Mathewson Outlasts Bender as Giants Take Thrilling Opener

The Giants edged the Athletics yesterday afternoon in front of the largest crowd to ever witness a baseball game. 38,281 baseball enthusiasts packed into the new Polo Grounds, and they were treated to a pitching duel between two of the finest hurlers of the stitched potato the game has ever seen. Why, the two twirlers are a combination of Cy Young and Thomas Edison, as they both have invented their own pitches: Bender the nickel change (later known as the slider) and Matty the fadeaway (later known as the screwball). Each tosser mixed these into their arsenal with great effectiveness, keeping the batters on the defensive all afternoon. As for the scene at the ballpark? Well, I’ll let Rex Beach, my contemporary at the New York Times, describe it.

The bleachers were banked solidly by 12 o’clock, for it was a great baseball day. The sun was slightly dimmed by a faint October haze, and the air was sharp enough to be invigorating. It was real hard cider weather, with just the right tang to it. 

One noticed first upon looking down at the well kept field that a great shadow, cast by the south wall of the grandstand, was creeping out toward the visitors side, inch by inch. Later, as the game progressed, it was like the implacable shadow of defeat reaching out to engulf the Quakers. It crept slowly across the sward, and it was not until it touched the players bench occupied by Mack and his men that the Athletics weakened.

It was 12:45 when out through a huge whiskey sign in right field came the Elephants (the Athletics), to be met with an ovation (picture above). They came lackadaisically, however, with heavy step and heads down. It was like a funeral march. The Giants on the contrary came with a rush, Devore leading and Matty at his heels. The crowd gave tongue magnificently, and one could not fail to recognize the fact that baseball is the one legitimate outlet for the great American lung. 

No man with blood in his veins could have watched the hand of the clock creep around toward the hour of 2 without yielding to the intensity of that multitude. It could be felt and it caused the heart to pound…Then came perhaps the most interesting moment of the game. It was that hush, pending delivery of the first ball, which can be heard. Matty split the plate, and, oh, what a yell! (Photo of the first pitch of the Series is at the top of the story. Notice the shadow Beach wrote of earlier.)

The Athletics drew first blood in the 2nd frame. Frank Baker led off with a single, then went to second on a Danny Murphy groundout back to the mound. A rare Chief Meyer passed ball sent Baker to 3rd, and first baseman Harry Davis (right) came to the plate. The 37-year old, filling in for an injured Stuffy McInnis, did the honors of knocking in the first run of the 1911 World Series with a single.

The Giants drew an equalizer in the 4th. Fred Snodgrass was hit by a pitch, then went to second on a grounder. Buck Herzog hit a grounder to 2nd baseman Eddie Collins, but Collins booted the ball, and Snodgrass, who had been running on what was a hit and run, came around to score.

The Giants nearly took the lead in the 6th, but Collins got a reprieve for his earlier mistake with some quick thinking at 2nd. With runners on first and third with two outs, the wily McGraw called for a delayed double steal. Buck Herzog took off for 2nd, and catcher Ira Thomas threw down. But the razor-minded Collins saw what devious plans the Giants had in store, and cut off the throw, sending it back home, where Snodgrass was so dead that his body was cooling as he reached the plate.

After an Art Fletcher groundout to lead off the bottom of the 7th, it was Chief versus Chief, the two finest Redskin athletes in America going toe to toe.  The Giants’ Meyers got the upper hand, sending a screamer down the left field line, and when the dust settled, he was standing on 2nd. After Mathewson struck out, the Giants leadoff hitter Josh Devore came to the plate. Bender had been yapping at the Giants hitters all day, and with a 2-2 count on Devore, he started running his mouth again.

“I’m going to throw you a curved ball over the outside corner,” taunted the Chief.

“I know it, Chief,” Devore (left) answered back. Devore runs a boxing gym in Indiana during the offseason, and the pugnacious pugilist delivered a knockout blow on that next pitch, hitting one deep to left, scoring Meyers.

“I knew it would be a curve ball,” Devore told Mathewson after the game. “With two and two, he would be crazy to hand me anything else. When he made that crack, I guessed that he was trying to cross me by telling the truth. Before he spoke, I wasn’t sure which corner he was going to put it over, but he tipped me.”

The Giants had two runs, and with Matty on the mound, they might as well have had 20. He retired the last 11 batters he faced, the mighty throng roaring its approval all the while. The Series shifts back to Philadelphia, where these two superpowers will meet again on the 16th. Here’s the box score for Game 1, and we end with a few thoughts from Beach:

To be sure, the Quakers were on a strange field, in hostile territory, and were naturally a bit nervous at the start, so this opening victory does not settle the argument by any means. Monday’s game in Philadelphia may swing the odds back to even money again, but the Giants have the jump; first blood is theirs, and this triumph is liable to inspire them with a confidence which may prove a material factor in the struggle to come. 

It was a great game, a great crowd, and a great day, and the issue was in doubt up to the last. What more could a fan desire?