Ninety-three years ago, the lowly Philadelphia Phillies set what appeared to be a record for the ages: 20 straight games in which they surrendered five or more runs. During that stretch (Sept. 3 to Sept. 24, 1924), National League teams battered the Phillies' pitching staff for 169 runs — 8.4 per game.
Theirs is the major league mark that the Orioles are chasing, though certainly not by choice. Monday night's 12-0 loss to the Cleveland Indians was Baltimore's 16th consecutive game in that vein, an American League record. The Orioles extended that to 17 on Tuesday night in beating the Indians, 6-5.
How bad were those Phillies of yore? They went 14 years (1918 through 1931) without breaking .500. Pitching was awful. Late in 1924, Philadelphia was already mired in seventh place (of eight teams) when the dam broke. In three weeks, the staff was battered, losing back-to-back games to the New York Giants by 15-3 and 16-14, and falling in consecutive outings to the Chicago Cubs by 10-8 scores.
It was a team effort. Eight pitchers earned decisions during that streak in which the Phillies dropped 16 of 20 games. The starting crew featured the likes of Bill Hubbell, a right-hander who, two years earlier, had been struck in the head by a line drive, suffering a fractured skull; he hadn't been the same since. There was Clarence Mitchell, a spitball pitcher best known for being the only player in World Series history to hit into an unassisted triple play (Brooklyn Robins vs. Cleveland Indians, 1920). And there was Jimmy Ring, a quiet, laid-back fellow who drew praise from manager Art Fletcher because he "never crabs about being on a tail-end team."
In truth, the Phillies were lucky to be alive. On Aug. 21, during a road trip, the B&O railroad train in which they were traveling flipped over in Indiana, killing the engineer. Players were unhurt.
Mercifully, on Sept. 25, the blowouts stopped as Philadelphia defeated the St. Lous Cardinals, 5-3. Though Joe Oescher, the starter, was clobbered early (three runs in two-thirds of an inning), a reliever named Huck Betts stepped in and, uncharacteristically, pitched 81/3 innings of four-hit, shutout ball.
The Phillies finished 55-96 with a team ERA of 4.87. During the final week, before a three-game series with the pennant-chasing Giants, a New York outfielder, Jimmy O'Connell, approached Philadelphia shortstop Heinie Sand and offered him $500 to throw the series. Sand reported the bribe and O'Connell was banned for life from baseball.
Given the Phillies' pitching that season, one wonders why he bothered.