|Winning Streaks by Pitchers|
By Ronald G. Liebman
More than 65 years have elapsed since Rube Marquard attracted national attention by winning 19 consecutive games at the start of the season for the 1912 National League Champion New York Giants. That was a banner year for streaks by pitchers as Smokey Joe Wood and Walter Johnson both set the American League standard with 16 straight. Lest the reader think that all the top streaks were accomplished in that one year of 1912, we will review other great streaks and even append to this narrative the annual leaders in each league since 1900.
The top major league winning streaks by pitchers for one season are the National League streaks of 19 games by Marquard in 1912 and by Tim Keefe of an earlier New York NL Championship team in 1888. Hoss Radbourn won 18 consecutive games (all complete games in consecutive starts) for Providence NL in 1884. The top streak in the majors since 1920 is the l7-game streak put together by Elroy Face, a fork-balling reliever for the 1959 Pittsburgh Pirates, who finished 4th in the National League. Face won his first 17 decisions that year, finishing with an 18-1 record. He had won his last 5 decisions of 1958 for a 2-year streak of 22 relief wins. Face was helped by several late-inning or extra-inning Pirate rallies which helped him avert defeats.
The American League record winning streak is 16 consecutive games, shared by 4 different pitchers. They are Smokey Joe Wood (34-5) of Boston AL and Walter Johnson (32-12) of Washington AL, both in the Marquard year of 1912, Lefty Grove (31-4) of Philadelphia AL in 1931, and Schoolboy Rowe's 16-game winning streak in 1934 for the pennant-winning Tigers when he was 24-8. Besides the 19-game streak by Marquard, 3 National League pitchers have notched 16-game streaks since 1900. Carl Hubbell (26-6) of New York did it in 1936, Ewell Blackwell (22-8) turned the trick for a 5th place Cincinnati outfit in 1947, and Jack Sanford (24-7) reached the sweet-16 plateau for the 1962 San Francisco Giants. Hubbell, in fact, reeled off an amazing 2- year string of 24 consecutive victories (two more than Face later compiled) in National League competition, winning his last 16 in 1936 and his first 8 in 1937. He was 26-6 in 1936 and 22-8 in 1937. Hubbell won 21 of his 24 games in starting roles while leading the New York Giants to consecutive pennants.
Several items are worthy of note in the accompanying tables. The year 1977 was only the second year since 1900 which failed to produce at least one streak in either league of 9 consecutive games. A total of four NL pitchers (Christenson and Lonborg of the Phils, John of the Dodgers, and Seaver of the Reds) and two AL hurlers (Guidry of the Yankees and Pattin of the Royals) put together 8-game streaks. The only previous year without a streak of at least 9 games was 1933, when Fred Frankhouse (16-15) of the Boston Braves and Earl Whitehill (22-8) of the Washington Senators paced their respective loops with streaks of only 8 wins.
Three leaders' streaks represented all of their decisions in undefeated seasons. They are Joe Pate of the A's (9-0 in 1926), Tom Zachary of the Yankees (12-0 in 1929), and co-leader Ken Holtzman, Chicago Cubs (9-0 in 1967). Pate, a rookie, won all 9 of his decisions in relief after becoming one of the greatest pitchers in Texas League history. He never won another major league game as he was let go by Philadelphia Manager Connie Mack after an 0-3 record in 1927. Zachary (who won 9 of his 12 decisions as a starter) was a journeyman who pitched for several teams in both leagues and is best-remembered for yielding Babe Ruth's 60th home run in 1927. Holtzman spent much of that 1967 season in military service after the first month, occasionally pitching after that on weekend passes. Even that way he pitched more frequently than he did for the Yankees when he was fully available in 1977. Besides Pate, Zachary, and Holtzrnan, only one other major league pitcher had an undefeated season with 9 or more wins. He was Howie Krist, 10-0 in his first full major league season in 1941 for the St. Louis Cardi nals (6 of 10 wins in relief 0. Elmer Riddle of Cincinnati, also in his first full major league year, topped Krist to become the leader that year with a season-opening streak of 11 wins en route to a 17-4 record that year.
Burt Hooton of the 1975 L.A. Dodgers, a former Chicago Cub, came out of nowhere to win his last 12 decisions-ironically becoming the first NL pitcher to win an even dozen in a row since Dick Rudolph of the "Miracle" Boston Braves in 1914, a team which went from last place on July 19th to a decisive pennant victory and an upset World Series win over Connie Mack's Athletics in 4 straight games. Steve Carlton of the Philadelphia Phillies won 15 in a row in 1972 and was 27-10 for a team which had a won-lost mark of 59-97 - the worst record in the National League! Nothing gives a manager greater satisfaction than to send out a pitcher who he knows he can count on for a victory, even under adverse circumstances. Canton's performance that year was among the all-time best.
Most of the streak leaders are pitchers whose names are easily recognizable as being standout hurlers, but there are many exceptions. Ike Delock of the Boston Red Sox won his first 10 decisions in 1958 on his way to a 14-8 season, with his winning streak topping the efforts of such fine pitchers as Whitey Ford, Bob Turley, Billy Pierce, Jim Bunning, and Early Wynn. The same year in the NL, an even more obscure hurler named George Witt was 9-2 and he led the league with a 7-game winning streak in a lean streak year, during a season when Warren Spahn, Lew Burdette, and Bob Friend were 20-game winners. Aside from 1958, Witt won only 2 other games in his major league career. Yankee rookie Spec Shea led the American League with a mere 7-game streak in 1947.
