30,000 “day-versary”: The Howard Ehmke game

30,000 days ago, one of the greatest short World Series of all time began—and it began with a bang.

Today is the 30,000 “day-versary” of Game One of the 1929 World Series. On the face of it, this contest was a clear win for an A’s juggernaut, as they crushed the Cubs four games to one. In reality, while the A’s were the clearly superior team, they had to come back late for two of their wins later in the series for unexpected victory.

The tone of the unexpected wins, however, was set from the very beginning when Connie Mack’s Philadelphia A’s triumphed over Joe McCarthy’s Cubs thanks to a very unlikely hero: Howard Ehmke, an aging starting pitcher.

Ehmke is a personal favorite pitcher of mine. He had really great talent, but things just didn’t quite come together for a while. For a spell in the early 1920s, he toiled for some absolutely horrible Boston Red Sox teams. Despite providing him with no offensive or defensive support, in 1923-24 Ehmke went 39-34 for a club that otherwise went 89-144.

His most famous regular-season moment came in September of 1923 when he nearly threw back-to-back no-hitters for Boston. After no-hitting the A’s, he pitched a one-hitter, and many present thought that hit should’ve been ruled an error.

But by 1929, Ehmke was a used-up 35-year-old playing out his string. He pitched only 54.2 innings all year for Philadelphia in eight starts and three relief stints. Yet this little-used veteran was the man Mack went with to start the club’s first World Series game in 15 years. Mack opted not to go with the 24-game winning George Earnshaw, nor the 20-6 stud Lefty Grove. Mack even passed on veteran workhorse Rube Walberg.

Ehmke was his man. Huh?

There was a method to Mack’s madness. Once it became clear that Philadelphia would win the pennant and Chicago looked like their likely World Series rival, he had Ehmke scout them for the last few weeks of the season to best prepare himself for the Fall Classic opener. Ehmke may not have had the same stuff he did when he was young, but Mack respected Ehmke’s smarts.

Besides, after a lifetime of playing for dogs, this would be Ehmke’s chance to shine on the game’s biggest stage, and he was not about to blow this chance.

Ehmke was never awesome but always effective. In the first inning, he overcame an early single to retire the side on a foul out and two fly outs. In the second, a pair of strikeouts and a popup allowed Ehmke to strand another baserunner at first.

The third inning looked like it would be Ehmke’s comeuppance. After fanning Charlie Root, the opposing pitcher, Ehmke allowed a single and double to put two runners in scoring position. With the fearsome Rogers Hornsby at the plate and the dangerous Hack Wilson on deck, Ehmke looked doomed. Instead, he fanned both, giving him three strikeouts in the inning and five on the day.

That was impressive. To this point in time, the World Series record was 12 strikeouts in a game, and the great Walter Johnson set that mark in 1924. Now here was journeyman Howard Ehmke challenging it. Well, it was early still, and he couldn’t keep up this pace for much longer, could he?

Well, Ehmke began the fourth inning with his third straight strikeout, giving him six on the day. For the fourth straight inning, a Cub got on base, but again it led to no runs.

In the fifth, Ehmke finally enjoyed a 1-2-3 inning with a fly out and two strikeouts. Halfway through the game, Ehmke already had eight strikeouts. Only five pitchers had previous topped this mark in World Series history.

The sixth inning was Ehmke at his finest. Three up, three down—all by strikeout. Star shortstop Woody English, all-time great second baseman Hornsby, and Hall of Famer Wilson were the victims. Six innings in, Ehmke had 11 Ks, just one behind Johnson’s record.

He wasn’t blowing guys away with great speed, either. In fact, it was just the opposite. He pitched the slow ball and used hitters’ aggressiveness against them. He kept outsmarting the Cubs all day long.

In the seventh inning, the A’s finally gave Ehmke some breathing room, as a Jimmie Foxx solo shot gave Philadelphia a 1-0 lead. Ehmke needed that, as the Cubs led off the bottom of the seventh with back-to-back singles. They advanced on a sacrifice, but a shallow fly failed to advance them, and Ehmke got out of the inning by striking out catcher Gabby Hartnett. That was punchout No. 12. Ehmke, unlikely Howard Ehmke, had now tied the record.

In the eighth inning, Ehmke retired all three batters, but for the first time since the first inning, none fanned. Ehmke may have been wearing down, but it made little difference. Philadelphia gave him another pair of runs in the ninth for a 3-0 advantage.

Onto the ninth. The real drama here was if Ehmke would get the record. After a lineout, it looked like Kiki Cuyler would ground out for the second out, but instead, third baseman Jimmie Dykes threw the ball away for an error. A little later, Cuyler scored Chicago’s first run on a single. In fact, Ehmke surrendered back-to-back singles, putting the tying run on base with only one out.

