The Washington Nationals had a historic season in 2012.
The Nats made the playoffs for the first time since moving to Washington in 2005.
It was the first playoff appearance for the Nationals/Expos franchise since 1981.
And it was the first playoff appearance for a Washington baseball team since the Senators lost the World Series in 1933.
But if the Nationals' dream season had gone according to plan, then Washington would have won the first World Series in the city's history since 1924.
Now, as the current World Series is being played, let's take a look back into baseball lore and revisit the 1924 World Series.
The 1924 Washington Senators were managed by player-manager Bucky Harris, and finished with a 92-62 record. They won the American League pennant by 2.0 games over the New York Yankees. The Senators faced off with the New York Giants, who were managed by one of the masters of his profession, Hall of Famer John McGraw. The Giants won the National League pennant with a 93-60 record, finishing 1.5 games better than the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Game 1 was held at Griffith Stadium in Washington, DC on October 4, 1924. Washington's ace and eventual Hall of Fame inductee Walter "The Big Train" Johnson took the mound against New York's Art Nehf, and both hurlers threw complete games, even though the game went 12 innings. But Johnson's 14 hits and six walks surrendered were the difference as the Giants won 4-3.
The Senators evened the series with a Game 2 win of the exact same score. After the Senators' Goose Goslin and Bucky Harris hit early home runs off of Giants' starter Jack Bentley, the Giants came back to tie the game late with two runs in the top of the ninth, thanks to RBI singles by High Pockets Kelly and Hack Wilson. But Washington was rescued by Roger Peckinpaugh, whose walk-off double with one out in the bottom of the ninth knotted the teams at one game apiece as the World Series moved to New York.
Game 3 was played at the hallowed Polo Grounds, and the Giants won 6-4 to take a 2-1 series lead. It was a sloppy affair, as the Senators had two errorsand half of the runs they surrendered were unearned. New York Giants pitcher Rosy Ryan was the unsung hero of the game. Despite recording neither the win nor the save, Ryan pitched 4.2 innings of relief after coming into the game with two outs in the top of the fourth to relieve starter Hugh McQuillan. Ryan gave up only two earned runs while striking out two and walking three. He also led the team with two RBI, which came on a solo home run and an RBI ground-out.
The Senators tied the series once again by winning Game 4, this time at two games apiece with a 7-4 win. Goose Goslin drove in four of those Senators' runs by himself, going 2-4 with a three-run home run. Firpo Marberry earned a five-out save, his second of the series.
But with the series tied 2-2, Washington's baseball hero almost became a World Series goat. Walter Johnson turned in his second straight lackluster performance in Game 5, giving up 13 hits and four earned runs, despite pitching another complete game. New York Giants third baseman Freddie Lindstrom went 4-5 with two RBI and starting pitcher Jack Bentley went 2-3 with two RBI of his own, to go along with 7.1 innings pitched and only two earned runs surrendered. The Giants won 6-2, and were only one win away from their third World Series title in four straight appearances.
The Senators were on the brink as they hosted Game 6 back at Griffith Stadium, but Tom Zachary came to the rescue yet again. The hero of Game 2 was the pitching star when it mattered most, giving up seven hits but only one earned run as he threw a complete game, striking out three and walking none. He surrendered no runs and only five hits after the first inning of the game. Washington second baseman Bucky Harris came through at the plate, hitting a two-run single in the fifth. That was all Washington needed to win the game and force a deciding Game 7.
So the stage was set for a memorable ending to a closely-fought series, and these two combatants did not disappoint. The Senators had to go to their bullpen immediately, and that would actually be the story of the game. Starting pitcher Curly Ogden faced only two batters and retired one before he was removed in favor of George Mogridge. Mogridge pitched 4.2 innings and gave up only one earned run, which scored on a sacrifice fly after he was removed in the top of the sixth.
But then the shaky Washington defense let down another of their pitchers, as the Giants scored two unearned runs against newly inserted Firpo Marberry, on consecutive errors by first basemen Joe Judge and short stop Ossie Bluege. Marberry righted the ship, however, retiring the next two batters to end the inning, and then pitching a scoreless seventh and eighth. He was relieved to start the ninth inning.
