Vern Stephen's walk-off HR propels the Sox into first place
ON THIS DATE (August 24, 1948) ... With thousands of fans turned away outside Fenway Park, the determined Boston Red Sox came from behind and edged the Cleveland Indians, 9 to 8, on Vern Stephens' two run walk-off homer in the ninth-inning and took over first place in the American League pennant race by 1/2 game.
In a contest that was as strategic as a chess match, nine pitchers were thrown into the important battle between the league's top two baseball clubs. The Indians needed three outs in the ninth-inning to protect their two run, 8-6, lead. Ed Kleinman was on the mound, and he owned two relief victories over the Red Sox. Dom DiMaggio opened the inning with a solid double to right and Johnny Pesky next singled him to third.
Manager Boudreau immediately brought in southpaw Gene Bearden, who had two victories, without a defeat, this season against the Sox, to pitch to Ted Williams. With possession of first place literally on every pitch, each manager looked at everything to gain an advantage. Williams, who had made just one hit in his previous twelve at-bats, flied out to left-center, as DiMaggio scored easily making it 8 to 7.
Now Boudreau played the percentages and decided to bring in side-armer, Russ Christopher, to pitch to Stephens, who was supposed to have trouble against that type of pitching. Christopher threw one pitch and Vern took it into the left-center field screen, giving the Red Sox the walkoff win and first place.
Bobby Doerr singled and Billy Goodman's double to left gave the Sox and early 1 to 0 lead against Satchel Paige. But the Indians came up with three runs off starter Joe Dobson in the third inning after two were out.
The Sox tied it up in their half of the inning when Dobson was hit by a pitch and scored on DiMaggio's triple to dead center. Dom then scored on Pesky's fly ball to Allie Clarke in right. After both Williams and Stephens singled in succession, Paige was lifted in favor of Steve Gromek, who was able to retire the side and pitched runless, two-hit ball until the seventh inning.
Meanwhile, the Indians picked up single runs in the fourth and fifth innings to take a 5 to 3 lead. Larry Doby tripled and scored on a sacrifice fly in the fourth, and successive singles by Dale Mitchell and Clarke, followed by a sacrifice fly by Ken Keltner counted for the run in the fifth inning.
The Sox scored their fourth run when DiMaggio connected for a home run in the seventh, making it 5 to 4. But the Indians countered that run at the expense of Earl Johnson, who relieved Dobson in the eighth. Keltner and Joe Gordon singled and Keltner scored when Johnson uncorked a wild pitch to again put the Indians up by two.
The Sox then came to bat in their half of the eighth and Gromek got into trouble when Lou Boudreau committed a rare error on Stephens' ground ball to open the inning, as Ken Keltner cut in front of him and distracted his view. Doerr then slammed out his third hit of the game, moving Stephens over to second. At this point, Boudreau put on his managers hat and called in Kleiman to pitch. Stan Spence, the next batter, sacrificed the runners over and Billy Goodman flied out to Mitchell in left. Now there was two down and Birdie Tebbetts, on a two and one count, singled to left to score Doerr and Stephens with the tying runs, as the crowd went into a frenzy
Came the the ninth-inning and the Indians silenced the park and seemed to put the game out of reach. Mitchell led off with a double to left and Bob Kennedy lined a single to right that moved him over to third. Tex Hughson was brought into the game by Joe McCarthy, to replace Johnson, and Boudreau lined another single to right that scored Mitchell. Then Ken Keltner singled one to left that scored Kennedy and made it 8 to 6. That was it for Tex and Earl Caldwell came in and put out the fire, getting Gordon on a fly ball, and Doby on a much-needed doubleplay. But the damage was done and the spirit of the fans was crushed into a thick silence,
But there were fireworks in the ninth-inning, because the Red Sox scored the three runs needed, to come from behind and take over first place. For the hero, Vern Stephens, it was his 27th home run and his league-leading 114th RBI.