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'Miner' over 'Matty', Part 1

Over the decades, as Major League teams have gone from having 2 or 3 starting pitchers, to 4 or 5, then embraced the "opener," there have been fewer and fewer matchups of staff aces.

When I began to follow baseball, in the 1960s, there seemed to be at least one game virtually every day in which 2 clubs' top pitchers dueled one another.

In the National League alone, it might have been Don Drysdale vs. Warren Spahn, or Sandy Koufax vs. Juan Marichal, or Ferguson Jenkins vs. Bob Gibson, or Tom Seaver vs. Steve Carlton.

Some of the pairings continued for years on end.

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22 TIMES

One of the earliest such rivalries in the Modern Era featured Matty and Miner: Christy Mathewson, a.k.a. "Matty" or "Big Six," vs. Mordecai Peter Centennial Brown, a.k.a. "Miner" or "Three Finger."

Between June 13, 1904, and July 9, 1912 -- a span of 8 years and 27 days -- they squared off in 21 games, as their teams battled nearly every year for National League supremacy.

During those 9 seasons, Mathewson's Giants and Brown's Cubs each won the pennant 4 times: the Giants, in 1904-05; the Cubs, in 1906-08 and 1910; and the Giants, in 1911-12.

Then, more than 4 years later, they shared the mound once more, in the final game either pitched in their distinguished careers.

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ORIGINAL INDUCTEE

Both right handers deservedly are in the Hall of Fame.

Mathewson, 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds, was among the first 6 players enshrined, in 1936. He received 90.7 percent of the 226 votes cast by members of the Baseball Writers Association of America --

That was less than the 98.2 percent for Ty Cobb or the 95.1 percent for Babe Ruth and Honus Wagner, but more than the 2 other pitchers elected, Walter Johnson (83.6) and Cy Young (76.1).

Brown was not anointed until 1949, when he was selected by the Old Timers Committee, along with Kid Nichols, who pitched from 1890 through 1906.

The honor came the year after Brown's death, at age 71, on Feb. 14, 1948. Mathewson's election was posthumous, too. He was just 45 when he died from tuberculosis on Oct. 7, 1925, more than a decade before the Hall of Fame opened its doors.

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While both had long admirable careers, there is no doubt that Mathewson had the better credentials.

Over 17 seasons, 1900-16, from the ages of 19 through 35, he appeared in 636 games, starting 552 and completing 435, including 79 shutouts. He finished 73 games and saved 30.

He won 20 games in 1901, his first full season, then only 14 the next year, despite leading both leagues with 8 shutouts. After that, he won at least 22 for 12 consecutive years, reaching 30 in 4 of them: 30, 33 and 31 in 1903-05, then a career-best 37 in 1908.

His final record was 373-188, a gaudy .665 winning percentage.

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He led all of baseball in earned run average twice and the National League in 3 other seasons, en route to a career ERA of 2.13.

Mathewson was the league leader in games once; in starts, twice; in complete games, twice; in shutouts, 4 times; and in strikeouts, 5.

In his incredible 1908 season, he was No. 1 in the NL in both complete games, 34, and saves, 5, while throwing a career-high 390.2 innings.

And while nobody knew it at the time, as the statistics had not yet been invented, Mathewson topped the league 4 times in WHIP, 6 times in ERA+ and 8 times in FIP.

No wonder he is widely considered to have been the best pitcher of the Dead Ball Era.

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LATE BLOOMER

Brown was no slouch, however.

He did not turn professional until he was 24 and was 26 when he made his big league debut with the Cardinals, in 1903. He was traded that winter to the Cubs, for whom he went 183-80 over the next 9 years.

Brown won at least 20 games each year from 1906-11, leading the league with 27 in 1909. In the first 5 of those 6 years, his ERA ranged from an MLB-best 1.04, in 1906, to 1.86, in 1910.

In 1909, he matched Mathewson's feat by notching the most complete games, 32, and saves, 7. Then he did it again in 1910, with 27 and 7.

He also had led the NL with 5 saves in 1908, while winning a career-high 29 games, and he was the saves leader for a fourth straight year, with 13, in 1911, when he won "only" 21 games.

In 1906, when he was 26-6, Brown took honors in ERA+, FIP and WHIP. He also was best in WHIP in 1907 and 1910.

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Brown was injured in 1912 and tumbled to 5-6, with a 2.67 ERA, and in October the Cubs released him.

But he signed with Louisville of the American Association soon thereafter and was traded to the Reds in January.

