Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Top 100 Red Sox: No. 10

Your faithful scribe will be at Fenway Park bright and early Monday morning for Opening Day. But while the Braves and Phillies are opening the season in Philadelphia, why not check back in with the Top 100 list?

Here's where we last left things:

20. Dwight Evans, RF
19. Bobby Doerr, 2B
18. Mel Parnell, P
17. Luis Tiant, P
16. Joe Cronin, SS
15. Jim Rice, LF
14. Carlton Fisk, C
13. Wade Boggs, 3B
12. David Ortiz, DH
11. Carl Yastrzemski, LF

If Yaz doesn't make the final 10, you might ask, who does? Let's find out:

10. Smoky Joe Wood
If there was a Cy Young Award in 1912, it probably would have gone to Walter Johnson. "The Big Train" won 33 games, second in the American League, but he led all pitchers in ERA (1.39), strikeouts (303), WHIP (o.908) and adjusted ERA+ (242).

Joe Wood would have finished second in the voting thanks to his 34 wins and his second-place finish in each of those categories: A 1.91 ERA, 258 strikeouts, a 1.014 WHIP and an adjusted ERA+ of 172.

But when the two met in September in perhaps the most anticipated game of the pre-World War II era, it was Wood who came out on top. Clark Griffith, the Washington Senators' owner, even called Wood out in the papers: "We will consider him a coward if he doesn't pitch against Johnson." So many fans wanted to watch the two aces pitch against each other that they were permitted to line up along the Fenway Park infield, pressed up almost against the foul lines.

"I never saw so many people in one place in my life," Wood said later.

The two pitchers matched zeroes through five innings before the Red Sox broke through in the sixth; Tris Speaker doubled into the crowd with two outs, and Duffy Lewis followed with a pop fly to right field to score Speaker with the game's first run.

As it turned out, it would be the game's only run. Wood allowed the Senators to load the bases in the third inning but got out of the jam with a strikeout; he ran into trouble in the sixth, eighth and ninth, too, but emerged unscathed. He needed 119 pitches -- including 20 in a ninth inning in which he allowed a runner to reach second base with just one out -- but didn't relinquish the lead Lewis and Speaker had given him.

Wood's sensational 1912 season should have been just the first in a long line of sensational seasons. But he sprained his ankle in March of 1913 and hurt his shoulder trying to compensate for his sore ankle; he followed that up by breaking his thumb in a rundown in July. the maladies limited him to just 18 starts in 1913 and 14 starts in 1914.

He launched a comeback in 1915, going 15-5 with a 1.49 ERA -- he even outdueled Chicago ace Red Faber in a key mid-July series on the road. But he was all but done at that point; he balked at a salary before the 1916 season and ended up skipping the entire season. He never won another game in the major leagues.

Coming up: A man who hit 49 home runs in a Red Sox uniform.

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