The Pirates went into the 1905 season with changes at first base, catcher and in right field after finishing the 1904 season in fourth place. The 1905 season opened up in Cincinnati for four games with Patsy Flaherty on the mound. He went 19-9 in 1904 after leading the AL with 25 losses in 1903, and just four years after the Pirates released him following a brief four game trial. The Pirates had a strong enough pitching staff to start the year that they went five deep and waited until game five to use star pitcher Sam Leever while they also started the year without Charlie Case, who went 10-5 for them in 1904. He was out of action until the end of May, with Chick Robitaille taking his place and even though Robitaille had just nine games of major league experience, he posted a 1.91 ERA in 66 innings in 1904 after making his debut on September 2nd.
A healthy Deacon Phillippe started game two of the season, the 32 year old pitcher had a string broken in 1904 of five straight 20 win seasons to open his career. Despite the fact he was back strong for 1905, he lost the 2nd game to the Reds by a 7-0 score and the Pirates didn’t lose again until their 7th game when Deacon was on the short end of a 1-0 loss to the Cubs, who were led that day by future Hall of Famer, Mordecai Brown. The two teams actually met for five straight games, two in Chicago and three in Pittsburgh with Phillippe, Flaherty and Leever taking losses in the first three games. The win in the fourth game was a pleasant surprise for the Pirates with Robitaille defeating Brown by a 4-2 score which was then followed by wins from the previous three pitchers in a row to move the Pirates within a half game of the strong Giants on May 1st.
The Pirates took a bit of a hit right away, Mike Lynch, who went 15-11 2.71 in 1904, won his first two starts but then nearly missed a month with an injury which now put the Pirates down two starters with Case still out. The good part though was that the Pirates had a string of 16 straight games following that Cubs series that were against the middle and bottom teams of the National League. By the time Lynch returned, the Pirates were on their way to New York to face the mighty Giants for the first time on May 18th. Despite a 17-10 record by Pittsburgh at that point, they were still 4.5 games behind the Giants, who opened up with a 21-5 record after winning the 1904 NL pennant.
Pittsburgh opened up the four game series with a big win, Same Leever allowed just two runs while the Pirates beat up on superstar pitcher Christy Mathewson, winning 7-2. He was 63-25 between 1903-04 and had opened the 1905 season with a 4-1 record and two shutouts with his only loss being a 2-1 games. Unfortunately though, what seemed like a good sign for the series turned out to be the only highlight and three games later the Pirates left New York now down 6.5 games. The Giants were not only leading the league in runs scored at that point, 43 more than the Pirates had scored with their strong offense, but the were also by far the best pitching team, allowing just 73 runs in 30 games, 48 less than Pittsburgh. The Pirates may have been second in the NL standings but they had a long way to go to actually compare to the Giants.
Charlie Case returned to the Pirates rotation on May 25th but when it looked like the Pirates finally had their best five pitchers all together, Mike Lynch missed another three weeks. Case returned with a loss his first game but pitched two straight shutouts following that game, the Pirates first two shutouts of the season. When the Pirates finally had everyone back they went on a run to try to catch the Giants. On May 29th they stood at 20-17 which put them 8.5 games back in the standings but still in second place. By the end of June they had gone 20-9 but despite that strong stretch of .690 baseball, they picked up just two games in the standings with another four game series with the Giants out of the way in mid-June which resulted in a split.
On an off day on July 1st the Pirates made an important pickup in team history. Now the acquisition may not have helped them right away but the fact they stuck with George Gibson through some tough seasons at the plate definitely helped them down the line, especially during the 1909 season when they won the World Series. Gibson was in the minors for three seasons when the Pirates bought him from Montreal of the Eastern League. He had a strong accurate arm and was a good defensive catcher but not the polished strong defender he would become in later years. Despite poor hitting that 1905 season, Gibson moved into a platoon role with veteran Heinie Pietz.
Just three days later the Pirates would shakeup things again, moving backup infielder George McBride to the St Louis Cardinals for a more experienced infielder in David Brain, who would take over at 3B for Tommy Leach, who had to move to centerfield when star leadoff hitter Ginger Beaumont was suffering from knee problems and missing time. McBride was an inexperienced player having just 30 major league games at the time, he had a strong glove but was not much of a hitter. Brain was in his third full season at the time and he was coming off a season in which he hit .266 with 72 RBI’s. He was struggling in 1905 hitting just .228 at the time of the trade but he no doubt impressed the Pirates just over a month earlier when he hit three triples in one game against them.
For the time the Pirates then had a starting lineup consisting of Honus Wagner, Fred Clarke, Tommy Leach(who moved around to positions when Beaumont was healthy) Claude Ritchey, Brain, Gibson/Pietz, Del Howard was now the starting first baseman and doing well, and another rookie in rightfield, Otis Clymer, was also doing well. The other firstbaseman acquired for the 1905 season, Bill Clancy, was not hitting well, batting just .229 through 56 games and by the end of July he would be gone. Despite being a strong hitter in the minors, Clancy wouldn’t play in the majors again and some say he preferred it that way claiming he would rather be a star player in the minors than fail in the majors. Clancy claimed that he would play for whoever paid him the best no matter where it was and at that time a star player in the minors could make the same as a major league bench player.
Despite an 18-8 month of July the Pirates picked up no ground on the Giants, they in fact were now another half game out, now nine games back in the standings. While a 58-34 record put them safely in second place and would put them easily in first place in the AL, the Giants were now 67-25 and not looking back. Next week we will see how the Pirates finished the season, both in the standings and the stats. The season may have been basically over on August 1st but the 1905 season saw another important debut and the year would end with a bang that would help the Pirates for years to come.