129 years ago, on May 1, 1883, Philadelphia’s National League team was opening up its season, the first in the team’s history.
John Coleman was the Quakers opening day starter, and thus, the first opening day starter in the history of Phillies baseball. He’s shown to the left holding a bat like, well, a pitcher. The Quakers opponent that day was the Providence Grays, who threw Charles Radbourn. Facing Radbourn in their first ever game was a challenge for the Quakers. Radbourn would win NL’s Pitching Triple crown the next year with 59 wins, an ERA of 1.38, and 441 strikeouts. His 59 wins is a major league record that will never be broken. He was also the first major leaguer to flip the bird during a team photo. (If you can’t see it, here’s a closeup.)
The upstart Quakers got off to a hot start at Recreation Park with some small ball and scored 2 runs in the first inning. Blondie Purcell led off the game with a single and Bill McClellan followed that up with a double. With runners on second and third with no outs, two consecutive infield grounders led to two fielder’s choice RBI. The score remained 2-0 until the 7th inning, when a 2-out single by catcher Frank Ringo scored third baseman Bill Harbridge to give the Quakers a 3-0 lead.
In the top half of the 8th, the Grays finally got to Coleman. A leadoff walk surrendered to Radbourn was followed by consecutive singles and a double. After forcing a groundout, Coleman gave up another single before finally ending the inning. All told, the Grays put up 4 runs to take a 4-3 lead.
The game wasn’t without the type of nostalgic controversy that we all love about old-time baseball. In the Quakers’ half of the 8th, Purcell led off with a single. On his way to first, he sprained his ankle. After reaching safely, he requested to have another player run for him because of the injury. However, he needed not the umpire’s permission, but rather that of the captain of the Grays. Purcell’s request was denied, leading to the 1,000 or so in attendance to voice their displeasure with the visiting Grays. Next up, Bill McClellan reached first on an error and Purcell limped safely into second. Two pop-outs later, there were runners on first and second with two outs. Radbourn threw a wild pitch and in the words of an Inquirer article:
“Purcell started for third, and fairly reached there, but was decided out at third, a very unjust decision, which was vigorously hissed.”
In the ninth, neither team scored. Opening Day for the history of the Phillies ended with a 4-3 loss at the hands of the Providence Grays. Things wouldn’t get much better for the Quakers in 1883, but the fledgling franchise got its start and National League baseball has lived in this City ever since.
On July 28th, the Phillies faced Tim Lincecum and the Giants and fell 4-1. They haven’t lost since. The Phils went on to sweep the Pirates and Rockies in three-game sets and have taken the first 3 of 4 against the Giants, winning 9 consecutive games. Today, the Phillies are once again up against Luiz the cab-driver with Roy Oswalt looking to extend the team’s win streak to double-digits.
Nine wins in a row is nice, but it’s not even close to the team record. That record, 16 wins without a loss, belongs to the dapper gentlemen pictured above of the 1887 Philadelphia Quakers. On September 15th, the Quakers were stuck in 4th place mired 9.5 games behind the Detroit Wolverines. They then got hot, really hot.
The Quakers swept the Indianapolis Hoosiers, the Wolverines, the Pittsburgh Alleghenys, the Washington Nationals and the Boston Beaneaters for 13 straight victories. The final series of the season was a 4-game set at the original Polo Grounds against the New York Giants. The Quakers took the first two, tied the third and then won the last game of the series and the season on October 8th. This capped what Major League Baseball considers a 16-game winning streak, but what the hockey-guy in me wants to call a 17-game unbeaten streak. No matter the name, the streak propelled the Quakers to a 2nd place finish in the National League.
The 2011 Phillies have some work to do if they want to push the franchise record for consecutive wins past 16 games. In addition to beating Lincecum today, they will need to sweep the Dodgers in L.A., sweep the Nationals at home and take the first game of the D-Backs series. It won’t be easy, but if any team can do it, the real dream team in this town can.
Note: The Phillies’ longest winning streak in the modern-era is 13 games, which was earned in 1977.