After the opening of Forbes Field, The Pittsburgh Pirates continued their five game series with the second place Chicago Cubs. The Pirates led the NL by 6.5 games, with the New York Giants 9.5 games back in third place. The Cubs took two of the last three games of the series, sending the Pirates to Cincinnati on July 4th. The Pirates never played home games on Sunday so this was just a one day trip before they returned to Forbes for four more against the Reds. The would go on to lose the opener but take all four of the games back in Pittsburgh. That next week was an important one in the 1909 season. The Giants picked up 1.5 games in the standings during that short time span and the Cubs were still just 6.5 back. The Pirates would play a single game against the Cubs before going to New York for six games. If the Giants were going to get back in this race, this is when they would need to do it.
Pittsburgh took the one game stand with the Cubs, winning 6-2 behind the pitching of Lefty Leifield. The Giants had Christy Mathewson on their pitching staff and he dominated the Pirates, even at their best. They were also going with a five man pitching staff at this point so the way the series lined up, the Pirates would see Mathewson just once. In the past they would often see him twice during a four game series so this was a big break for the team. Pittsburgh had seven reliable starting pitchers but their go to guy was Vic Willis at this point. He started game one and took the loss but the Bucs would win the next three games, including both games of a doubleheader on July 9th. That led up to a meeting between Willis and Mathewson during the first game of their second doubleheader in four days. The second game would feature Howie Camnitz, who lost his last two starts after a five game win streak, going up against a hard-throwing rookie named Rube Marquard. The Giants, behind Mathewson, took the opener in a 3-2 pitching duel but the bats woke up in game two and Camnitz got back to his winning ways, taking the second game 9-0.
The Pirates had won five of the seven games and were in a better spot, now up 7.5 games on the Cubs and 10 games ahead of the Giants, who were in danger of falling out of the race. The schedule got easy for a stretch for Pittsburgh despite the fact they were on the road. They had ten games total against Philadelphia, Boston and Brooklyn, all teams in the bottom of the standings. The Pirates went 7-3, all but eliminating New York from the race as they dropped even further back. It didn’t however hurt the Cubs as they made up two games in the standings. Pittsburgh was now on it’s way home but this was no ordinary homestand they were about to start. They had 24 straight games, over a 26 day period, all at Forbes Field. In fact, during this stretch, every team in the NL would make an appearance at Forbes except the Chicago Cubs. The flipside to this is that the Cubs also spent a lot of that same time playing at home so it didn’t give the Pirates a huge advantage. After a four game series in St Louis, the Cubs would play 20 straight at home.
These 24 games comprised a fairly easy schedule for the Pirates. They did play them over a 26 day period but there were three doubleheaders and obviously no travel so they had five full days of rest. Also of importance was the fact everyone was healthy, from the entire starting lineup to all of their best pitchers. Due to the low level of competition, they were actually able to give starts to seven different pitchers during this stretch.
The homestand resulted in a 17-6 record for Pittsburgh, with one tie included that had to seem like a moral victory. The Giants had to come in for one makeup game and they went with Mathewson. The Pirates countered with their ace, Willis, who was able to keep the score 2-2 through eight innings. The Pirates nearly ended the game in the bottom of the 8th inning but they were robbed by an unbelievable running catch by outfielder Red Murray for the third out just as the skies opened up and eventually ended the game.
The Pirates had a 14 game road trip once their long homestand ended but they left with someone who had not been with the team all year. On August 19, Pittsburgh beat the Cardinals 8-3, giving them a 6.5 game lead over the Cubs. The third baseman that day for St Louis was Bobby Byrne, a third year player who was hitting .214 with 42 walks and 21 stolen bases. The numbers were not impressive but he was considered a solid player, good defense, good eye at the plate and decent speed. Pirates manager Fred Clarke had his eye on him for awhile and before Byrne could leave town with the Cardinals, he was on a train with his new teammates going to Philadelphia. The Pirates gave up their own light hitting third baseman Jap Barbeau, along with backup infielder Alan Storke, who had been around since 1906.
In an odd scheduling quirk, the Pirates and Cubs went just over two months without a scheduled series. Their only meeting over that 62 day time frame from July 4 until September 5 was the makeup game before the six game Giants series mentioned above. When the Pirates woke up that first day, knowing they wouldn’t play a series against the Cubs for two months, they had a 5.5 game lead in the standings. They had a 45-17 record going into it and they went 43-16 during the stretch. Their rivals from Chicago went 42-16, just a half game behind the torrid two month pace the Pirates set. The two teams had played 14 games against each other early on with Pittsburgh winning ten, but the Cubs were the three time defending NL champs and they were obviously playing just as well as the Pirates.
With six games separating the two teams, they began a five game series that was a crucial one for both with just a month to go in the season. The series started off on a Sunday, so it was in Chicago but they would be back at Forbes Field for the final four games. When we return next week we will take a look at how that series turned out, then finish off the season schedule and recap the stats for all the Pirates players.