WASHINGTON (AP) — The Nationals' stunning loss to the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday night strangely echoed the last winner-take-all game in Washington baseball history.
The Senators blew a 4-0 lead and lost by the identical 9-7 score to the Pittsburgh Pirates in Game 7 of the 1925 World Series. That collapse was marked by the shortstop committing two errors, and Walter Johnson getting pounded for 15 hits.
The Senators, who were also known as the Nationals back then, had just won their second consecutive American League pennant. The year before, they defeated the New York Giants in the World Series, with Johnson coming out of the bullpen to win Game 7 for Washington's first and only World Series title.
In the '25 World Series, the 38-year-old Johnson won his first two starts, helping the Senators take three of the first four games. The future Hall-of-Famer gave up only one run in two complete games against a Pirates team that had led the National League with a .307 batting average, and was also tops in on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and runs.
But the Pirates rallied to win Games 5 and 6, forcing the deciding game at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. It was delayed a day due to rain, and when the teams finally got to play on the wet and muddy field, it was another cold, rainy day in mid-October.
Like the 2012 Nationals, who led the Cardinals 6-0 after three innings, the Senators got off to a fast start, scoring four runs in the first inning. The Pirates responded with three runs in the third, but the Senators stormed back with two quick runs and led 6-3 midway through the game.
Johnson, who strained his leg running the bases earlier in the series, gave up two doubles in the bottom of the fifth, leading to another run for the Pirates. But he pitched a scoreless sixth, and the Senators carried a 6-4 lead into the final three innings.
Pittsburgh's first batter in the seventh reached on an error by shortstop Roger Peckinpaugh — the seventh of the series for the normally reliable fielder. The Pirates rallied for two runs on a double and triple to tie the game.
Peckinpaugh seemed to make amends with a home run in the eighth, giving Washington a 7-6 lead. But he made another error in the bottom half of the inning, and the Pirates scored three runs off Johnson to take a 9-7 lead.
Pittsburgh reliever Red Oldham struck out two of the three batters he faced in the ninth to seal the victory. Johnson, in his final World Series appearance, had surrendered nine runs in eight innings, but only five runs were earned.
The New York Times called it the "the wettest, weirdest and wildest game that fifty years of baseball has ever seen. . . . Water, mud, fog, mist, sawdust, fumbles, wild throws, wild pitches, one near fistfight, impossible rallies— these were mixed up to make the best and the worst game of baseball ever played in this century. Players wallowing ankle-deep in mud, pitchers slipping as they delivered the ball to the plate, athletes skidding and sloshing, falling full length, dropping soaked baseballs — there you have part of the picture that was unveiled on Forbes Field this dripping afternoon. It was a great day for water polo."
The Washington Post wrote that "Pittsburgh skies wept in sympathy for the lost hopes of Walter Johnson and Washington."
Back in the day when the leagues had presidents, American League President Ban Johnson second-guessed 28-year-old player manager Bucky Harris' decision to start Johnson for three games. In a telegram, he said Harris lost the World Series because of sentimental reasons.
EDITOR'S NOTE — Frederic J. Frommer is the author of the book, "The Washington Nationals 1859 to Today: The Story of Baseball in the Nation's Capital," (2006, Taylor Trade). Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ffrommer