In the longest game of its kind in the history of the American League both then and now, the last place Washington Senators and first Detroit Tigers met at Bennett Park in Detroit and played an 18-inning 0-0 tie halted because of darkness.
The two-time defending AL champion Tigers, managed by Hughie Jennings, were a star-filled squad led by Ty Cobb. Ed Summers got the start on the mound for Detroit. Washington, managed by Joe Cantillon, was a terrible squad that had never finished higher than sixth in its history. The only real star on Washington was 21-year old flamethrower Walter Johnson. And he didn't pitch in this game. The starting pitcher was lefty Dolly Gray.
Gray was pitching the game of his life, holding the Tigers to just one hit, a leadoff single in the first by leftfielder Matty McIntyre, before leaving the game in the ninth with a strain in his side. (Probably what we would call an oblique strain in this day.) Bob Groom came in to relieve and finished up.
Washington had a chance to score against Summers in the third when Gray hit a one-out double. Left fielder George Browne followed with a screaming liner that Detroit shortstop Donie Bush gloved and then got up and made a diving tag on Gray to double him off.
In the ninth, Washington got its first two men on when Browne walked and center fielder Clyde Milan reached on a bunt single. Left fielder Jack Lelivelt fled out to left. Second baseman Bob Unglaub then popped one up behind first that Detroit first baseman Claude Rossman caught and he was able to sprint back to first to double off Milan.
Twice in extra innings (which inning it was is left unclear by the Washington Post correspondent), the Tigers had good chances to score. Detroit had second and third with one out in one instance with Cobb at bat, but he grounded back to Groom who threw out the runner at the plate. In another inning, the Tigers loaded the bases with none out. Groom got Bush to pop out and then center fielder Sam Crawford rolled a ball out in front of the plate that Groom threw to catcher Gabby Street for a force. The Tigers thought the run had scored. The Senators thought the run had scored. However, umpire John Kerin called the runner out and Groom worked his way out of trouble.
After three hours and fifteen minutes of play, Kerin ruled that it was too dark to continue, despite the newspaper account insisting that there was still enough light for an inning or two more. Washington finished with just seven hits in 18 innings and Detroit had six. Cobb had an 0-for-7, which was likely a rarity in his career. Fans in Washington were able to follow the game as the Post had set up a board in a public square and used telegraph reports to have people position batters and runners and announce balls and strikes. As the game dragged on, more and more fans gathered to follow it. Apparently, not many people cared that it was a scoreless tie.
The 18-inning scoreless tie would remain a major league record until September 11, 1946 when Cincinnati and Brooklyn played a 19-inning scoreless tie at Ebbets Field. On October 2, 1965 the Mets and Phillies played an 18-inning scoreless tie in the second game of a doubleheader at Shea Stadium. Which meant that the teams had to make up the game with another doubleheader on the last day of the season.
The Tigers would end up winning their third straight AL flag in 1909 with a 98-54 record, 3 1/2 games better than Philadelphia. The Tigers would lose to PIttsburgh in the World Series in seven games, the first World Series ever to come down to an ultimate game. Cobb would lead the AL in batting average (.377), OBP (.431), slugging (.517), OPS (.947), hits (216), home runs (9), RBI (107), stolen bases (76), and total bases (296). Crawford led in doubles with 35 and Bush led in walks with 88. Summers won 19 games, third best on the team behind George Mullin (29) and Ed Willett (21).
Washington finished in last at 42-110, 56 games out of first and 20 games out of seventh. Washington scored just 380 runs, 286 fewer than league leader Detroit. And despite having Walter Johnson on staff, the team ERA was 3.04, which was very high for the era. Detroit's staff had a 1.93 ERA. Johnson was 13-25. Groom was 7-26. Gray went 5-19. Cantillon was fired at the end of the year, although he would be remembered more for giving Johnson his start in the big leagues than his poor record as a big league manager.
Sources: Washington Post, Retrosheet, Baseball-reference.com