Having starters Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin pitch postseason bullpen innings isn’t new to Washington baseball. In fact, the strategy is decades old.
In 1924, the only season Washington has won the World Series, the Senators’ future Hall of Famer, starter Walter “Big Train’’ Johnson, pitched four shutout innings in a 4-3 Game 7 victory against the New York Giants at Griffith Stadium, currently the site of Howard University Hospital.
The Senators, then in the American League, won the AL pennant by two games over the New York Yankees. That meant that Johnson, at 36, after pitching for a string of losing teams, was going to appear in his first World Series.
Big Train was 23-7 with a 2.72 ERA in 277 1/3 innings that season, but in his first two World Series starts, the Giants pounded him for 27 hits in 20 innings and two losses. (He pitched 12 innings in one game, eight in the other.)
A chance for redemption came in Game 7.
The Giants and Senators were tied at 3-3 and Johnson, on one day of rest, started the ninth. He threw four shutout innings with five strikeouts. Johnson even batted in the last of the 12th.
The Senators’ clinching inning: Muddy Ruel doubled. Johnson reached on an infield error. Muel scored on Earl McNeely’s game-ending double to left, according to Baseball-Reference.com. Muel’s double came after Giants catcher Hank Gowdy stepped on his own mask and dropped Muel’s foul pop on a previous pitch.
The wild card Nationals won the National League pennant and brought the World Series to D.C. for the first time since 1933. And, they’ll try to win Washington’s first title since 1924.
Washington has been to the World Series three times. The Senators lost to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1925 and to the Giants in 1933. (For the record, Joe Kuhel, a left-handed hitting first baseman, was the last Senators player with a World Series at-bat, striking out against the Giants’ Dolf Laque.)
There are three reasons Washington hasn’t been there for 86 years.
First, the teams while in the AL were generally awful, earning the slogan that Washington was “First in war, first in peace, last in the American League.’‘
Second, Washington was without a team for 33 years after the Senators became the Texas Rangers in 1972. And, yes, the Nationals lost four NL Division Series since 2005, their first season in D.C. after moving from Montreal.
The trend in baseball has been for long-suffering teams to end droughts, starting in 2002 when the Angels, a team that started in 1961, won the World Series against the Giants.
Boston’s World Series sweep of St. Louis in 2004 ended the famous “Curse of the Bambino,” giving the Red Sox their first title since 1918. Legend was there was a curse on the Red Sox for selling Babe Ruth to the Yankees and financing a play.
In 2005, the Chicago White Sox beat Houston for their first title since 1917. The Astros ended a 55-year drought with their only title in 2017.
The Giants moved to San Francisco from New York in 1958 and didn’t win a championship until 2010. Then, they won two more.
In 2016, the Cubs won their first World Series since 1908, the fifth year of the current World Series format.
Still, there are some doozies when it comes to World Series title droughts.
The Rangers are still a team without a title. They lost back-to-back World Series, to San Francisco in 2010 and St. Louis the following October. The Padres, Brewers and Rockies are also teams that have been to the World Series, but never won.
The Dodgers’ title drought has reached 31 years, the last celebration in 1988, when they beat Oakland with help from Kirk Gibson’s dramatic Game 1 walk-off home run.
That may be frustrating for Dodgers fans, but they aren’t close to the longest streak going. That belongs to the Cleveland Indians, who have gone 71 consecutive years without a championship.
Cleveland last won in 1948, when the Indians defeated the Boston Braves, who have since moved twice, to Milwaukee and then Atlanta.
At least, though, Cleveland has been to the World Series four other times - in 1954, 1995, 1997 and 2016.
Pittsburgh hasn’t won since 1979, Baltimore since 1983 and Detroit since 1984.
Way back when, it didn’t seem as if the Senators would make Washington wait decades.
From 1921 through 1933, the Yankees won seven of the 13 AL pennants, the Senators and Philadelphia Athletics three each.
The Senators played in consecutive World Series in 1924 and 1925.
In 1925, Pittsburgh beat the Senators 9-7 in Game 7 at Forbes Field after Washington took a 4-0 lead in the first inning.
In 1933, the last time a World Series game was in D.C., the Senators lost to the Giants, who won the first two games at the Polo Grounds and Games 4 and 5 at Griffith Stadium.
Carl Hubbell, a future Hall of Famer, pitched 11 innings in the Giants’ 2-1 win in Game 4, getting the Senators’ Cliff Bolton to ground into a game-ending double play with the bases loaded.
New York won the fifth game 4-3 in 10 innings. The Senators’ Fred Schulte hit a three-run home run in the sixth for a tie, but Mel Ott’s home run in the 10th won it for the Giants.
Now, the Nationals have a chance to change their history.
But if they don’t, there’s consolation: At least they aren’t the Seattle Mariners, a team that started in 1977 and has yet to play in the World Series.