The World Series MVP Award didn’t come about until 1955, the 52nd edition of the Fall Classic. It took another 62 years before it was named in honor of Willie Mays. But had the award been a part of the World Series from the beginning, in 1903, it might’ve been named for the pitcher who authored the best individual performance in the history of the event.
In 1905, Christy Mathewson pitched three shutouts – over a span of six days – to lead the New York Giants to their first championship, defeating the Philadelphia A’s in five games. It’s a feat so out of reach in today’s game that it’s not even considered for lists of baseball’s “unbreakable records.”
To get a sense of how untouchable Mathewson’s achievement was, note:
• There hasn’t been a shutout by a single pitcher in the World Series since the Giants’ Madison Bumgarner blanked the Royals, 5-0, in Game 5 of the 2014 Fall Classic. That’s one of just three shutouts by a single hurler this century, with the Marlins’ Josh Beckett in 2003 and the D-backs’ Randy Johnson in 2001 twirling the others.
• Bumgarner was also the last pitcher to surpass 20 innings in a single Series, when he threw 21 in ’14. Curt Schilling’s 21 1/3 for Arizona in 2001 is the only other instance this century. The last pitcher to get to 27 innings – i.e., three complete games in one Fall Classic – was the Tigers’ Mickey Lolich in 1968.
• Cleveland’s Corey Kluber in 2016 was the last pitcher to even start three games in a World Series. Schilling in ’01 and the Cardinals’ Chris Carpenter in ’11 are the only others in the 21st century.
• Only four other pitchers have delivered two shutouts in one Series: Bill Dinneen (1903 Red Sox, Games 2 and 8), Lew Burdette (1957 Braves, Games 5 and 7), Whitey Ford (1960 Yankees, Games 3 and 6) and Sandy Koufax (1965 Dodgers, Games 5 and 7). Because of when they threw their second shutouts, none of them even had a chance at a third.
• Forget, for a moment, one pitcher throwing multiple shutouts in a single World Series. There hasn’t been a Fall Classic where two pitchers, regardless of team, dealt shutouts since the Cardinals’ John Tudor (Game 4) and the Royals’ Bret Saberhagen (Game 7) in 1985. And the last time one team had three pitchers author shutouts was in 1966, when the Orioles’ Jim Palmer (Game 2), Wally Bunker (Game 3) and Dave McNally (Game 4) did so.
• Finally, only two other pitchers have managed three World Series shutouts for their careers: Ford and the Cubs’ Mordecai Brown.
Let’s look back at how Matty’s feat unfolded …
With Philadelphia and New York just a few hours apart by train, a coin flip determined who would host Game 1, with the teams alternating sites for each game – with no scheduled days off. Philadelphia won the toss, so the opener was played at Columbia Park on Oct. 9, 1905.
Mathewson was the obvious choice to start the first game by Giants manager John McGraw. The 24-year-old right-hander led both leagues in wins (31-9), ERA (1.28), shutouts (eight) and – we know now – ERA+ (233). He also topped the NL with 206 strikeouts and a 0.93 WHIP.
McGraw also ordered new uniforms for his club, dressing them head-to-toe in black togs. The 6-foot-1 Mathewson might as well have been the grim reaper when he delivered his first pitch to Philadelphia’s 5-foot-5 leadoff hitter, Topsy Hartsel. Matty needed just five pitches to retire the A’s in order in the first, according to Frank Deford in his book about Mathewson and McGraw, “The Old Ball Game.”
The first nine A’s went down in order before Hartsel led off the fourth with a single to center, but Mathewson dispatched the next three batters.
The Giants got their ace the only runs he’d need in the top of the fifth when “Turkey Mike” Donlin singled with two outs off A’s starter Eddie Plank to score Roger Bresnahan from second base. Donlin took second on the throw, so Plank walked New York cleanup hitter Dan McGann intentionally. Sam Mertes came through with a ground-rule double to center to score Donlin for a 2-0 lead.
Philadelphia’s best chance at beating the Giants’ ace might’ve come in the bottom of the fifth, when Socks Seybold sent a hard smash back up the middle that struck Mathewson in either his thigh or groin (reports differ). Matty recovered to throw out Seybold at first for the first out of the inning, but then immediately went to the Giants’ bench for evaluation.
But he didn’t come out of the game. Play, apparently, was halted, and Mathewson was given some time to recover. He returned to the mound to strike out Danny Murphy – his first of six whiffs that day – and get Monte Cross on a groundout to second.
