After last Saturday’s win over the Red Sox, Gerrit Cole was technically on a streak of two consecutive complete games. The reason “technically” is used there is that second one was only six innings courtesy of a rain-shortened game. While it seems likely that Cole was coming back out for the seventh, he was already at 96 pitches. He almost certainly wouldn’t have lasted a full nine, unless he started mowing Boston down with three-pitch innings.
Even though it came on a technicality, two-straight complete games is still pretty good and fun. Yet it is still not even 10% of the Yankees’ record for the most consecutive complete games.
The early 1900s were right in the middle of the dead-ball era. It was also well before the very regular use of relievers, never mind the way pitchers are used today. It was those conditions that allowed Jack Chesbro to throw 26 consecutive complete games across the 1903 and ‘04 seasons.
After playing four seasons with the Pirates, Chesbro jumped to New York to play with the then-Highlanders for their first AL season in 1903. He quickly became the ace of that first Highlanders team, throwing 324.2 innings in ‘03, including 33 complete games. He ended the season with three-straight CGs, allowing just three earned runs over 27 innings.
He began 1904 by allowing two runs in nine innings against Boston, and he was off to the races. Through July 9th, every game Chesbro pitched involved him going the distance, for however long that took. On April 30th, he threw only eight innings as the losing pitcher in a road game, but that does count. Every other game in the streak, he went at least nine innings. I say at least, because there was one instance where he went even longer.
On May 20th, Chesbro allowed a run each in the eighth and ninth innings, allowing the White Sox to rally and tie the game. Despite that, he stayed in the game. He threw three more scoreless innings before the Yankees won on a walk-off in the 12th.
The streak finally came to an end when Chesbro took the mound on July 13th, but not because of any poor performance by him. Pitcher/manager Clark Griffith started the game but lasted just two innings after allowing three runs. Chesbro came in to replace him and threw three innings. He was the starting pitcher the very next day, and, you guessed it, he threw a complete game.
If you take into account only the games Chesbro started, then the streak goes on longer in both directions. From August 1, 1903 to August 6, 1904, he completed every game he started. Not only is that over a full year, that is a run of 42 consecutive starts that ended in complete games. However officially, the streak is “only” 26.
In total, Chesbro would throw 48 complete games in 1904. He started 51, meaning he didn’t complete only three games he started. He threw 454.2 innings that season, by far the most in Yankees/Highlanders history, and the second most since 1903, which is when the World Series era began.
Unfortunately, the season actually ended on a sour note for Chesbro and the Highlanders. He allowed three runs combined in the seventh and ninth innings, blowing a two-run lead in the penultimate game of the season against Boston, with the losing run coming on a wild pitch. The loss eliminated the Highlanders from contention for the AL pennant in ‘04.
The next highest streak of complete games in Yankees’ history belongs to Ray Caldwell and his 21 consecutive in 1915-16. The highest within the last 100 years is Allie Reynolds with 14 in 1951-52. In the last 30 years, the longest streak is just three.
It’s safe to say no one will be approaching Chesbro ever, unless there are some wild changes in how baseball is played.
All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference