nd game of the Phillies series saw Kaiser Wilhelm give up three runs but the bats came alive and plated seven runs. The next day the Pirates swept the Phillies to go 8-1 on the homestand with the Brooklyn Dodgers coming in for a series and the Cubs to follow. I’m sure the five straight series at home helped the team out but the pitching was outstanding during this run.
The Dodgers and Pirates were only able to get in one game due to the weather and field conditions that followed but in that game Phillippe was able to throw his third straight shutout. When they finally got back to playing after a four day layoff, the Pirates had moved to 2nd place, just one game Behind the Giants and the Cubs had moved to 3rd place, just two games back. Sam Leever decided he didn’t want to be outdone by his fellow ace and he matched Phillippe’s streak with his own, posting his 3rd straight shutout. A win the next day by Phillippe gave the Pirates an abbreviated two game sweep over the Cubs and ended their homestand with an 11 game win streak and a share of 1st place on June 16th.
The win streak wasn’t over for Pittsburgh, after a travel day to Boston they went into South End Grounds, the home park of the Beaneaters and swept a three game series with their three aces, Leever, Doheny and Phillippe on the mound. After more weather delays and a trip to Philadelphia, the Pirates were forced to play a doubleheader on June 25th. They took game one but were forced to go to Bucky Veil for just his 3rd start of the year and he took the loss ending the win streak at 15 games. Normally, Phillippe or Leever would’ve pitched but both were being saved for the next two games in NY against the Giants big two, Mathewson and McGinnity.
A streak that started after a crushing defeat at home, ended with the Pirates 2.5 games up in the standings. Due to the weather delays and length of the streak the Pirates went 24 days between defeats, starting after the greatest pitcher in NL history shut them down and ending with a reserve pitcher on the mound for the Pirates who hadn’t started a game in nearly a month. Clearly it was one of the most impressive streaks you will see from a team. Twice, long layoffs threatened to take away their momentum but a 15 game streak in which they outscored their opponents 97-21 is a truly remarkable feat.
Next week I will pick up right where we left off last time, Christy Mathewson on the mound standing in the way of the Pirates and their path to a third straight title. Exactly three months left in the season and the same three teams still battling it out for the NL crown with just three games separating them in the standings.
Could the Pirates with their three aces on the mound and stars like Honus Wagner and Fred Clarke hold off John McGraw’s Giants behind future Hall of Famers Christy Mathewson, Roger Bresnahan and Iron Joe McGinnity? Or would the Cubs team with Frank Chance, Johnny Evers and Joe Tinker be the team to end their run at three titles? The Pirates had seven games in a row against these two teams in Mid-July so their small lead in the standings was anything but safe.