After one year in Cincinnati, Brown joined St. Louis of the new Federal League for 1914. During that season, St. Louis sent him to Brooklyn's FL team, and in 1915 he was back in Chicago, with the its FL club. The 38-year-old went 17-8, with a 2.09 ERA, to help the Whales win the pennants.

When the rival league folded, Brown wound up back with the Cubs for a 14th and final big league season in 1916. He went 2-3 in 12 games.

His final record was 239-130, a .648 winning percentage, with a 2.06 ERA. He started 332 of 481 games, completing 271, with 55 of those shutouts. He finished 138 games and saved 49.

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Brown's average season was 20-11, 2.06, with 28 starts, 23 complete games and 5 shutouts.

Mathewson's was 21-11, 2.13, with 32 starts, 25 complete games and 5 shutouts -- very similar.

So you might think they would be evenly matched when pitching against one another.

But that is far from the truth.

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BROWN DOMINATION

During his career, Mathewson started 87 games against the Cubs. He recorded 14 shutouts and completed 75 games in all. But his record in those games was just 46-39, a .541 winning percentage. That is 124 points lower than his overall .665, and 146 below his .687 against all other teams.

Brown made 58 starts against the Giants, completing 46 and not allowing a run in 7. His record was 36-25, .590 -- 58 points below his career percentage and 69 under his .659 against all other teams.

But when the Giants' starter was Mathewson, Brown was 14-8 against New York: 12-8 in starts and 2-0 in a pair of marathon relief performances.

Mathewson was 7-14 when Brown started for the Cubs, and 1 of the wins was as a reliever.

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GOING ALL THE WAY

In all the games in which both appeared, Brown pitched 189 total innings; Mathewson, 180.

Of the 22 in which both started, both completed 17, including the first 9 times they met, in 1904-07. Brown won 7 of those 9 games.

Mathewson completed 3 games that Brown did not and Brown completed 1 that Mathewson did not.

So Mathewson had 20 complete games in their duels, to Browns' 18.

But in the 3 starts that Brown didn't finish, he pitched 8, 6 and 5 innings. Mathewson lasted 7 innings in one game -- and just 2 in 2 others.

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Mathewson averaged 8.09 innings in the 22 games both started. He went 12 innings in a 1907 game, the only time either worked beyond the ninth. Excluding that game, his average was 7.90, only a tad more than Brown's 7.77 in all starts.

Brown shut out the Giants twice when opposing Mathewson, on 4 and 6 hits.

Mathewson blanked the Cubs once when Brown was his opponent, on 9 hits.

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JUST 2 HOMERS

Earned runs did not become an official statistic in the National League until 1912 (and in the American until the following year).

But in all of his starts when Mathewson pitched for the Giants, Brown allowed 53 runs on 143 hits, an average of 2.4 runs on 6.5 hits. Only 2 of the hits were home runs: 1 in his second duel with Mathewson, in 1904, and in his last as a Cub, in 1912.

He struck out 44 batters in those starts, an average of 2 per game, with one quarter of those strikeouts coming in just 2 games: 6, in his second start against Mathewson, in 1904, and 5, in his fifth, in 1906.

In 2 complete games, both shutouts, he did not strike out anyone. In 3 more, he struck out exactly 1.

Brown walked 44, including 5 twice -- both complete games in which he allowed 2 runs. He walked none 3 other times he went the distance; 1, twice; and 2, 5 times.

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MANY MORE RUNS

Mathewson surrendered 87 runs and 171 hits to the Cubs on days that Brown pitched, an average of 3.8 runs and 7.4 hits, or nearly 1 1/2 more runs and 1 more hit than Brown yielded to the Giants.

He served up 5 home runs, each in a different game. They came in his first duel with Brown, in 1904; in their fifth inning in 1906; and in 3 consecutive matchups, over exactly 11 months, Aug. 17, 1907 through July 17, 1908.

He recorded 84 strikeouts, including 10 in his 12-inning outing, 8 in 9 innings and 7 in 7 innings. He lost each of those games.

His average was 3.65 strikeouts, compared to just 0.96 walks. Of his 22 total walks, 10 came in his first 3 starts against Brown: 2 in his first, then 3 in his fourth and 5 in his fifth.

In his second and third, he walked none, as he also did in 6 other such starts in which he pitched at least 8 innings. He walked just 1 in 7 starts of at least 7.

