Astros not alone in blowing 7-run lead twice

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 26, 2000

The Associated Press

Imagine blowing a seven-run lead to lose a game, then turning around and doing the same thing all over again a couple of days later.

Friday, May 26, 2000

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Imagine blowing a seven-run lead to lose a game, then turning around and doing the same thing all over again a couple of days later. Right about now, the reeling Houston Astros may be thinking that nothing like this has ever happened to anybody twice in a week before.

They’d be wrong about that.

The Astros blew a 9-2 lead in the ninth inning at Milwaukee on Monday, then saw a 7-0 lead evaporate at home against Philadelphia on Wednesday. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it was the third time in major league history that a team has been embarrassed that way.

Call it the seven-run jinx. Every 50 years, it happens to some team.

The St. Louis Cardinals twice let that big a lead get away during a series in Boston in June 1900. First, they blew a 9-2 lead to lose 17-16 on June 2, then they frittered away a 7-0 lead in a 15-11 loss in June 5.

The Cleveland Indians did the same thing half a century later, in August 1950.

”Tell those guys in Houston not to get excited,” former Indians star Bob Feller said. ”They didn’t break any records.”

He’d certainly know.

Playing in Fenway Park, the Indians blew two seven-run leads in consecutive games. And Feller was right in the middle of the mess.

Manager Al Lopez had Feller and Bob Lemon, two pitchers on their way to the Hall of Fame, set to start for Cleveland against the Red Sox on Aug. 27-28. Lemon was already a 20-game winner and Feller had led the league in strikeouts in seven of the previous nine seasons. ”We were both in our prime,” Feller said.

That meant nothing to the Red Sox. Even with Ted Williams injured, their lineup included sluggers like Vern Stephens and Walt Dropo, and they led the league with a .302 batting average.

”Anything can happen in Fenway Park,” Feller said ruefully. ”I pitched good there and I pitched bad there. The bad thing about being knocked out of a game in Fenway Park was it took 15 minutes to get hot water in the shower.”

Feller was Cleveland’s starter on Aug. 27, 1950 and the Indians staked him to a big lead, scoring seven runs in the third inning when Ray Boone hit a grand slam. But Feller was knocked out in the bottom half of the inning when he gave up three hits, walked three batters and surrendered a three-run homer by Dropo.

The Red Sox scored five runs that inning and six more in the seventh inning when Cleveland made three errors and Clyde Vollmer hit a pinch-hit grand slam for an 11-9 victory.

A day later, Feller was in the bullpen when Lemon started for the Indians. And this time, Cleveland built a 12-1 advantage.

Again, Boston recovered. Lemon was knocked out in the fourth when the Red Sox scored eight runs, three of them on a bases-loaded double by Billy Goodman. In the sixth, they scored twice and had the bases loaded with none out when Lopez summoned Feller.

”I struck out the side on 10 pitches,” Feller remembered.

The success was only temporary. He pitched into the eighth, when the Red Sox rallied again to take the lead in a game they won 15-14. The loser was Feller, who pitched 2 1-3 innings in each of the Boston games and gave up eight runs on seven hits and eight walks over those two days.

”Pitchers ask me for advice all the time,” Feller said. ”I tell them never start on a day when your team is going to be shut out and remember, they can hit it back at you faster than you can throw it at them.”

He found that out 50 years ago in Fenway Park.

Details of the St. Louis losses a century ago are sketchy.

On June 2, 1900, the Cardinals led 9-2 in the fifth inning. Boston scored three in the fifth, six in the sixth, one in the seventh and four in the ninth and won 17-16.

Three days later, St. Louis led 7-0 in the second inning but Boston scored three in the second, three in the third, two in the fifth, one in the sixth and six in the eighth to win 15-11.