Leadoff doubles by the A’s in the sixth and eight went for naught when Mathewson retired the next three batters in order each time. After the Giants added a run in the ninth to go up 3-0, Mathewson allowed a two-out double in the ninth before getting Lave Cross to ground out to third for the final out.
Mathewson’s final line: 9 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 6 SO
The A’s evened the Series with a 3-0 victory in Game 2 in New York the next day, but Game 3, scheduled for Oct. 11 back in Philly, was rained out. With the extra day, McGraw tabbed Mathewson for the start on just two days’ rest.
Matty was just as sharp – though he didn’t have to be.
“Christy Mathewson, that pre-eminent pitcher, the crackerjack of the twirling circle, made the Philadelphia ballplayers bow to his mighty arm, and incidentally made them make frantic efforts to connect with the ever-elusive sphere,” read a report in the Buffalo Enquirer. “The Athletics didn’t have a chance – not a look in. Christy was the same self-composed individual as cool as the proverbial cucumber and cooler than the weather.”
The Giants struck right away when Bresnahan, leading off the game, was hit by a pitch from Andy Coakley. After a foul popout, a Donlin single put runners at first and third. McGann singled home Bresnahan and Donlin scored on an error for a 2-0 lead after one half-inning.
The A’s looked poised to strike right back, but the hope was short-lived. Hartsel reached on an error to open the bottom of the first and stole second. After Mathewson recorded the first of his eight strikeouts on the day, Harry Davis bounced one back to the box. Matty turned and fired to third to get Hartsel, then induced a grounder to first to end the inning.
Seybold worked a walk to lead off the second for Philadelphia, but that only caused Mathewson to bear down and retire the next 11 batters in a row before a two-out single in the bottom of the fifth. But even that hit was followed by a flyout.
By then, the Giants had broken the game open. New York scored five runs in the top of the fifth to take a 7-0 lead. They also stole two bases in the inning, including the first World Series swipe of home, by Bill Dahlen.
Over the final four innings, the A’s managed three singles – one that was followed by a double play and two that came with two outs – and a hit batter (also with two outs). No Athletic got past first base after the first inning, and two more Giants runs in the ninth made the final score 9-0.
Mathewson’s line: 9 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 8 SO, 1 HBP
Mathewson’s Series totals: 18 IP, 8 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 14 SO, 1 HBP
The Giants followed the run-scoring outburst with a tight 1-0 victory back in New York in Game 4, an unearned run all Iron Joe McGinnity needed to set up Mathewson to clinch the title in Game 5.
Starting with just one day of rest following his Game 3 mastery, Matty was not as dominant as he had been in his previous two starts, even though this start was his only one in front of the home fans. The A’s got the leadoff batter on base in each of the first three innings, including on Mathewson’s own error in the third. And yet, they couldn’t so much as advance those runners to second base, let alone mount a scoring threat. Mathewson got out of each inning unscathed.
Staked to a 1-0 lead in the fifth, Mathewson committed another error that allowed the leadoff batter in the sixth to reach first base. After a forceout at second, he picked off the runner at first to clear the bases before yielding his fifth hit of the game. Once again, a groundout got him out of the inning.
Mathewson retired the A’s in order in the next two innings, and the Giants added a run in the bottom of the eighth when Mathewson drew a one-out walk, took third on a ground-rule double and scored on a comebacker when Philadelphia starter Charles “Chief” Bender tried to turn an inning-ending double play, only to see batter George Browne beat the throw to first.
Matty then put the Series away with a 1-2-3 ninth, retiring the first two batters on comebackers and the last on a groundout to shortstop.
Mathewson’s line: 9 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 4 SO
Mathewson’s Series totals: 27 IP, 13 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 18 SO, 1 HBP, 0.77 WHIP
In summing up the Series, The New York Times did not hold back:
“And be it recorded right here that New York possesses the pitching marvel of the century. Christie [sic] Mathewson, the giant slabman, who made the world’s championship possible for New York, may be legitimately designated as the premier pitching wonder of all baseball records. The diamond has known its Clarkson, its Keefe, and its Caruthers. Their records radiate. But to Mathewson belongs the palm, for his almost superhuman accomplishment during the series which closed yesterday will stand as a mark for all pitchers of the future.”
That mark, as yet, remains unchallenged.