Then, as he had all game long, Ehmke got out of the jam. A ground out put him one batter away from victory. That batter was Chick Tolson, who came to the plate to pinch-hit for relief pitcher Guy Bush.

There’s only one way this could end. Ehmke got his man—by strikeout. With it, Ehmke had his unlikely record: 13 Ks in a World Series game. A Cub lineup that easily led al baseball with 982 runs scored had been put down harmlessly by a forgotten, aging pitcher in his first World Series appearance.

Ehmke had his day in the sun, and it came 30,000 days ago.

Aside from that, many other events celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” today. Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you just want to skim through the list.

Day-versaries

4,000 days since the Red Sox sign free agent Hideo Nomo.

6,000 days since Andres Galarraga belts three homers in one game for Colorado. In fact, he does it in consecutive innings: the sixth, seventh, and eighth.

6,000 days since David Weathers pitches five hitless innings but has to leave after he injures his hand. While batting, opposing pitcher Tim Pugh hits Weathers’ pitching hand with a fastball.

7,000 days since Jeff Torborg manages his 1,000 game. His record: 476-524.

10,000 days since Nolan Ryan records his 200th loss.

10,000 days since Don Robinson records what WPA considers to be the best-known relief stint the history of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Robinson twirls seven hitless innings, allowing three hits and a walk while fanning nine for a WPA of 0.901.

10,000 days since the Yankees retire numbers 9 for Roger Maris and 32 for Elston Howard.

15,000 days since the Phillies trade Curt Flood to Washington. Flood had challenged the reserve clause after the Cardinals traded him to Philadelphia earlier.

15,000 days since Charlie Root, the all-time winningest pitcher in Cubs history (and the losing pitcher in the Howard Ehmke game), dies.

40,000 days since Cleveland’s Bill Bradley becomes the first AL player to homer in four consecutive games.

Anniversaries

1927 Hall of Fame umpire Billy Evans gives up his on-field duties to become the first GM in the history of the Indians.

1927 Pittsburgh trades future Hall of Famer Kiki Cuyler to the Cubs. There’s a background story here. Pirate manager Donie Bush benched Cuyler during the pennant stretch, claiming the star outfielder wasn’t hustling. It worked in 1927 as the Pirates won the pennant anyway. That said, they wouldn’t win another one for 33 years while Cuyler played on multiple pennant winners after that while Bush never helmed another team to October.

1928 The Pirates trade shortstop Glenn Wright to Brooklyn for two players.

1939 Indians infielder Ken Keltner is turned down in an attempt to collect off-season unemployment benefits in Cleveland.

1950 Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley names Chuck Dressen the team’s new manager, replacing Burt Shotton.

1953 Sixto Lezcano, hard-hitting Brewer, is born.

1958 Dave Righetti, ace reliever, is born.

1961 Early AL pitcher Earl Moore dies.

1961 The Brewers trade Frank Thomas to the Mets for Gus Bell. Thomas will lead the 1962 Mets with 34 homers.

1963 Infielder Walt Weiss is born.

1964 John Burkett, journeyman pitcher with over 400 starts to his credit, is born.

1965 Matt Williams is born.

1967 In the Rule 5 draft, Baltimore takes catcher Elrod Hendricks from California. In the minor league draft, Philadelphia snags Toby Harrah.

1968 Former Rockies pitcher Pedro Astacio is born.

1969 Robb Nen, Giants ace closer, is born.

1972 The Dodgers engage in a big trade with the Angels. California sends Ken McMullen and Andy Messersmith to the Dodgers in exchange for Frank Robinson, Bill Singer, Bobby Valentine and two other players.

1977 Bob Meusel, right fielder for the 1927 Yankees, dies at age 81.

1978 In a surprising move, the Reds fire Sparky Anderson despite his being easily the most successful skipper in the franchise’s history. The Reds went 92-69 in 1978, their seventh consecutive season finishing in first or second place.

1988 The Pirates and Indians engage in a trade. The Pirates will get a player to be named later in it, who turns out to be a young Jay Bell.

1989 Owners and the Players’ Association begin negotiations on a new CBA.

1991 Olympic Stadium, where a giant slab of concrete fell on Sept. 13, is now declared to be safe.

1992 The Seattle Mariners sign amateur free agent David Ortiz.

1994 Houston trades Pete Harnisch to the Mets.

2004 Connie Johnson, former Negro Leaguer pitcher who started over 100 games in the major leagues despite not entering until after his 30th birthday, dies.

2006 Baltimore signs free agent Chad Bradford.

2006 The Dodgers sign free agent Randy Wolf.

2006 St. Louis signs a pair of free agents: Adam Kennedy and Kip Wells. Kennedy will become the starting second baseman for them, and Wells will lead the league in losses with St. Louis in 2007.

2007 Minnesota and Tampa Bay engage in a six-player trade, in which Tampa gets Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett, and Minnesota lands Delmon Young.

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