I left off last week with the Pirates protecting a small lead as the month of June came to a close. The Pirates opened July at Philadelphia with a three game lead over the Phillies as well as Brooklyn and St. Louis, while the Giants trailed by just two games. Even the Boston Beaneaters (Braves) were still within striking distance just five games back. The month didn’t start well with a 1-0 shutout loss and wins by the Cardinals, Braves and Giants. Just one day into the month five teams were now within 3.5 games of first place.
Pirates won the last game of the series in Philadelphia and then after an off day they split a July 4th doubleheader with the Giants. They lost the first game that day which briefly tied the two teams for 1st place, but the Pirates won the 2nd game by a 12-0 score. That game would be the start of a seven game win streak which included four shutouts by four different starters. The last four games of the streak were against Boston, which basically knocked them out of the picture and gave the Pirates what seemed like a comfortable 4.5 game lead and a 41-25 record.
After an off day on July 15th, the Bucs lost 4 straight home games, including three to Brooklyn, which got them back into the race. Right before this time they had signed a shortstop named Lew Carr who lasted just two weeks in place of Bones Ely. He played okay but the Pirates eventually came up with a better solution for the position, moving Honus Wagner there from rightfield and releasing Carr thus ending his 11 day major league career. Ely would be released as well a short time later. He had played 743 games for the Pirates but was 38 years old and his best days were well behind him.
At the same time they released Ely, they made an important signing, picking up pitcher Ed Doheny. The 27 year old lefty didn’t seem like much at the time, he was released by the Giants where he posted a 37-69 career record over seven seasons. He would have a much more successful run with the Pirates albeit brief and with a not so good ending.
The Pirates ended July with a 16-9 record and a three game lead over both the Phillies and Cardinals, while both Boston and Brooklyn dropped back. At this time Jack Chesbro pulled off one of the oddest three game stretches you’ll see from a pitcher. He won the last game of July over the Cardinals 8-0. He followed that with a 20-6 loss to the same Cardinals teams before throwing a shutout in his next start, 12 days later. August 5th was the date of the 20-6 loss, and coupled with a Phillies sweep in NY the Pirates had a 1 game lead over the Phillies and 1.5 over the Cardinals team that just crushed them.
Things did not look good that day for the Pirates but that’s when newcomer Ed Doheny stepped in and ran off four straight wins within an 18 day span, two of them against the Cardinals. Doheny came to the rescue, helping save the season for Pittsburgh while star pitcher Sam Leever was in the midst of missing two months with an injury. With Leever back in early September the Pirates ran off ten straight wins including a stretch of 3 straight days of doubleheaders against the Giants in New York during which the Pirates offense exploded for a combined 80-23 whitewashing. They scored at least 10 runs in every game and three times scored 15 runs.
After a loss in the first game to Philadelphia the Pirates went on an incredible 16-3 run, finishing the month of September with 25 wins, the last one clinching their first NL title for them. On Friday September 27, 1901, Deacon Phillippe defeated Brooklyn 5-4 increasing the Pirates lead in the NL to 10 games. When combined with a Phillies loss and just 8 games left on the schedule, the city of Pittsburgh had their first NL crown to celebrate. The Pirates themselves seemed to celebrate the victory the next 3 days as they scored a combined 3 runs in 3 straight losses but they finished out with a win on October 6th giving them 90 wins for the first time in franchise history and also giving them their best winning percentage up until that point. The 1901 season still ranks as the 4th best record in team history.
The team was led by Honus Wagner in almost every hitting category. He led the NL in both RBI’s and stolen bases with 126 and 49 respectively. He batted .353 while collecting 195 hits and smacking 37 doubles, all three stats led the Pirates. His average ranked him 4th in the league but just .001 away from a 2nd place tie. Manager Fred Clarke hit .324 with 118 runs scored while in LF and centerfielder Ginger Beaumont batted .332 with a team leading 120 runs scored. Lefty Davis, who they signed mid-season, played RF after Wagner moved and scored 87 runs in 87 games while hitting .313 and drawing 56 walks.
The Pirates combined strong hitting with good plate patience to lead the league with a .345 on base percentage and good team speed helped them score a total of 777 runs, just 15 behind the league leading St Louis Cardinals. They also had a very strong pitching staff which held their opponents to just 534 runs scored, the lowest total in the league. Despite the early loss of Rube Waddell, the star pitcher who lasted just two games before being sold off due to differences with Fred Clarke and the team, the team still posted amazing numbers from the starters.
Deacon Phillippe 22-12 2.22 in 32 starts, 5 relief appearances
Jack Chesbro 21-10 2.38 in 28 starts, 8 relief appearances
Jesse Tannehill 18-10 2.18 in 32 starts
Sam Leever 14-5 2.86 in 21 starts
Ed Doheny 6-2 2.00 in 10 starts
Even 21 year old George Merritt, who went on to a long career as a minor league outfielder, won the only 3 starts of his pro career that year for the Pirates. The 1901 Pirates were a great team in franchise history but they won despite losing the 1900 ERA leader, Rube Waddell. Star pitcher Sam Leever missed two months as well. With Ed Doheny seeming to turn his career around and all of the best players returning for 1902, you could imagine what this team could do with 5 top notch starters the next season.