Meanwhile, the visiting Giants got a solid pitching performance from starter Virgil Barnes, who lasted 7.2 innings. In fact, Barnes had trouble with just two things in Game 7: Bucky Harris and the eighth inning. Before the eighth, Barnes surrendered only three hits and one run, but Harris accounted for two of the hits and the only run, as the player-manager hit a solo homer in the fourth and a single in the seventh, which was erased by a double play.
Barnes entered the bottom of the frame with his Giants leading 3-1 and only six outs away from reclaiming the World Championship. But after getting the lead-off hitter to pop out in foul territory, New York's starting pitcher quickly lost control of the inning and the game. Barnes promptly surrendered a double to pinch hitter Nemo Leibold and a single to catcher Muddy Ruel. Pitcher Firpo Marberry was pinch-hit for by Bennie Tate, who was walked to load the bases. Barnes then retired the next batter.
This set up a bases loaded, two-out duel between Barnes and his nemesis, Bucky Harris. As he had twice done earlier in the game against Barnes, Harris put the ball in play. But this time, Harris got a lot of help from a bad hop, as Game 5 hitting hero Freddie Lindstrom could not field the seemingly routine ground ball. Two runs scored to tie the game.
To the ninth inning the two teams went, tied at three. Pitching in relief for the Senators was none other than Walter Johnson. Washington's ace had toiled for 18 years before he had his first shot at the postseason, racking up Hall of Fame numbers while playing for losing teams. But once he finally appeared in the World Series, he had pitched below his standard.
The Big Train was given a chance to redeem himself, and he did just that. Johnson worked out of a one-out jam in the top of the ninth after Frankie Frisch hit a triple. Johnson stranded him, and held the Giants scoreless in the 10th, 11th and 12th innings as well. He finished with no earned runs in 4.0 innings of relief, giving up only three hits and three walks (two intentional) while striking out five.
Johnson got his teammates into the bottom of the 12th still tied, and they would take care of the rest, with a little more help from The Big Train. The Giants' Game 5 winner Jack Bentley was pitching in relief, and retired the first batter. He then got Muddy Ruel to pop a foul ball to fellow catcher Hank Gowdy—who proceeded to step on his own catcher's mask and drop the ball. Given second life, Ruel would hit a double.
The next batter was the Big Train himself, left in the game by player-manager Harris, who was running out of pinch hitters as well as pitchers. Johnson put the ball in play, and just like Harris in the eighth inning, benefited from some good fortune at third base as Freddie Lindstrom could not handle the ground ball after yet another bad hop, allowing Johnson to reach as Ruel stayed at second.
But not for long. Next up was center fielder Earl McNeely, who hit what at first looked like a harmless ground ball through the left side of the infield, plating Ruel for the game-winning, series-winning run. Jack Bentley, the pitcher of record for the New York Giants, had this to say about the fateful 12th inning of Game 7 of the 1924 World Series:
That was one of the strangest games I ever played in. With one out, catcher [Hank]Gowdy did a sun dance on Ruel's pop foul and stepped into his mask and dropped the ball. Ruel doubled and then there was an error at short, then McNeely hit that grounder. That was a hell'uva way to lose a World Series.
And on the other side of the box score, Walter Johnson himself was the pitcher of record for the World Champion Washington Senators. Ironically, the work horse of the Washington rotation had to change his role from starter to reliever to change his World Series legacy from goat to hero.
All told, the 1924 World Series between the Washington Senators and the New York Giants was a classic. Four game were decided by one run, two games went to 12 innings, and two games were won by a walk-off. One of those walk-offs occurred in Game 7, making this one of only five World Series in which the final play was recorded via walk-off hit in the seventh and final game. And it is one of only four World Series in which the seventh game was won in extra innings.
To celebrate the World Series 100th Anniversary, ESPN ranked the 100 World Series played to date, from best (No. 1) to worst (No. 100). The 1924 World Series was ranked sixth. It is still the only World Series title in Washington's history.
Be patient, Washington Nationals fans. One day, the Nationals will indeed win the World Series and return the title to the city of Washington. By doing so, these Nats will write themselves into the annals of baseball's championship teams, joining the unforgettable names of Bucky, Muddy, and The Big Train.