The 1909 Pittsburgh Pirates Season: Part Three

Last week we finished off with the first place Pittsburgh Pirates about to start a five game series against the second place Chicago Cubs on September 5,1909. The Cubs trailed the Bucs by six games going into the series. The two teams would meet again for three games at Chicago in the last week of the season but with a good showing in this series, the Pirates could all but put away the pennant with a month to go. The first game was on a Sunday so the series started in Chicago(games were not played in Pittsburgh on Sunday during that era). After one game, the teams would then return to Forbes Field for four games.

The series started with a brilliantly pitched game featuring Mordecai “Three Fingers” Brown going up against Howie Camnitz, who had already won his 20th game on the season. The two pitchers matched each other with six shutout innings before the Cubs scratched out a run in the seventh inning. The Pirates tied it up the next inning with pinch hitter Ham Hyatt, batting for Camnitz, driving home Chief Wilson on a one out RBI groundout. Sam Leever came in to pitch for Pittsburgh and he shutdown the Cubs through the tenth inning. In the 11th, the Pirates scored four runs off Brown, thanks in part to two errors by shortstop Joe Tinker. Leever finished the Cubs off in the bottom of the inning and the Pirates took a seven game lead in the standings back to Pittsburgh for the last four games of the series.

The two teams played a doubleheader on day two of the series. The first game started at 10:30am and featured Babe Adams pitching for the Pirates. He threw eight scoreless innings but his defense cost him the shutout in the ninth and the Cubs hit him hard in the tenth inning to take a 3-1 victory. The Cubs would take game two 6-3 but the Pirates evened up the series by winning game four. In the fifth game, Camnitz and Brown again squared off and this time Brown would walk away with the victory, giving the Cubs a three games to two series win. One of the good things for Pittsburgh was that the end of the season was five days closer and Chicago picked up just one game in the standings. The other good thing for them is their schedule was real easy the next 15 games, before they would face the Giants and Cubs back-to-back. With the way the Cubs were playing, the Pirates almost needed to go 15-0 just to insure they stayed five games ahead of Chicago, going into the last ten days of the season.

A 15-0 run in September seemed like unrealistic expectations, no matter how easy the schedule was the next two weeks, but they obviously needed to make sure they didn’t let the Cubs get back into the race. The Pirates and Reds played a hard fought three game series at Forbes Field but the Bucs got the sweep despite outscoring Cincinnati by a total of just four runs in the series. Pittsburgh moved to St Louis for two games and after a one run victory on day one, Sam Leever picked up a 4-1 win in the second game. For Leever, it was just his fourth(and last) start of the season. The Pirates went to Cincinnati for two games before returning to Forbes Field for a 14 game homestand. Those two games against the Reds were nothing like the three game series that ended just days earlier. Pittsburgh won both games easily, moving their record to 97-36 on the year, 6.5 games ahead of the Cubs, who were still winning at a strong pace.

The Brooklyn Superbas were in seventh place on September 17th with a 47-85 record. When Pittsburgh returned home for a three game series, the Superbas were there waiting for them, hoping to break the Pirates seven game win streak. Brooklyn didn’t even put up a good fight, going down in all three games by a combined score of 24-6. The last place Boston Doves were the next team to come into Pittsburgh for three games and this was an epic mismatch. The Doves had just 39 wins on the season, the Pirates had just 36 losses and their lead in the standings over Boston was 60.5 games. The two teams played a doubleheader on September 21st with the Pirates going with Adams and Camnitz. The two Pirates pitchers combined for 18 scoreless innings on the day as the Bucs won both game. The following day the two teams hooked up in a slugfest with Pittsburgh coming out on top by a 12-7 score.

The Phillies came in for two games and left two days later with no wins, giving the Pirates a 15 game win streak with just 11 games left in the season. What started two weeks earlier, with the Pirates holding a five game lead in the standings over the Cubs, now ended with them having a 9.5 game lead and a chance to clinch their first pennant since 1903 while playing at home against the Giants. New York was in for a six games series and with them being out of the race, they didn’t exactly bring out the big guns for the series. Christy Mathewson didn’t pitch any of the games and for the last three games of the series, Giants manager John McGraw went with three rookies(age 20-21) who were all making their second big league start. Those games didn’t matter though, despite losing two out of the first three games of the series, the Pirates still clinched the NL pennant on September 28 when the Cubs lost to the Phillies.

The Pirates ended up losing four of the six games to the Giants, then two of three to the Cubs before finishing the season with two wins over the Reds. Their final record was 110-42, not the best winning percentage in team history(1902 was the only better season), but it was the highest win total ever for the franchise. In fact, only four teams have ever won more than 110 games in a season and two of those teams came after the schedule expanded to 162 games in 1961. In the American League the Detroit Tigers took the crown for the third straight season. They clinched their pennant just two days after the Pirates, beating out the Philadelphia Athletics by 3.5 games in the standings.

When we return next week we will sum up the Pirates season, covering each player and then move on to the match-up for the 1909 World Series.

One thing of note that happened during this time period before I wrap the story up. The Pirates drafted a 20 year old pitcher in the September 1909 rule 5 draft from Class B ball after he went 7-6 3.24 in 15 starts for the Dubuque Dubs. He stayed in the minors for 1910, rejoining the Pirates later that year but never played. He made the team out of spring training the following season but never pitched in Pittsburgh in 1911 either. Fred Clarke kept him on the bench for over a month before sending him to the minors. Three seasons later he made the majors with the Chicago White Sox and stuck around awhile, twenty seasons to be exact. His name was Urban “Red” Faber and 254 wins later, all for the White Sox, he ended his big league career in 1933. In 1964 he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

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About John Dreker

John was born in Kearny, NJ, hometown of the 2B for the Pirates 1909 World Championship team, Dots Miller. In fact they have some of the same relatives in common, so it was only natural for him to become a lifelong Pirates fan. Before joining Pirates Prospects in July 2010, John had written numerous articles on the history of baseball while also releasing his own book and co-authoring another on the history of the game. He writes a weekly article on Pirates history for the site, has already interviewed many of the current minor leaguers with many more on the way and follows the foreign minor league teams very closely for the site. John also provides in person game reports of the West Virginia Power and Altoona Curve.

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