It was in this latter non-race race, the AL
East, that the truly unexpected drama of the final stretch drive took place.
Maybe you missed it because the drama really didn't exist, since there was NO
pennant race in the AL East – thanks to the unfortunate existence of the wild
card, both teams had already clinched post season spots and, as a result, there
was nowhere near what would have been the normal drama of the lordly Yankees
battling the impecunious Rays (any team that has to give away 20,000 tickets to
get a full house in the midst of such a successful season deserves to be labeled
impecunious) for first place and a chance to go to the 2010 World Series.
So maybe you missed the fact that Bruce Chen, THE Bruce Chen, yes, that Bruce Chen, threw a proverbial monkey wrench
into the Rays' attempt to finish first in the AL East by tossing a completely
unexpected two-hit shutout at Joe Maddon's schizo troops in
That Bruce Chen… who practically defines
the term, "journeyman." Who gives rise to the thought that, if you have a
son who shows any aptitude for baseball, and can throw with his left hand, well,
you should try and teach him how to pitch (sort of like I'm currently doing
with my son Jared), since there's always a major league market for left-handed
pitchers, now matter how mediocre their records may play out.
While the 2010 Rays are something less than
a juggernaut… they had two or fewer hits eight times during the season… they
nonetheless still did finish first in the AL East, despite the efforts of Mr.
Chen who, even though he didn't keep Tampa Bay from coming in first, did
still, to a certain extent, join a rare fraternity – undistinguished pitchers
who made a name for themselves at crunch time.
The first was Harry "The Giant Killer"
Coveleski. A native of the coal country around
It was also a race that, if not for Harry
Coveleski, wouldn't have been nearly as exciting, and wouldn't have ended up
making the name "Fred Merkle" famous for all the wrong reasons. You see, if
it wasn't for Coveleski, the Giants would have won the National League
outright, and the replay of the Merkle Game (and they did replay it, it wasn't
a playoff) never would have happened. You see, AFTER Fred Merkle neglected to
run to second base on Sept. 23, 1908 (the same day Coveleski made his first
major league start), leaving that day's game a 1-1 tie, the Giants played
another 16 games before ending the schedule in a 98-55 deadlock with the Cubs…
thus necessitating replaying the Merkle Game. The Giants won 11 of those 16
games, losing five, a .688 winning percentage (significantly better than their
seasonal .636 mark) that still only got them a tie with the Cubs. Three of those
five losses were to Harry Coveleski.
On Sept. 29, in the second game of a
doubleheader, Coveleski shut out the Giants and Doc Crandall, 7-0. His second
win and second shutout of the season. Two days later, on Oct. 1, also in the
second game of a doubleheader (the Giants in both cases had won the first game),
he did it again, defeating Hooks Wiltse, 6-2. Finally, again just two days
later, he beat Matty himself, this time 3-2. If the Giants had won two of those
games, they would have won the NL outright. If they'd won just one of them,
they would have been a game up on the Cubs, who would have had to then have
beaten the Giants twice – the Merkle replay and then a one-game playoff – to
have won the league. Thus, The Giant Killer. Basically unknown before those
three games, Coveleski ended 1908 4-1 with a 1.24 ERA in six games (five
starts). Although he'd later win 20 games three straight years for the Tigers,
he would never be as famous as he was that fall of 1908.
The second was Floyd Giebell. (Pause, while
everyone says, "who?!") The 1940 American League pennant race in September
was also largely a three-team event. The haughty Yankees, for once, were
struggling (yea!) in third while los Tigres of
If the Indians could take the first two
games of the series, then the season would come down to a winner-take-all final
game. On the other hand, all the Tigers had to do was win one of the games, and
it was over. Game one of the climactic series took place on Sept. 27, 1940. As
fate would have it, the Indians had the best pitcher in baseball lined up to
throw the first game, 27-game winner Bob Feller. Since the Tigers only needed
one game, they threw a sacrificial lamb in the first game, a 30 year-old rookie
pitcher named Floyd Giebell, who had previously appeared in exactly one game in
1940, winning a 13-2 decision over the Philadelphia Athletics on Sept. 19. Prior
to that, his entire major league experience consisted of 15 innings of relief in
1939 (1-1, 2.93 ERA). Giebell proceeded to pitch the game of his life, a six-hit
shutout for a 2-0 win (Feller only gave up three hits, but he walked eight, and
one of the hits was a two-run homer by Rudy York) that clinched the pennant for
That may or may not happen to Bruce Chen but, either way, the rare Rays fans won't soon forget him.