On Wednesday night in Baltimore, an American League record quietly fell. A record of pitching staff futility that had stood the test of time; a record that was established in the first month of the new American League in 1901 and had never before been threatened. But when the Cleveland Indians’ Jason Kipnis singled in Roberto Perez in the top of the ninth to place Cleveland up 5-0 on the Baltimore Orioles, that record moved from the City of Brotherly Love to Charm City.
On April 26, 1901, when the American League began play in their inaugural season, no one could predict exactly how the season would proceed. When the Philadelphia Athletics – led by the not-yet legendary Connie Mack – started their slate with a 5-1 home loss to the Washington Senators, there was no reason to think anything of it. Even after another loss to the Senators the next day by an 11-5 score, an 8-5 win on the following Monday against the Boston Americans, or an 8-6 loss the next day; certainly it was just early season settling. The Athletics’ pitching staff could not continue to give up five or more runs each day, could it? Certainly not, and on May 1, the A’s punched out the Americans by a 14-1 score and all was normal in Philadelphia. On Friday, May 3, after defeating the visiting Baltimore Orioles 9-4, the A’s stood at 3-4 after a full week of action, despite allowing an unseemly 67 runs in their first seven games. It was about to get far worse.
On Saturday, the pitching staff continued to give away runs like candy, handing out 11 and losing to the O’s by four, 11-7. After having the Sabbath off, the A’s gifted five more runs to the O’s but slipped by with a one-run victory. They finished their ten-game opening home stand with another shellacking, giving up 14 to the O’s in a four-run loss. The Philadelphians motored up to Boston to begin their first road trip in the AL, and for the fourth time in six games, yielded double-digit runs, as the Americans tripled-up the A’s 12-4. Boston would triple-up Connie Mack’s men the next day as well, with a 9-3 victory. After a travel day on Friday, the A’s met the O’s in Baltimore on Saturday, with the A’s breaking a three-game losing streak with a 7-6 victory. After a Sunday respite, the Philadelphians proceeded to score five runs in the following three games to the John McGraw men of Baltimore. But it was not nearly enough, as the O’s put up 14, 11, and then 8 runs to win all three contests.
With nine consecutive contests allowing five or more runs under their belts, Mack’s men trollied down to Washington D.C. to meet the Senators. Their luck would not turn in the capital city, losing 12-5 on Thursday and 8-7 on Friday before picking up their first win in a week, scoring 11 to the Sens 6 on Saturday. The series would finish up on Monday, with the streak of five continuing to 13 as Washington slipped by Philly 5-4. With a 6-14 record, the A’s spent Tuesday, May 21 travelling across the country, meeting up with the Chicago White Sox in the Windy City on the 22nd. The A’s would pick up their seventh victory of the season that Wednesday, but the five-run streak continued forward in a 9-5 victory. They would follow up with two more losses to the White Sox, by the score of 11-9 on Thursday and 6-5 on Saturday. With the streak now at 16, the A’s motored up to Milwaukee to face the Brewers in a rare Sunday matchup, and brought their record to a poor 7-17 with their 17th consecutive game allowing five or more runs in a 6-5 defeat. On May 27th, the streak finally ended with the A’s defeating the Brewers 8-3 – the first of five consecutive games under the five-run threshold and the first of eight successive victories.
The A’s, who finished the 1901 season with a 74-62 record and nine games out of first place, had one more run of putrid pitching in them. From June 22 through July 10, Connie’s company of pitchers allowed five or more runs in 15 consecutive games, allowing 112 runs in a stretch where the team went 4-10-1 with a 13-all tie sprinkled in. Despite the bedeviling pitching at the beginning of the season, Philadelphia ended the season ranked fourth of the eight teams in runs allowed at 5.55, with Baltimore, Washington, Cleveland, and Milwaukee all finishing with a higher runs per game average. In fact, the A’s did not finish last in any pitching category and did finish atop one, with the starting pitchers completing 124 of the 137 games played.
