"It ain't over till it's over"...the greatest ninth inning rally in M.L. history
In a season where several clubs have blown 10-run leads, it seems only fitting to relate the tale of the greatest two-out rally in the history of the Major Leagues. In fact, one would have to look long and hard to find two bigger collapses than those performed by a pair of American League clubs just this season. On May 25, the Tampa Bay Rays jumped out to a 10-0 lead after 3 1/2 innings at Cleveland. However, when the Indians came to bat in the bottom of the ninth still trailing 10-4, few at Jacobs Field held out much hope. By the time it was all over, the Tribe had rallied for 7 runs and snatched an 11-10 victory.
Nearly two months later, the Minnesota Twins held a 12-2 lead over the A's in Oakland after just 2 1/2 innings. But the Athletics rallied for 7 runs in the 7th inning and eventually prevailed 14-13 when Twins baserunner Michael Cuddyer, representing the tying run, was thown out at the plate(in a disputed call) to end the game.
But neither of these two collapses can hold a candle to the events of May 23, 1901. The newly formed American League was in it's inaugural season and Washington was visiting Cleveland. Lefty Casey Patten, who'd eventually win 18 games that season, took the mound for Washington. He was opposed by 30-year old William "the Wizard" Hoffer. Hoffer had enjoyed huge success as part of the Baltimore dynasty in the National League in the late 1890's. Over his first three seasons(1895-1897) he'd compiled a record of 77-25 and twice led the N.L. in winning percentage, posting 30 wins as a rookie in 1895. But although 1901 would be Hoffer's first season in the American League, it would soon prove to be his last in the major leagues.
Washington's offense struck early and often against Hoffer in tallying 14 hits to build up a 13-5 lead after 8 1/2 innings. And when Patten quickly retired the first two Cleveland batters to begin the bottom of the ninth, a Washington victory looked certain. After all, the bases were empty, there were already two outs and Washington was ahead by 8 runs. Down to its' final out, Cleveland slowly and methodically began accumulating baserunners. Three straight singles by Jack McCarthy, Bill Bradley and Candy LaChance produced the first Cleveland run of the inning. When the next batter, catcher Bob Wood, was hit by a pitch to load the bases, things were still a long way from settled. Cleveland shortstop Frank Scheibeck doubled home two more runs and centerfielder Frank Genins drove in another to narrow Washington's lead to 13-9. At this point, Washington manager Jimmy Manning had apparently seen enough and he pulled Patten and replaced him with reliever Watty Lee.
Lee promptly walked the first batter he faced to re-load the bases. Cleveland sent up pinch-hitter Erve Beck to bat for the pitcher Hoffer, who'd made the first out of the inning. Beck cleared the bases with a three-run double to cut the margin to 13-12. The next batter, righfielder Ollie Pickering, drove in Beck from second with a single to tie the score, sending the frenzied fans streaming out on to the field at League Park in a premature celebration. When the field was finally cleared of revelers, McCarthy, who'd begun the rally with the first hit of the inning, returned to the plate. But Lee immediately compounded the problem for Washington by letting Pickering advance to second base on a wild pitch. McCarthy's second single of the inning was Cleveland's 20th hit of the game and drove Pickering home with the winning run for a 14-13 victory.
And so, almost 110 years later, this remains the major league record for most runs scored to win a game with two outs and no one on base in the ninth inning. Despite the 27 runs of combined offense, the game took just two hours to complete and was seen by just 1,250 fans. That pitcher Casey Patten would be just one out away from victory with an 8-run lead and get a no-decision and Cleveland's Hoffer would allow 13 runs, and still trail by 13-9 when pulled for a pinch hitter, and yet get credit for the win is truly one of baseball's scoring oddities.