Game Rewind: Pirates vs Phillies, August 3, 1925

The Pittsburgh Pirates and Philadelphia Phillies played a doubleheader on Monday, August 3, 1925 at Forbes Field. The Pirates were 56-38 coming into the day, while the Phillies stood at 44-48. The Pirates won game one by a 3-2 score, with young Emil Yde defeating long-time Pirates pitcher Hal Carlson, who was in his second season with the Phillies. That was a makeup game of an earlier rain out. The two teams wrapped up the first game festivities in a quick 86 minutes. Game two featured Vic Aldridge on the hill for the Bucs, taking on Johnny Couch, who was unknowingly nearing the end of his Major League career.

Couch was pitching mainly in relief in 1925. His last start prior to this game was June 11th, and his longest outing of the season was 6.1 innings back in April. Aldridge, who was in his first season with the Pirates, was struggling along for the previous six weeks. He had a 3.77 ERA after his start on June 12th. From June 16th until the end of July, he put up a 5.50 ERA in nine starts, with more walks than strikeouts.

The Pirates were obviously an impressive team in 1925 when they won their second World Series title. Perhaps the best evidence of that can be seen in this particular lineup. The top eight hitters (everyone except Aldridge) had their batting average over .300 at the end of the day. The lineup included future Hall of Famers Max Carey batting second, Kiki Cuyler batting third and Pie Traynor hitting fifth. They were broken up by Glenn Wright in the cleanup spot. He’s not in Cooperstown, but he had a strong run with the Pirates from 1924-28, putting up 16.8 WAR in five seasons.

Aldridge started this game off with a scoreless first, working around a two-out walk. The Pirates got a two-out infield hit from Kiki Cuyler, who stole second base and moved to third on a passed ball. Wright popped up to first base to end the inning. The Phillies were retired in order in the second, with Pie Traynor making a nice inning-ending catch reaching into the stands near third base. The Pirates had two hits in the second, but Clyde Barnhart committed the cardinal sin of getting thrown out at third base on Earl Smith’s single to end the inning.

Aldridge allowed a single to start the third inning, then retired the next three batters on a failed sacrifice attempt and two strikeouts. The Pirates were retired quickly in the bottom of the third, keeping the game scoreless.

This game was dominated by the pitchers and some solid defense until the sixth inning. The fourth frame saw both teams pick up a single and nothing else, while the fifth inning flew by with all six batters retired in order.

The Pirates caught a bad break in the sixth inning. Aldridge allowed back-to-back one-out singles, putting runners on first and second. The next batter hit a grounder to second baseman Eddie Moore that looked like a sure inning-ending double play, but the ball took a bad bounce and went over his head, allowing one run to score. The next batter hit a sacrifice fly, bringing in the second run.

The Pirates got a run back in the bottom of the inning, but they could have had more. Max Carey singled on a ball hit up the middle. Cuyler then hit a long liner to center field that was hauled in by Freddy Leach on the run. One of the game recaps called it a sure triple off of the bat. With two outs, Carey took it upon himself to make things happen after a two-out walk to Wright. Carey stole third base, then stole home, with Wright going to second base on a double steal. With Pie Traynor at the plate, that would seem like unconventional thinking, but there was a good reason to try it out. Traynor got spiked the previous day on his hand and was having trouble gripping the bat.

With the score 2-1, Aldridge got three quick ground outs to end the top of the seventh. The bottom of the seventh started with two quick outs as well, before Earl Smith deposited a ball into the right field stands for his seventh home run of the season.

In the eighth, Aldridge allowed a lead-off single, but kept the Phillies off the board. The Pirates had a great chance to score in the bottom of the inning. Eddie Moore doubled to start the inning. Max Carey bunted him over to third base, then Cuyler came up and was robbed of a hit again, this time on a great play at second base. He hit the ball so hard that Moore had to stay at third base. Glenn Wright then grounded out to shortstop to end the inning.

The Phillies had two singles in the ninth, but never really threatened. That’s because the first hit was immediately erased on a double play, while the next batter was thrown out trying to steal second base after his single, which ended the inning. With the score knotted up 2-2, the Pirates were looking to walk it off.

The Pirates put two runners on base in the bottom of the ninth on a single by Clyde Barnhart and a walk to Earl Smith. Aldridge came up with two outs and smoked a ball towards third base that was knocked down, with the force out being made at the bag. According to multiple game recaps, Aldridge hit the ball hard in all four at-bats, but had nothing to show for it. He also had to go back out to the mound for the tenth inning.

Aldridge walked the first batter in extra innings. It didn’t hurt him, as the Phillies couldn’t get the ball out of the infield, with the next three batters going down in order. The Pirates also got the first batter on via walk in the tenth. Both teams had failed sacrifice bunt attempts in the inning and neither could push a run across.

In the 11th, Carson Bigbee, who pinch-ran for Barnhart in the ninth, made an outstanding catch on a liner to left field to rob the lead-off hitter of an extra-base hit. The Phillies got a two-out single, but catcher Earl Smith threw out his third runner of the game in three attempted steals.

In the bottom of the 11th, Pie Traynor started things with a single. Bigbee tried to bunt him over, but ended up with a force out at second base. After George Grantham flew out to right field for the second out, Smith singled. That put runners on the corners, though Smith stole second base to avoid a potential force out at second base. Aldridge was up and he singled through the middle to bring home Bigbee with the walk-off winner.

It was probably the softest contact he made all day, but Aldridge was finally rewarded with his first hit, and in turn, he rewarded himself for a strong pitching performance. He allowed nine hits and two walks in 11 innings, but all of the hits were singles. If that bad hop didn’t happen in the sixth, he may have thrown a shutout. Earl Smith also gets a lot of credit here, with the game-tying homer, the key single in the 11th, plus he shut down the Phillies running game.

This game was a real turnaround point for Aldridge. He had that streak of nine starts with a 5.50 ERA coming into this game. Over the final two months of the season, he had a 2.41 ERA in 12 starts, and the Pirates went 10-2 in those games. Johnny Couch was the tough luck loser and he had just 30.2 innings left in his big league career. He actually threw a shutout in his next start, but then his ERA was 9.14 the rest of the way.

An interesting note from this game is that every boxscore and game recap from the day has George Harper playing right field in game two and collecting four hits. Harper was an everyday player, so it seems unlikely that he would sit two games of a doubleheader. It would make sense that Harper sat versus the lefty Yde in game one, then pinch-hit for Johnny Mokan when right-hander Babe Adams came into the game late. Harper batted lefty and Mokan was a right-handed hitter. It wouldn’t make sense to start Mokan in game two over Harper with the righty Aldridge on the mound. Mokan wasn’t an everyday player. Harper finished sixth in the league in hitting in 1925 with a .349 average. If you add the 4-for-5 day to his averages, he would be a .354 hitter that year. It wouldn’t make a huge difference (he would move up to fifth in the batting race), but it should be corrected.

Here’s the boxscore and play-by-play