April 16, 2014

Great PCL Series: 1951

January 23, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

The 1951 Pacific Coast League championship would be contested between the Seattle Rainiers and the Hollywood Stars, the circuit’s two top clubs during the ’51 regular season. The Rainiers, winners of the regular season pennant with a 99-68 record, advanced to the championship series after defeating the Los Angeles Angels 3-1 in the deciding game of the best-of-three semi-finals. Meanwhile the Stars (93-74 record in the regular season) easily swept the Portland Beavers in their semi-final matchup.

The Rainiers were managed by Hall of Fame second baseman Rogers Hornsby, who had two major horses leading his pitching rotation. 33 year-old Marv Grissom posted a 20-11 record throughout the regular season with a 3.04 ERA. He was joined by fellow right-hander Hal ‘Skinny’ Brown, who had joined Seattle after an early season stint with the Chicago White Sox. Brown was instrumental down the stretch for Seattle, including being credited with wins in both Seattle semi-final victories.

The Hollywood Stars, managed by Fred Haney, were led offensively by outfielder George Schmees, who had a breakout season in 1951. Schmees joined the Stars late in 1950 and batted an abysmal .174 in 121 at-bats, but emerged as a major contributor in ’51, leading the club in average (.328), RBIs (100), and stolen bases (14). Schmees also was second on the club with 26 home runs. Hollywood’s pitching ace, Ben Wade (16-6, 2.61) would get the call on the mound for the first game of the best-of-five championship series.

Wade would oppose Bob Hall (7-8, 3.72) in game one of the series, slated for Seattle’s Sick’s Stadium. Hall, who was Seattle’s fourth starter in the rotation, was the best option available for Hornsby, whose other starters had accumulated much fatigue in the semi-final round. Despite his average regular season numbers, Hall went out and dominated the Stars’ hitters, leading the Rainiers to a 3-0 opening game victory.

Game two would go the next day in Seattle. Marv Grissom was rested and ready to go for the Rainiers and he would oppose Hollywood’s veteran knuckleballer Johnny Lindell (12-9, 3.03) on the mound. The Stars would get on the board first in the third inning, as Chuck Connor singled home Lou Stringer to give Hollywood an early 1-0 lead. The Stars would expand the lead in the fifth, with runs coming off a Stringer solo home run and a RBI single from Schmees. Grissom was hooked after the inning by Hornsby, replacing him with reliever Paul Calvert.

Frank Kelleher added to Hollywood’s lead in the seventh, when he plated Dino Restelli home on a double off Calvert. Seattle would break the goose egg in the ninth inning on a Walt Judnich RBI single, but that would be the extent of the damage. Hollywood knotted the series up at one apiece with a 4-1 victory. Lindell pitched terrific for the Stars, going the distance and allowing only seven hits throughout the game. Neither team committed an error.

The series would shift to Gilmore Field in Hollywood for the remaining games of the series. Seattle, unable to take control of the series at home, arrived in California for game three without a full squad. Pitchers Earl Johnson and Charley Schanz were left behind in Seattle with illnesses. First baseman Gordon Goldsberry would be left out of the line-up for game three due to an injury he suffered the previous game after he was hit by a pitch. Outfielder/pitcher Al Lyons was also nursing a sore shoulder that would keep him from taking the mound during the rest of the series, although he would remain in his regular line-up spot in the outfield. On top of all that, the entire team did not arrive at their scheduled time in Hollywood due to foggy conditions at the Seattle airport that grounded their flight for several hours.

Nonetheless, the game would go on and Hornsby was finally able to give Hal Brown, already 2-0 in the playoffs, a start. The Stars would counter with Pinky Woods (12-9, 4.06). Seattle got on the board in the fifth, thanks to a RBI double from Wes Hammer, and it would be the only run they needed. Seattle would win the game 3-0 and like he had been all postseason, Brown was simply dominate. He went the distance allowing only six hits to pick up his third win in seven days. He had now gone 20 2/3rd innings without allowing a run in the Governors’ Cup playoffs and his team was now one game away from capturing the PCL championship.

