Mark Hornbaker: A game to remember during Washington’s last pennant race

On this day in 1945, a large crowd of more than 24,000 fans turned out to Griffith Stadium to watch the visiting Cleveland Indians play the red-hot Washington Senators. The Senators went into the game having won eight of 10 games and found themselves only one game behind the American League-leading Detroit Tigers.

With such a big game in the nation’s capital, it would only be fitting that both teams would be starting pitchers who were World War II veterans. The Cleveland Indians’ started 26-year-old right-hander Bob Feller and the Senators started 25-year-old right-hander Walt Masterson, who had recently been released by the Navy.

Before the game began, Senators skipper Ossie Bluege walked onto the field with ex-sailor Masterson and fellow WWII veteran Cecil Travis. After the three made it to the home plate, Senators owner Clark Griffith walked out to the field and presented $500 war bonds to both Masterson and Travis for their military service.

Bluege told the press the team’s secret weapon was Masterson, who was pitching in his first game in more than two years. Secret weapon or not, Masterson has his hands full against the premier pitcher in the league, Feller. Before Feller joined the service, the Indians’ ace won 20 or more games three times, and won more than 100 games by the time he was 22.

Masterson’s post-war statistics were poor at best. Before Masterson joined the Navy, he compiled a record of 14-27 with the Senators. By comparing statistics, it didn’t look like Masterson stood much of chance against the Indians’ Feller.

During the first three innings, both pitchers were pitching superbly as the two teams were knotted in a scoreless tie. The Senators struck first in the bottom of the fourth inning when the team scored the game’s first three runs. The Senators added another run in the bottom of the fourth inning to lead Feller and the Indians 4-0.

The evening only got better for the Senators as Masterson gave up one of his two hits after the fourth inning. By the end of the game, Masterson outpitched the pitcher of decade, Feller, 4-0. The victory improved the Senators’ record to 82-61 and put the team only a half-game behind the Tigers.

The Senators went on to beat the Tribe 6- 5 on Sept. 14 for the sweep and stayed a half-game behind the Tigers. The Senators’ next series was against the first-place Tigers. Due to Griffith’s eagerness to hand over Griffith Stadium to the Washington Redskins, the Senators would play their eighth and ninth doubleheaders in Griffith Stadium since Aug. 31. The tired Senators lost three of the four games against the Tigers and fell to one and a half games behind in the standings.

The Senators would never get any closer to the Tigers and finished the season in second place in the American League. The Tigers went on to beat the Chicago Cubs in the 1945 World Series, four games to three.

Mark Hornbaker blogs about the Nats at Nationals Daily News and shares his views on baseball in D.C. as part of’s season-long initiative to welcome guest bloggers to out little corner of the Internet. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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