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On This Date in Sports October 4, 1948: Bearden & Boudreau Prevent Beantown Series

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The American League Pennant is decided by a one-game playoff at Fenway Park, as the Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox finished tied with a record of 96-58. With Boston fans hoping for an all Beantown World Series rookie knuckleballer Gene Bearden pitches the Tribe an 8-3 win over the Red Sox, as player-manager Lou Boudreau goes 4-four-4, with two home runs and three runs scored.

The race for the American League Pennant came down to three teams in the final week of the season as the Boston Red Sox, pennant winners in 1946, and defending World Champion New York Yankees battled with the Cleveland Indians seeking their first trip to the World Series since 1920.

After winning the 1947 World Series, the Yankees manager by Bucky Harris were the favorites to return to the Fall Classic. The Boston Red Sox were led by Joe McCarthy, who had previously won seven World Series and eighth pennants with the Yankees. Spending most of September in first place, the Red Sox were hoping to return to the World Series and avenge their heartbreaking seven-game loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1946. The Cleveland Indians were the late arrivals in the battle for the pennant as they went 20-6 in September all while dealing with the loss of Don Black, who was recovering from suffering a cerebral hemorrhage while pitching on September 13th. The Indians went into the final weekend of the season holding a one-game lead as the Red Sox and Yankees battled at Fenway Park. On the penultimate day of the season, the Red Sox eliminated the Yankees with a 5-1 win, while the Tribe behind Gene Bearden blacked the Detroit Tigers 8-0. However, with Bob Feller on the mound, the Tigers beat the Indians 7-1 in the regular season finale. The Red Sox meanwhile, beat the Yankees 10-5 to force the one-game playoff.

The City of Boston was extra excited for the one-game playoff between the Red Sox and Indians. With the dynamic pitching duo Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain, the Boston Braves had won the National League pennant with a record of 91-62. If the Red Sox were to win, the entire World Series would be played in Boston, giving fans the first meaningful showdown between Beantown’s two baseball clubs.

Gene Bearden had been the Indians unsung hero through much of the 1948 season. While Bob Feller and Bob Lemon got the headlines, Bearden a 28-year-old rookie knuckleballer came out of nowhere and led the American League with a 2.43 ERA. Like many players, Bearden put his career on hold to serve in the military in World War II. Born on September 5, 1920, in Lexa, Arkansas, Gene Bearden enlisted in the Navy following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, prior to that he had been a struggling pitcher in the low minor leagues bouncing through three organizations. While serving aboard the USS Helena, Bearden was severely injured when the ship was hit by a torpedo and sunk during the Battle of Kula Gulf in 1943. Bearden spent more than a year in the hospital and returned to the minors in 1945 where he learned to throw the knuckleball. After making just one unsuccessful appearance in 1947, Bearden had the right stuff for Cleveland in 1948, as he held a 19-7 record when he was chosen to pitch the one-game playoff on one day’s rest.

While Bearden got the start for the Indians, Joe McCarthy chose Denny Galehouse a noted control pitcher who rarely walked batters to make the start for Boston. Lou Boudreau, the 31-year-old player-manager, who was also the American League MVP with a.355 average made his presence known in the first inning with a home run to give Cleveland a 1-0 lead. Boston would answer right away, as Vern Stephens singled home Johnny Pesky, who had hit a one-out double. Galehouse and the Red Sox fond themselves in trouble again in the fourth inning, when Boudreau and Joe Gordan led off with singles, to bring up Ken Keltner, who belted a three-run home run to give the Indians a 4-1 lead, chasing the Red Sox hurdler from the game. Larry Doby greeted Red Sox reliever Ellis Kinder with a double and later scored on a grounder by Jim Hegan. In the fifth inning, Cleveland made it 6-1 as Lou Boudreau hit his second home run of the game. The Red Sox would attempt to get back in the game in the sixth, with a two-run homer by Bobby Doerr, but Bearden slammed the door on Boston, the rest of the way. The Indians would add runs in the seventh and eighth to make the final 8-3, with Gene Bearden with his 20th win got Birdie Tibbets to ground to third to end the game.

The Indians would go on to break Boston’s hearts again in the World Series, beating the Braves in six games. The 1948 season was the best of Bearden’s career as he had trouble harnessing his knuckleball in subsequent seasons, retiring in 1953.