Several relief pitchers were leaders or co-leaders in their leagues in various seasons. In the season when Face won 17 in a row in relief for Pittsburgh, another famous relief pitcher Hoyt Wilhelm led the American League with 9 consecutive wins. Wilhelm, however, was used primarily as a starting pitcher that year for Baltimore. Relief pitcher Luis Arroyo of the 1961 New York Yankees had a 12-game winning streak which is a one-season record for an AL relief pitcher. However, it does not appear in the accompanying tables since Whitey Ford, his teammate, won 14 consecutive games that season - several of them saved by Arroyo's stellar relief work. Arroyo's streak likely was overlooked that year because of the attention given Whitey Ford's efforts to record 30 pitching wins or at least to exceed Lefty Gomez' record of 26 for a Yankee lefty (Ford finished with 25 wins).
Besides the relief streaks of Face, Pate, and Arroyo, three other relief streaks seem worthy of mention. John (Eddie) Yuhas, a rookie relief pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals won his last 10 decisions in a 12-2 season in 1952 to set the rookie record, but was released after going 0-0 in 2 games in 1953-never to appear in the majors again. Clarence (Butch) Metzger tied the record by winning his first 10 decisions in an 11-4 season for San Diego NL in 1976. Besides Face, Pate, and Metzger, the only reliever whose streak led both leagues was Phil Regan, the "grease-ball" specialist, who won his last 13 decisions in a 14-1 season in 1966 to play a vital role in leading the Los Angeles Dodgers to the National League pennant. Speaking of the Dodgers, the top streaks by Sandy Koufax were his 11-game streaks in 1964 and 1965.
Preacher Roe of the 1951 Brooklyn Dodgers had two 10-game streaks in his 22-3 season, the first one starting the season. The only other pitchers with two streaks of 10 or more games in the same season were Walter Johnson of the 1913 Washington Senators (10 and 14) and Dave (Boo) Ferriss of the 1946 Boston Red Sox (10 and 12). Johnson and Ferriss both started the season with their first streaks. Johnson was 36-7 in 1913 and Ferriss was 25-6 in a pennant-winning year where Boston won 41 of its first 50 games. Johnson was the leader or co-leader in top annual winning streaks a record total of five times, while Christy Mathewson, Whitey Ford, and Dave McNally led four times each.
Bob Gibson of the St. Louis Cardinals had the longest World Series winning streak, with 7 consecutive wins (all complete games) between 1964 and 1968. New York Yankee pitching greats Red Ruffing (1937-1942) and Lefty Gomez (1932-1 938) each had 6-game streaks. Gomez had a 6-0 won-lost record lifetime in the World Series; Ruffing and Gibson were each 7-2. Even though many volumes have been written about Babe Ruth, it has escaped prior notice that Ruth won his last 9 decisions as a pitcher - spread out over 15 years! The Babe won his last 4 decisions while finishing with a 9-5 record for the 1919 Boston Red Sox as a combination pitcher-outfielder. Ruth won all 5 games he pitched for the Yankees (1 in 1920, 2 in 1921, 1 in 1930, and 1 in
In the following tables, I have attempted to list the top winning streaks by pitchers in both leagues for each season since 1900. It must be noted that this was not always easy to do because of gaps in available data, and conflicting or unclear scoring rules prior to 1920. For example, the American League did not list pitchers' wins and losses in its official day-to-day averages for 1913 to 1919 because League President Ban Johnson had felt that the won-lost stats were misleading.
Christy Mathewson of the New York Giants won 11 consecutive games in 1905, but the streak would be 16 games under present scoring rules. Mathewson was deprived of one victory when he relieved the Giant starter Luke Taylor after 3 innings and protected a 4-3 Giant lead vs. Chicago for the remainder of the game. In his previous start, he was charged with a defeat when a New York-Pittsburgh game was forfeited to Pittsburgh in the 9th inning with the score tied 5-5 when the Giants left the field and refused to return soon enough after protesting an umpire's decision. Under today's scoring rules, a starter must pitch at least 5 innings for a win (which Taylor did not do), and no defeats are charged in forfeits to pitchers unless the team which is the victim is trailing in the game. Thus Mathewson, who was 31-9 in 1905, would be 32-8 under today's rules, besides having a 16-game streak instead of 11 games.
Also, Rube Marquard's 19-game streak in 1912 would be 20 under today's rules. Marquard relieved in the top of the 9th inning vs. the Brooklyn Dodgers in a game where the Giants led 2-1. Two baserunners who were previously on base scored on a Giant fielding error, and they trailed 3-2. Though the Giants rallied to win 4-3 in the bottom of the 9th, the win went to Giant starter Jeff Tesreau (who pitched 8 innings plus part of the 9th) under the scoring practices of the day. Also, Tim Keefe in his 19-game streak of 1888, started and hurled only 2 innings in one of his victories.
Here is the annual list of pitchers' winning streak leaders in each major league since 1900 based on the best information available:
LONGEST WINNING STREAKS BY PITCHERS, EACH SEASON
Note: (S) denotes that the streak started the season.
(F) denotes that the streak ended the season.
(R) denotes that the entire streak was in relief.