In his final 14 starts when Brown was his opponent, he walked more than 1 exactly once: 2, in 1909, one of his rare victories over his long-time rival.

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RIVALRY BEGINS

They first hooked up at the Polo Grounds on Monday, June 13, 1904.

Mathewson was 23 that day, in his fourth full season and fifth overall. His career record going into the game was 73-55. His season so far had been a rollercoaster: 4-1, followed by 0-4, then 5-0, capped by a 1-hit shutout over the Cubs in the series opener the previous Friday.

Brown, 27, was 14-15 in his 2 big league seasons, having gone 9-13 as a rookie with the Cardinals and 5-2 so far in his first year with the Cubs.

He had completed each of his first 2 starts for his new team, but lost both, allowing 12 runs on 13 hits in 8 innings, then 4 runs on 6 hits in 9.

In his third start, 18 days later, Brown shut out the Phillies on 5 hits. He beat them again 3 days later with 5 innings of no-run relief, then chalked up 2 more complete-game wins in the next week, permitting 4 runs to Brooklyn, then 1, on 2 hits, to the Giants. Like all but his first start, those 2 were at home.

That game was on May 22. He did pitch again until June 4, when he labored through 9 innings at Philadelphia, working around 11 hits to win, 8-4.

Four days later, he gave up 2 runs on 7 hits in 7 innings of relief at Brooklyn. So the June 13 game was Brown's seventh start and ninth appearance as a Cub.

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QUICK ADVANTAGE

When he stepped onto the mound in the bottom of the first, Brown already had a 2-0 lead. He set the Giants down in order in that inning, then gave up a single and walk to start the next. A double steal put runners on second and third with nobody out.

A sacrifice fly drove home the lead runner, but Brown got a popup for the second out and struck out Frank Bowerman for the third.

Frank Chance opened the Cubs' third with a home run, making the score 3-1.

"In the New York half of the fifth it looked as if the Giants had the best of Brown," said the unsigned story that appeared in the next day's Chicago Tribune, "for after [Billy] Gilbert was out Bowerman got his base by being hit, and Mathewson advanced him to second with a hit to right.

[Roger] Bresnahan followed with a safe drive to center, and Brown gave Bowerman a chance to score with a clean hit to left. The Colts' [Cubs'] infield moved in, and Devlin's grounder to [shortstop] Joe Tinker forced Mathewson at the plate, and [Dan] McGann died of a fly ball to the outfield."

Brown hit Gilbert to start the bottom of the ninth, then coaxed a fly out from Bowerman. Moose McCormick, batting for Mathewson, then grounded into a game-ending double play, Evers to Tinker to Chance.

Brown finished the 3-2 victory having allowed 5 hits. Chance had 3 of the Cubs' 4 off Mathewson: a double, a triple and a home run.

Both pitchers walked 2. Mathewson struck out 4 to Brown's 2, and Brown hit 2 batters; Mathewson, none.

...

The win boosted the Cubs into first place, at 29-14 to the Giants' 29-15 and the Reds' 30-16. But the Cubs lost at Boston the next day, slipped out of the top spot in the standings and never held it again.

They wound up second, at 93-60-3, a whopping 13 games behind the 106-47-5 Giants. They went 11-11 against New York, but only by winning the final 4 games against them in late September.

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BROWN BOUNCES BACK

One of the 11 losses was in the first matchup of Brown and Mathewson in Chicago, a 5-1 game on Saturday, July 23. Mathewson shut out the Cubs until 2 were out the ninth inning as he fashioned a 6-hitter. Brown allowed 9 hits, none of which led to the game's first run, in the third inning.

Tinker fumbled a grounder for an error, then Brown made another, throwing wildly to second on a bunt by Mathewson. The next batter bunted, too, and Brown tried to force out the runner at third, but his throw was late, loading the bases. A forceout then scored the run.

"The fifth was the real finish," the Tribune explained. With 1 out, "Mathewson bumped a high fly through center, which would have been good for at least three bases, but the ground rules kept it to a double."

The huge crowd had overflowed onto the field, standing and sitting behind the outfielders. Any ball hit into the fans but short of the fence was an automatic double.

Mathewson "stood around the midway station which McCormick fanned, then walked leisurely home ahead of George Browne when the latter smashed out [a] home run to right."

The Cubs "protested against Browne's home run on the theory that it went into the crowd instead of over the fence, but both umpires were watching the play from the best possible viewpoint and agreed on the decision."

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TOMORROW: Mathewson makes history

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