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The 19 greatest starts in Cubs history, No. 9: Jimmy Lavender, August 31, 1915

This game was a highlight of the Cubs’ first losing season in 13 years.

Photo by Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images

The Cubs had been a powerhouse in the National League for more than a decade by the middle of the 1910s, but with retirements and players moving on from the great teams that won four pennants in five years from 1906-10, the ballclub had declined.

They’d held first place for a while in June and July 1915, but an eight-game losing streak in mid-July dumped them to fourth place and out of contention.

Thus a doubleheader August 31 against the Giants, forced by a rainout the previous day in New York, with the Cubs entering the day eight games out of first place, wasn’t anything of significance for the ballclub — except for Jimmy Lavender.

Lavender had thrown pretty well for the Cubs for the three and a half seasons previous. 1915 was Lavender’s best season, as he set a career high for strikeouts (117) and posted 3.7 bWAR, not that anyone knew what Wins Above Replacement was in 1915.

Lavender started Game 1 of the doubleheader against the Giants, and completely shut them down. He threw a no-hitter and walked just one. He faced 29 hitters, as one other Giant reached on an error.

Richard Merrill wrote this in the Tribune on Lavender’s performance:

Lavender gave his finest exhibition since donning a Cubs uniform. It was also the greatest of his career, as it was his first no hit, no run game. He carved his name on the records in commendable fashion, allowing only twenty-nine Giants to face him in nine innings. Fred Merkle was the only man to reach first, and he got there twice, once in the second inning, on an error by Bob Fisher, and again in the eighth, on a base on balls. In the second frame Merkle got as far as second and in the eighth arrived at third.

Fred Merkle, again. He pops up all the time connected to the Cubs in this era, and wound up playing for them from 1917-20.

The Cubs won the game 2-0; Merrill reported the crowd at “about 12,000,” and further that “the rooters gave Lavender great applause after he had terminated his record-tying performance.” The no-hitter posted a Game Score of 94.

Officially, this was the sixth no-hitter in franchise history, but I view the first four (by Larry Corcoran in 1880, 1882 and 1884 and by John Clarkson in 1885) as separate from the rest. Those four were thrown before the pitching distance was standardized at 60 feet, six inches in 1893, so they have to be seen in a different light. Lavender’s no-no was the second by a Cub from the modern pitching distance. The first was by Walter Thornton in 1898.

Lavender was traded to the Phillies for righthander Al Demaree after the 1916 season. Neither lasted past the 1917 season with their new club, and Lavender announced his retirement from baseball in 1918, returning to his native Georgia, where he died in 1960, aged 75.