By Freddy Berowski
On Tuesday, the Detroit Tigers and Minnesota Twins met in the 12th tie-breaker play-in in major league history. The 12-inning affair also matched Game Seven of the 1924 World Series for the second-longest elimination game in major league history, a game in which 12 Hall of Famers saw on-field action.
Tuesday night’s game ended in dramatic fashion when Tigers closer Fernando Rodney, pitching in his fourth inning (something unheard of for a closer in this era), gave up the game-winning hit. Alexi Casilla, hitting a major league low .202 in 2009 for batters with more than 200 at-bats, drove a single to right allowing the speedy Carlos Gomez, the primary piece of the 2008 Johan Santana trade, to score the winning run from second base and secure the AL Central title for the Twins. This Tigers loss also marked the fifth time since 1900 that a team lead by as many as seven games in September and lost the lead, ultimately missing the post-season. The other teams to suffer the same fate as the Tigers: the 1934 Giants, the 1938 Pirates, the 1964 Phillies and the 2007 Mets.
The 1924 World Series between the New York Giants and the franchise that is today known as the Minnesota Twins – the Washington Senators – would take all seven games to decide. Eight future Hall of Famers competed for the Giants that day while the Senators fielded four, including Game Seven’s winning pitcher, Walter Johnson.
Already 0-2 in the Series, The Big Train played a pivotal role in this game from the time he entered in relief in the 9th inning, striking out five and allowing only three base hits until the game’s end. With one out and nobody on in the bottom of the 12th, Giants backstop Hank Gowdy dropped a foul pop-up by his Senators counterpart, Muddy Ruel. Ruel took full advantage of his second chance, driving a double to left field. Johnson was up next and he too reached base, on an error committed by future Hall of Fame shortstop Travis Jackson. Instead of a three-up, three-down inning, runners were now on first and second with one out. Light-hitting Earl McNeely, batting only .192 in the Series and already 0-for-5 in the game, proved the unlikely hero, doubling home the winning run.
Incidentally, the record for most innings played in an MLB elimination game – where both teams could be eliminated – is 13, when the Colorado Rockies defeated the San Diego Padres to become the 2007 National League Wild Card winner.
Freddy Berowski is a library associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.