Mercy, Mercy, Mercy – Laughers

On Wednesday night, the Boston Red Sox beat the Detroit Tigers 20-4 in Fenway Park. This is what’s known in baseball as a laugher, so called because these kinds of games are inherently farcical. It’s rare for any team to score as many as 20 runs and usually in these cases the losing team stops wasting pitchers and will use some bench/position players to pitch. This also gets pretty funny, often because these guys are not half-bad and stop the bleeding.

Strange as the game was, seeing it at all was an odd coincidence too. If I’d been home I would have missed it, but my wife Anna and I went to my son Graeme’s place to help him hang some of my dad’s paintings. Graeme had the Yankees-White Sox game on with no sound, then switched to the Fenway game on some channel I don’t have on my cable TV package. The Sox and Tigers were tied 4-4 in the fifth or so and I thought….hmmm, good game.

I finished hanging a picture and noticed the Sox had gone up 5-4. About five minutes later I’d finished another and it was 10-4 – what the? Somebody must have hit a grand slam. and as I found it later it was Will Middlebrooks, Boston’s suddenly red-hot third baseman. After that, every time I looked back to the game, the Sox had added on to the score – 12-4, 14-4, 16-4. It was getting silly, the Tigers kept bringing in their minor-league call-up pitchers and the Sox kept bashing them. David Ortiz hit two of Boston’s total of eight home runs, a record for each team, but on opposite sides of the baseball.

The game had vague echoes for me of another laugher between these teams that I’d read about long ago somewhere……the Sox scored over 20 runs against the Tigers in a game in the 1950s or ’60s and somehow a Detroit pitcher with the funny name of Paul Foytack was ringing some dim bells in connection with it. I also got to wondering about other laughers through the years and other questions – what was the highest-scoring ballgame ever? Which team scored the most runs ever in a game? And how many? And what about the Tigers-Red Sox laugher and Paul Foytack – where and when?

It was actually child’s play to look this stuff up on-line, it took me to all sorts of wild and whacky websites in no time at all……..hey, maybe I should try working in a reference library or something.

Anyway, here are a few zany nuggets. Usually, only one team scores a ton of runs in these laughers, but sometimes both teams get in on the act. The highest-scoring game of all time was between the Phillies and Cubs on Aug. 5, 1922 – the Cubs won 26-23. Naturally, it was at Chicago’s Wrigley Field, not nicknamed “The Friendly Confines” for nothing.

Incredibly, these same two teams hooked up in another slug-fest in Chicago on May 17, 1979, which I remember because it was just after I got married for the first time. The Phillies beat the Cubs that day 23-22. They were up 21-9 only to watch the Cubs tie it up at 22 and then the great Mike Schmidt – who else? –  won it with a homer in the tenth inning. Amazing.

The White Sox beat the awful K.C. Athletics 29-6 in 1955, the Cardinals beat the Phillies 28-6 in 1929 and the Brooklyn Dodgers beat the hated NY Giants 26-8 in 1944. These were the most runs scored by one team in a game until 2007, when the Texas Rangers beat the Baltimore Orioles 30-3, after trailing 3-0 in the fourth. As Tom Hanks said in the movie A League Of Their Own, “There’s no crying in baseball” and there’s no mercy rule either.

As to the earlier Red Sox-Tigers laugher I mentioned, I was partly right and partly wrong about it, my memory was playing tricks on me. The Sox beat the Tigers in Fenway Park 23-3 on June 18, 1953. It was a wild and woolly game – the Sox hit only one home run but had 27 hits, scoring 17 runs in the seventh inning alone (!!), which must be a record, or close to it. A guy named Gene Stephens (who was Ted Williams’ caddy) had 3 hits in that inning, which hasn’t been done much.

I was wrong about Paul Foytack pitching in this game, though he was with the Tigers then. I think I read about it in a Baseball Digest article about Foytack and how the Red Sox used to hit him really hard, which they did. He had some control problems early in his career and one website had a month-to-month breakdown of his 1955 season which cracked me up. After some ghastly relief outings against both the White and Red Sox that year, his ERA entering June was 40.53, or something like that. I love stuff like this, when baseball numbers get ridiculously skewed.

Foytack was actually a pretty good pitcher with the Tigers for about 10 years, except that when he was bad, he was really bad. He’d walk a lot of guys, then start serving up home runs, not a good combination. The Detroit fans kind of loved him because he was so human and failure-prone, yet very intense, and the article mentioned that in a game on July 31,1963, Foytack gave up back-to-back-to-back-to-back home runs against the Indians, only the second time a pitcher has ever given up 4 straight homers – mercy, mercy. Last night’s laugher recalled this to me and I got his dubious feat mixed up with the 1953 23-3 game. 1963 was near the end of Foytack’s career and needless to say, the Tigers traded him fairly soon after this.

Pretty much everything you could imagine has happened in a ballgame, or is waiting to, except maybe a game never ending, though that’s theoretically possible. I’m pretty selective about sci-fi as a genre –  I liked The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits as a kid and Ray Bradbury, but have never had much use for Star Trek and the like. But when baseball and sci-fi intersect, then I get to tingling, which is probably why I enjoy W.P. Kinsella so much. Among his other baseball novels, Kinsella wrote one called The Iowa Baseball Confederacy that centered around an apocalyptic, epic game between a farm-town local nine and the great 1908 Chicago Cubs, which lasted for weeks, till the players were insane, sick, exhausted and dying. It would make a hell of a movie, or at least an episode of Hell on Wheels.

When I see the eerie coincidences of teams like the Phillies and Cubs or Red Sox and Tigers hooking up in these wild games so many years apart, it makes me think of what Eugene O’Neill once said : “There is no present or future….only the past, happening over and over again – now.”

Or, to put it more in the vernacular, “Same shit, different year.”

© 2013 – 2016, Steve Wallace. All rights reserved.

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