The Detroit Tigers had just gotten spanked. Their 17-1 loss to the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on June 17, 1953, gave them an abysmal record of 14-42. They were dead last in the eight-team American League. Coming off a 104-loss campaign in 1952, general manager Charlie Gehringer’s club had bottomed out.
Things couldn’t get any worse, right?
The Tigers sent Ned Garver to the hill on Thursday the 18th, for the rubber game of the series (Detroit had won the first game 5-3.). Garver was two years removed from a 21-win season for the St. Louis Browns, quite a feat, since that team had lost 102. He struggled early in 1952, and the Tigers picked him up in a package deal in August of that year. Going into this game, he sported a lofty 5.09 ERA, but his five wins led the Bengals. Garver was also noted as the best hitting pitcher in the game, in fact he often hit as high as sixth in the lineup on day’s he was on the mound. Opposing him was 35-year-old Boston righty Marv Grissom, a strong, tall pitcher who’d lost his last four starts.
The Red Sox started the scoring with three runs in the second inning, but Detroit got on the board in the fourth, courtesy of a two-run home run by Walt Dropo, the former Boston first baseman. The Tigers tied it in the top of the sixth when Ray Boone came home on a single by Jim Delsing. Boston quickly regained the lead in the home half of the inning on a two-run single by Jimmy Piersall. Tiger skipper Fred Hutchinson brought on Steve Gromek to relieve Garver with one out in the frame.
It was Gromek’s first appearance in a Detroit uniform, having been acquired just days ago from Cleveland, in a deal in which the Tigers had also landed third baseman Boone. The 35-year-old righty, who had won 19 games for the Indians in 1945 and had been a integral part of the ’48 World Champion Cleveland club, was in recent years a spot starter and long reliever. He finished off the bottom of the sixth without further damage. Hutchinson decided to bring him back out to face Boston in the seventh.
For the Tigers, it turned out to be a nightmarish inning of historic proportions. By the time it was over, the Sox had scored 17 runs, setting a record for one team in an inning. Included in the barrage were eleven singles, two doubles, one home run (a three-run shot by Dick Gernert), and six walks (one intentional). The Tigers committed no errors, so this nightmare was all on the pitching staff.
In addition to Gromek, who gave up nine runs, Detroit also sent Dick Weik and Earl Harrist to the mound. Like Gromek, this was Weik’s Tiger debut, having been acquired in the same trade. He entered the game with a lifetime record of 6-20 with Washington and Cleveland. Weik managed to retire one batter, but also gave up four runs. Harrist surrendered four, but was able to get the final out, a bases-loaded fly ball to former Tiger George Kell (Kell made two of Boston’s outs in the inning, but also doubled and scored a run).
Gene Stephens, a 20-year-old sophomore, made three hits (a double and two singles) in the inning, the first player to do so in the modern era (post-1900). His feat would not be duplicated until Johnny Damon did so in 2003, also as a member of the Red Sox at Fenway.
The outburst was surprising, coming as it did from one of the weakest-hitting Boston teams in recent memory. Ted Williams was on active duty in the Korean War. Only the Philadelphia Athletics and St. Louis Browns scored fewer runs than the Red Sox that year.
The final score was Boston 23, Detroit 3, meaning that in two games the Tigers had been outscored 40-4! The losing pitcher was Garver, while Ellis Kinder got the win for Boston. The Fenway Park Ladies’ Day crowd of 3,626 certainly went home happy.
While it was the most runs scored by a team in one inning in the modern era, there was actually a team in 1883 that had plated 18 in an inning. That would be the Chicago White Stockings of the National League. Their opponent? The Detroit Wolverines.
The 23-3 loss represents one of the darkest days in Tiger history. In other news, the next day, June 19, Detroit signed a couple of bonus babies fresh out of high school. One was a southpaw pitcher out of Berwyn, Illinois, named Bob Miller. The other was a kid from Baltimore who had reportedly been scouted by 15 other teams. His name? Al Kaline.
1953 Detroit Tigers page at the Online Detroit Tigers Encyclopedia