The 2017 Baltimore Orioles’ story is yet to be completed, but it started far differently than that of the Philadelphia A’s. In the first two months of the season, the O’s raced to a 27-24 record with their pitching staff giving up five or more runs only 20 times during April and May. Their longest streak of futility was a four-game stretch from May 14 through May 18, where they gave up nine to Kansas City before allowing the Detroit Tigers to score 11, five, and six over a three-game set.
And while June started with a 7-5 defeat of the Boston Red Sox at Camden Yards, it was followed by a 3-2 victory as Alec Asher and the pen kept the Bostonians at bay and moved Baltimore back to second place.
On Saturday, June 3, the Red Sox scored two in the eighth and one in the ninth to defeat the O’s 5-2. The Sox would square the four-game series with a 7-3 victory on Sunday. Baltimore then welcomed in the Pittsburgh Pirates for two games on the 6th and 7th, resulting in two walk-off extra-inning victories – but yielding five and then six runs in the wins. A short trip to Washington to make up a rainout started an abysmal road trip for the Charm City club, with the Nationals outscoring the O’s 6-1. A trip to Yankee Stadium followed, and Baltimore got chopped in three consecutive games – 8-2, 16-3, and 14-3. A trip to the Southside of Chicago did not help the pitching staff’s morale, as two quick losses – 10-7 and 6-1 – gave Buck Showalter’s side six consecutive defeats. The offense came out to play on Saturday, the 14th, resulting in a 10-6 win over the White Sox. But the White Sox would win the series the next day, with a 5-2 victory and Baltimore’s 12th consecutive game allowing five or more runs.
The Orioles flew back to the friendly confines of Camden Yards for their next series against the National League’s St. Louis Cardinals, but the confines were just as friendly to the birds of red, as the Cards jumped on Baltimore for an 11-2 win. The O’s offense would show up on Saturday and Sunday as Baltimore flew past St. Louis for a 15-7 victory followed by an 8-5 win. Tito Francona and his squad would be the next to visit Baltimore, and were gifted a generous dozen runs in the first tilt of a four-game series.
The Cleveland men quickly saw that Baltimore’s run of run-prevention futility would stretch to 17 on Tuesday night, scoring five runs in four innings against starter Chris Tillman, but were helpless against five relievers as Manny Machado mashed the O’s to a 6-5 conquest. With a dubious 116-year-old record tied, Baltimore fought to keep from breaking the record on Wednesday night. Starter Kevin Gausman surrendered three in his 5 ⅔ inning start, and he was followed by Donnie Hart, who kept Francona’s squad at bay through eight. But history would not be denied. Miguel Castro was able to get the first man he faced – Austin Jackson – in the ninth, but after that he succumbed to the pull of destiny. Bradley Zimmer singled and then stole second. Roberto Perez poked a single to left, sending Zimmer to third. Francisco Lindor laced a single to right, moving Perez to second with Zimmer scoring the fourth Cleveland run. Jason Kipnis sent a ball back up the middle for the fourth consecutive single of the inning, and with Perez racing in to score from second, the Orioles had, for the 18th successive game, surrendered five or more runs. An odious accomplishment that Philadelphia was glad to be done with. Unfortunately, the City of Brotherly love only got rid of half of their ignominy. The O’s will need to add another two games to the streak to tie the 1924 Philadelphia Phillies, whose September slide saw them give up five or more runs in 20 successive games.
With more than half the season left to play, the Baltimore Orioles have time to put their pitching house in order. But, as of this moment, they rank last in the American League in ERA at 5.05 and in a virtual tie for last in RA with the Oakland Athletics. However, with 146 of their 380 runs given up in their last 20 games, the flight is downward for these birds. The fans in Philly may yet get to celebrate the end of holding the MLB record in run-prevention futility. With Cleveland averaging 4.8 runs per game – and already with three straight against Baltimore – the Phillies record could be on tap to be tied and then broken this weekend as the O’s move away from Camden Yards to face the Rays in Tampa Bay – a team that averages 4.75 runs per game.