100 years ago, on this very field, Walter Johnson and Smoky Joe Wood faced off in one of baseball's most memorable pitching match-ups, and one of Fenway's first great games. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Games of Note: Walter Johnson was essentially a minor deity back in 1912. He entered the league in 1907 as a 19-year-old, and in that stretch led the majors in ERA+ (164), ranked second in strikeouts (1,218) and first in strikeouts per nine with 6.4 per nine. Remember, this is at a time when the league-average strikeout rate was around four per nine. Johnson was third in shutouts and complete games, and fourth in innings. On this day in 1912, he took on a relatively lesser-known hurler in Joe Wood.
Smoky Joe Wood, nicknamed as such for a fastball that reportedly was even harder than Johnson's, has been excellent in his career to that point, one that started just a year after Johnson's. But 1912 was the breakout, the greatest season he would ever have. Wood threw 344 innings over 38 starts and six relief appearances, recording a league-leading 34 wins with a 3.2 K/BB, another league-leading 35 complete games and 10 shutouts. He struck out 258 of the 1,328 batters he faced, giving him a 6.8 K/9 that surprisingly didn't lead the AL. He had led in that category the previous season, though, at 7.5 per nine.
When these two matched up, Wood had yet to win #30 on the year, but with a 1-0 duel against Johnson, that changed. It was Wood's 14th-straight victory, and if his season and career hadn't received the attention it merited before this point, besting Walter Johnson did the trick. Wood would go on to win 16-straight, tying Johnson's own record for consecutive victories.
Sadly for Wood, this year be the high point. Just because you can throw 344 innings in a year doesn't mean you should: Wood failed to cross the 200-inning threshold again in his career, and surpassed 150 frames just once in his remaining six campaigns. It wasn't all because of that, but when combined with the broken thumb he suffered that caused him pain in the following years, it didn't help matters.
Moving to 1918, at a time when Wood is now with Cleveland, we see Bullet Joe Bush taking on the Cubs in game two of the World Series. Bush throws a complete game, and gives up just three runs, but it's too many for Boston's offense, quieted that day by opposing hurler Lefty Tyler, who drives in a pair against Bush to help his own cause. The series is now tied up one each.
Transactions: It's 1964, and Wilbur Wood is purchased by the Pirates from the Red Sox. The Massachusetts' native, born in Cambridge and schooled in Belmont, has been with the Sox since signing in 1960. The 22-year-old has thrown just 91 innings over parts of four seasons with Boston, compiling an 81 ERA+ that is mostly dragged down due to a poor performance in '64. Boston is willing to let go just a little too soon, and Wood ends up making them regret that decision.
While Pittsburgh gets two years of Wood that go well enough, it's the White Sox, who acquire the lefty in a 1966 trade for a player to be named later, that get the Wilbur Wood you might have heard of. With Chicago, the southpaw records a 116 ERA+ over 12 seasons and 2,524 innings, winning 163 contests while striking out twice as many batters as he walked. He led the AL in games pitched for three-straight years before converting to starting full-time, then proceeded to set the standard for games started in four-straight campaigns. From 1971 through 1975, Wood tossed 1,681 innings, or an average of 336 per year.
His use of a knuckleball, a pitch he began to focus on far more when he arrived in Chicago, at the behest of Hoyt Wilhelm, essentially made him superhuman in this regard, as he was far more able to bounce back and throw even more innings. Case in point: Wood started both ends of a doubleheader in 1973, and while he lost both games, Wood started both ends of a doubleheader. That pitch and its delivery made Wood something of a throwback, but one who wasn't in the same kind of danger of having his arm fall off.
Wood was struck by a line drive in 1976 that shattered his kneecap. He would never be the same again after that, in both performance and his ability to throw innings. Who knows how long Wood could have struck around, had he dodged that line drive, given that he was a knuckler?
Birthdays: It's not exactly the Red Sox, but Vince DiMaggio of the Boston Bees was born on this day 100 years ago, the same day that Smoky Joe and Walter Johnson faced off at Fenway. Vince is the brother of Joe and Dom DiMaggio, making him the eldest of the DiMaggio clan. He would have his own 10-year career, though, his started one year after Joe's at 24 in Boston. Vince put up a 108 OPS+ in those 10 years, playing center field almost exclusively.