May 11, 2011

Game 20 - Another Ninth-Inning Comeback

May 11, 1911
Philadelphia 4, St. Louis 2

Facing the lowly Browns, the champs found themselves once again in need of a 9th inning rally, and they were once again able to pull it off.

36-year-old Jack Powell, who regularly led the league in home runs allowed in the early years of his career, held the A's at bay for 7 innings, until Amos Strunk hit a solo home run, which was reported as "the most exciting play of the game." A three-run meltdwon by Powell in the 9th insured the win for the Mackites.

Harry Krause struck out 5 while giving up 6 hits and three walks over 8 innings. Coombs came in for the save in the bottom of the 9th.

With a career slugging percentage of .374, Strunk wasn't what anyone would call a power hitter these days, and indeed this was his first career home run (in his third major league season). But he did place in the top three for slugging three times during his deadball-era career. He never hit many home runs (he maxed out at 3 in 1912), but his speed allowed him to collect a lot of extra bases*. The 1911 Reach Guide declared him to be "one of the fleetest fielders who ever skipped across the green or endeavored to beat the iron arm of an infielder as the latter threw the ball to first." Mack prized speed when he assembled his teams. An unattributed newspaper clipping from Strunk's Hall of Fame Library file noted that "he [Mack] wanted men who could travel fast enough to burn their galoshes. Collins, Barry, Oldring, and the rest were in that class, and Amos fitted in like a drink on an August day." Strunk was also known as an outstanding defensive centerfielder, considered by many to be the best in the game, superior to even Ty Cobb.

A native of Philadelphia, Strunk also had the distinction of being the best player on what was possibly the worst team of the modern era, the 116-loss 1916 A's (Strunk hit .316/.393/.421 that year and had 3.5 WAR on a team that was at 14.6 wins below replacement overall; just think how bad they would have been without him).

For now though they're two games over .500, and they have two more to play at Sportsman's Park before heading up to Chicago.

* From Strunk's SABR Bio Project essay: "Strunk was also a key man in Mack's famed double squeeze play. With Strunk on second and a runner on third, Mack would have the batter bunt. The speedy Strunk would break from second base with the pitch and would follow the runner from third home, allowing the Athletics to score two runs on a single squeeze bunt." I would have absolutely loved to have been around to see one of those.

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