If I was to come to you on a given day and say “today, the Yankees’ starting pitcher is going to throw a one-hitter,” you’re going to feel very, very good about their chances. Add in the fact that said pitcher also allowed no walks, and you’re probably wondering just how close to history did we get, because that’s not that far away from a perfect game, in theory.
However, “in theory” is still just an implication. In one such 1906 game, not only did the Yankees’ pitcher not come super close to a no-hitter/perfect game, not only did he not hold the opponents scoreless, but the Yankees lost the game.
On June 10, 1906, the then-New York Highlanders were in Chicago taking on the White Sox. Thanks to a 29-16 start, the Highlanders were on top of the American League standings, and they were set to send Al Orth, arguably their best pitcher, to the mound that day.
After starting the game with two 1-2-3 innings, Orth retired the leadoff hitter in the third before kicking off a sequence that would be the game’s turning point. White Sox third baseman and eight hole hitter Lee Tannehill was hit by an Orth pitch, giving Chicago their first baserunner of the day. That seemed like it was quickly going to be erased when pitcher Frank Owen then hit a grounder to Highlanders second baseman Jimmy Williams, one that potentially looked like an inning-ending double play. However, Williams made an error as he tried to rush the play, giving the White Sox two runners on.
At that point, Chicago’s lineup flipped back to the top and brought Ed Hahn to the plate. Despite being in a bit of a pickle, the Highlanders seemingly got another lifetime as Hahn grounded one to third baseman Frank LaPorte. After cleanly fielding it, LaPorte stepped on third for the force out and sent the ball over to first. However, first baseman Hal Chase couldn’t come up with the ball as it skipped past him. Right fielder Willie Keller had to come in to retrieve the ball, and by the time he got to it and fired it in, Owen was able to come all the way around to score and give the White Sox the lead.
That inning ended up being the only real mark against Orth all game. He would finish the day having allowed just one hit — to center fielder Fielder Jones — at some point during the game. However that did end up leading to anything, and Orth finished with a final line of nine innings pitched, having allowed one unearned run on one hit and no walks. Yes, his hit by pitch did kickstart the inning that led to the run, but that particular runner was soon erased on the basepaths. Maybe the errors don’t happen if the fielders are able to take their time more without worrying about a runner already on base, but if we’re portioning blame for this loss, Orth should not get very much of it.
Yes, I did say “loss,” because despite just allowing one run and one hit, the Highlanders did in fact lose this game 1-0, giving Orth just absolutely no support. They recorded eight hits over the course of the game, including two from Orth himself. In five different innings, the leadoff hitter reached base. In two of those innings, the first two hitters got on safely. They just couldn’t ever push any sort of run across.
Also of note is that the Highlanders finished three games back of the White Sox in the final 1906 AL standings. So while flipping this one particular game from loss to win wouldn’t cause a shift in the final standings, it sure would’ve helped.
I’m going to guess that there are no 120ish-year-olds reading this blog that could’ve watched and remembered this game that could confirm this hypothesis: in terms of annoyingness, there can’t be many more games in Yankees’ history that would’ve been as bad as June 10, 1906.
New York Times, June 11, 1906