34-5, 1.91/1.015/.216, 344 IP, 258 K, 82 BB, 6.8 K/9, 3.2 K/BB, 7.0 H/9, 35 CG, 10 SHO, 178 ERA+
Postseason: 4 G, 3-1, 4.50 ERA, 22 IP, 27 H, 3 BB, 21 K
MVP – 5
The two greatest pitching streaks in Red Sox history sit side-by-side on this list. Smokey Joe still holds the Red Sox record (and probably always will) for most wins in a season with the 34 he won in 1912 to help power the Red Sox to their second World Championship. For that reason – and as the best starter on the best Red Sox team ever to play baseball (their .691 winning percentage would be good for 112 wins today) – it stands to reason that Wood’s 1912 should rank highly on any list.
Indeed, never mind the lack of black ink. Wood, like many other great AL hurlers of his day, had the misfortune of playing in the same league as Walter Johnson, without whom Wood would have led the AL in ERA, WHIP, H/9, strikeouts, K/9, K/BB and ERA+. And although 1968 is considered the “Year of the Pitcher,” the 22-year-old Wood was involved in one of the most amazing pitching seasons in history when he became the third pitcher that year to win at least 16 consecutive games – tying in September the AL record Johnson had set one month earlier and falling three short of the big-league record set by Rube Marquard two months earlier. Both records have yet to fall.
In the World Series, Wood fought through a dead arm to win three games – but the one loss remains suspicious, as it occurred after Boston players erupted with anger at a decision forced by Red Sox ownership to start Buck O’Brien in Game 6 against Rube Marquard (the likely loss would extend the series and enlarge the gate receipts). Wood uncharacteristically gave up six runs in his only inning of work in Game 7, without which his series ERA would have been 2.14. Wood was battling that dead arm, though, and the short work likely rested him enough to come back the next day and pitch a 10-inning gem against Christy Mathewson in Game 8 to win the Series. Ultimately, injuries cost Wood a likely Hall of Fame career. Wood never again started more than 16 games and was done pitching by age 26.
Key game: Sept. 6. The best regular-season game ever played in Fenway Park? The case could be made that it was on Sept. 6, 1912. Walter Johnson – fresh off a 16-game winning streak and en route to a 33-win season – and the Washington Senators were headed to Boston, Washington manager Clark Griffith having already said Wood would be a “coward” if he did not face Johnson with his own double-digit winning streak on the line. So the Red Sox pushed Wood up on short rest to face the Big Train in likely the most anticipated baseball game in Boston since 1903.
The matchup was the season's most highly anticipated pitchers' duel in an era when pitchers' duels were far more common than today. According to Stout and Johnson, fans packed the park, lining (as usual) the outfield walls. So many demanded entrance that the club for the first and only time allowed them to ring Fenway’s infield walls, as well. Joe Wood, winner of 13 consecutive games by now, warmed up surrounded by a ring of fans within three feet of him and the path of the ball. For once, the promised duel materialized.
Wood gave up just six hits, while Johnson allowed just five and struck out five. But he also allowed a sixth-inning, two-out ground-rule double to Tris Speaker, followed by a Duffy Lewis flare that glanced off the glove of the Senators’ right fielder. Speaker’s was the only run of the game, as Wood squeaked out of a bases-loaded jam in the third, ending the inning with a strikeout. With a runner on second in the ninth, Wood ended the 1-hour, 46-minute game with his ninth strikeout for his 14th straight win and one of his incredible 10 shutouts on the season.