The 1912 Pittsburgh Pirates were playing well through early July, owning a 41-29 record. On July 9th, the Philadelphia Phillies were at Forbes Field and they were 31-36 at the time. It was a Tuesday afternoon and the crowd was sparse, with approximately 3,000 fans showing up to watch the cross-state rivals battle.
The Pirates were starting their 23-year-old phenom Marty O’Toole, who they paid a high price to acquire during July of 1911. His record stood at 8-9 at the time, but he had a 2.45 ERA. His most recent loss saw him allow one run over 12 innings. His most recent game against Philadelphia was his worst start of the season. He served up six runs over four innings. The mound opponent that day was a 6’5″, 21-year-old lefty named Eppa Rixey, fresh out of the University of Virginia. He debuted just 18 days before this game. Four days before this July 9th contest, he made his second big league start and threw a shutout against the Boston Braves.
As you might expect from the intro, this game was a pitching duel from the start. Through five innings, the Pirates could only scratch two hits against Rixey, who was throwing strikes. The Pirates were putting the ball in play, but nothing was landing. They had no walks or strikeouts against Rixey in this contest. He was facing a Pittsburgh lineup in which everyone except O’Toole was batting at least .280 on the season. That group included Hall of Famers Max Carey and Honus Wagner, as well as key members of the 1909 World Series champs in Dots Miller, Chief Wilson and Bobby Byrne.
O’Toole was matching Rixey out-for-out, facing a lineup that didn’t quite have the name recognition of the Pirates, but it included star players Sherry Magee and Gavvy Cravath, as well as one-time Pirates Hans Lobert and Otto Knabe, who were star players for a short time. It was a nice bounce back for O’Toole, who was just a month removed from that poor outing in Philadelphia.
The Pirates broke through in the sixth inning after O’Toole threw a scoreless top of the frame. Lead-off hitter Bobby Byrne started the action with a single. That was followed by back-to-back RBI triples by Max Carey and Jim Viox. Rixey finished the inning, but the damage ended his afternoon. He had allowed just two base runners though five, but a three-batter stretch in the sixth produced all of the runs that the Pirates would need.
O’Toole kept plugging along, spreading out ten base runners in a complete game shutout. He gave up eight hits, though only one went for extra-bases, which was a double by Rixey. O’Toole walked two and picked up five strikeouts. He was only in trouble once, when he put two men on with no outs and had to face the heart of the lineup. O’Toole quickly settled down and struck out Magee and Cravath, before getting the final out to end the threat.
This was the first career loss for Rixey, who some of you already knew, went on to have a Hall of Fame career while winning 266 games. That win total was a record for lefty pitchers until broken by Warren Spahn. Rixey reached that mark despite missing a year in his prime due to WWI and struggling during his first season back from war.
While the Pirates won the battle, they lost the war between the young phenom pitchers. O’Toole was out of the majors by 1914 due to poor control and a quick decline in his stuff, partially due to injury. His 1912 season was a solid one, despite 159 walks in his 275.1 innings. He led the league in shutouts with six, which included three in a row in late September.
Here’s the boxscore and play-by-play from Baseball-Reference.
Here are links to the previous Game Rewind articles.