Game four was a pitching rematch of the first game, Hollywood’s Ben Wade against Seattle’s Bob Hall. Both pitchers were prone to the long ball early in the contest, with four players hitting round-trippers in the first five innings; Seattle’s Hall and Joe Erautt and Hollywood’s Lou Stringer and Murray Franklin. Wade was pulled after the sixth inning with the score 3-3 and was replaced with Jack Salveson.

The score remained tied at threes heading into bottom of the ninth with Hall still pitching for the Rainiers. Things began to falter defensively for Seattle in the final regulation inning. First, sure handed third baseman Rocky Krsnich butchered a Dino Restelli groundball, allowing Restelli to reach second base. The next batter, Frankie Kelleher walked but the Rainiers caught a break when Mike Sandlock’s bunt forced Restelli out at third base.

With runners at first and second, shortstop Johnny O’Neil came to the plate. Listed at only 5’9” and 155 lbs., O’Neil had batted .271 in the regular season and had only driven in 16 runs. This time, O’Neil came through with a base hit into leftfield. Kelleher rambled on by third base and headed home. Seattle’s Wally Judnich threw a laser home and the throw beat Kelleher, who slammed into catcher Joe Erautt. The ball became dislodged and umpire Bill Doran, who was in the process of ruling an out, reversed his call and ruled Kelleher safe. Hollywood won 4-3 and forced a decisive game five the next night.

The Rainiers loss was as much on them as anything else. After playing stellar defense throughout the series, the two errors in the final inning cost them the deciding run. Although they outhit Hollywood by a 10-6 margin, Seattle stranded 10 base runners and had two potential runs thrown out at the plate. Now, the Rainiers would have to beat Johnny Lindell, a man who shut down their bats in the second game, in order to win the Governors’ Cup. Hornsby would send Marv Grissom out to oppose Lindell in the final game, the same matchup as game two.

Both pitchers held the door shut until the bottom of the fifth, when the hometown Stars cracked Grissom for two runs. That would also end Grissom’s day as the 20-game winner had failed to reach the sixth inning in both of his championship series starts. He would be replaced by Paul Calvert. Seattle cut the lead in half in the sixth, scoring their first run of the series against Lindell, who had held them scoreless through 14+ innings of work in the Governor’s Cup.

Down 2-1 in the seventh, the Rainiers broke through. They would chase Lindell halfway through the inning and continued to pound reliever Gordon Maltzberger. In all, Seattle added four runs, took the lead, and never looked back. They added another run in the eighth off Vic Lombardi and three more tallies in the ninth off Wally Hood to ice the game. The Seattle Rainiers, behind 15 hits, were the Pacific Coast League’s Governors’ Cup winners thanks to a 9-2 victory in a decisive game five.

Calvert picked up the win in the relief for Seattle while Lindell took the loss. Hal Brown, the Rainiers’ star hurler, picked up the save after pitching a scoreless 7th, 8th, and 9th for Seattle. It was only fitting that the series ended with Brown, considering what he had accomplished on the mound for the Rainiers throughout the postseason. In addition to his game five save, Brown won games one and three of the semi-final series as well as game three of the Governors’ Cup against Hollywood. His playoff scoreless streak had been extended to 23 2/3rd innings with his game five performance.

The victory was also the last game for Rogers Hornsby, who left Seattle after one season to manage the Cincinnati Reds. The Rainiers finished 96-84, 13 games behind the champion 109-win Hollywood Stars. The PCL didn’t hold a playoff in 1952, so the Stars were also declared Governors’ Cup champions that season. They would repeat the title in ’53.

Comments

One Response to “Great PCL Series: 1951”
  1. Cliff Blau says:

    Lindell gave up a run in the ninth inning of his first start, so the run Seattle scored off him in the sixth inning of the final game wasn’t the first he’d allowed.

    Anyway, it’s crazy to me that Seattle had to play this series when they had already beaten Hollywood by 6 games in the regular season. If they’d played five games and Hollywood won them all, they’d still be a game behind Seattle!

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