Walter Johnson is one of the greatest pitchers of all time, and on May 15, 1918, he delivered a performance that stood out from any of his other games. He pitched a total of 18 innings in one game – and won! The game took place at Griffith Stadium against the defending World Series champion Chicago White Sox, and ended on a wild pitch by Lefty Williams, giving the Senators a 1-0 walk-off win.
For those 18 innings, Johnson gave up 10 hits, one walk, struck out 9, and gave up no runs. His earned run average dropped to just 0.98. Though he contributed just one hit in seven at bats, the hit actually put the Senators in the position to win the game in the 18th. From the Washington Herald’s game write up the next day:
“Walter Johnson and Eddie Ainsmith are credited with timely clouts [hits] which put the Nationals in the running. It happened in the eighteenth after Foster had popped out. Ainsmith singled to center and moved all the way to the far corner when Johnny Collins delayed a few seconds in recovering Johnson’s clout in the same territory.”
In case you are wondering, in the article the Senators are referred to as the Nationals. The names were used interchangeably for a time for game coverage.
In today’s Major League Baseball, an 18 inning game would probably last for 6-7 hours. Yet somehow, this game lasted just 2 hours and 43 minutes – shorter than most MLB games today that finish in the regular nine innings. Just to compare, a couple days later the Senators played a nine inning game that finished in just over two hours, so this game was going quickly no matter what, but games back then were fast in general. This probably has to do with much less offense and no need for commercial breaks.
The short time for the game was important, though, because stadiums were not lit by artificial light at this point. The lede of the Herald article comments on how the game risked having little light as the first line says, “Florida avenue stadium became the ‘land of the midnight sun’ yesterday afternoon.” Later, the article comments on how starting games at 4:30 is “all good and proper” but when there is a pitcher’s duel and the games go long, it leaves the fans hungry.
With the win, the Senators brought their record to 11-12. The Senators would finish the season at 72-56, four games back of the Boston Red Sox (who went on to win the World Series – their last for 86 years). Walter Johnson won 23 games and lost 13. While this 18 inning effort was the longest of his career, four of his longest five appearances all came during the 1918 season.
The White Sox pitcher, Lefty Williams, obviously had a great game, too. Pitching 17.1 innings, giving up just eight hits and one run is solid. That year, though, he only pitched in 15 games and went 6-4. For his career, he spent seven seasons in the league. The White Sox had a down year – finishing at just 57-67. The previous year they won the World Series, the following year, they appeared in the World Series again, which of course became known as the Black Sox scandal, when they lost purposely.
You may be wondering where Shoeless Joe Jackson was during this game. He played very little during the 1918 season, working in a shipyard during World War 1. In 1919 he’d come back to hit .351, but was eventually banned from baseball, and remains so to this day for his part in the Black Sox scandal (though his involvement in actually throwing the games is questionable.)