Adolfo Luque, the oldest pitcher to ever win a World Series Game

On October 3, 1919, at the age of 28, Adolfo Luque became the first Latin American player to appear in a World Series game, when he pitched one inning of relief for the Cincinnati Reds in Game 3 against the “Black Sox” at Comiskey Park. Luque pitched a total of five innings in that Series allowing only one hit and striking out six.

Luque, born in Havana, Cuba, was the first great Latino player in the majors debuting in 1914 with the Boston Braves but coming up to the majors for good in 1918 with Cincinnati. During the 1919 season for the pennant-winning Cincinnati Reds, Luque went 10-3. Luque was primarily a reliever to that point, but soon became a starter with shockingly mixed results going 13-9 in 1920 and 17-19 and 13-23 (leading the NL in losses, all the more remarkable considering the Reds finished second that season with an 86-68 record) the next two seasons before rebounding in 1923 leading the N.L. in wins (27), percentage (.771) and ERA (1.93) when he went 27-8.

So why do I bring up Luque today other than the fact that I’m increasingly unimpressed with the feats of “the youngest to do this or the youngest to do that?” It all has to do with the last World Series game to be played in Washington prior to this Nationals event.

In the 1930s, Luque became a relief pitcher for the New York Giants. At age 42, in 1933, Luque was still an effective pitcher for the Giants as the Carl Hubbell led team reached the World Series for the first time since 1924 (Hubbell had an NL leading 23 wins, 10 shutouts, and an 1.66 ERA). They faced the strong hitting Washington Senators in the Series led by outfielder Heinie Manush (whose name I love to write) and first baseman Joe Kuhel.

Washington shortstop Joe Cronin and New York first baseman Bill Terry each had the dual role of player-manager for their clubs. Both were rookie managers having replaced Walter Johnson and John McGraw respectively (talk about big shoes to fill).

The Giants and Hubbell won Game 1 and scored six runs in the 6th to win Game 2, 6-1. The Senators, behind Earl Whitehill coming off a 22-8 season, shut out the Giants in Game 4 to make it 2-1 in games in favor of the Giants. Game 4 was a World Series classic in which Carl Hubbell went the distance in defeating the Senators 2-1 in 11 innings to give the Giants a commanding three games to one lead.

The Series looked to be over when the Giants took a 3-0 lead in Game 5, but the scrappy Washingtonians battled back to score three times on center fielder Fred Schulte‘s three-run homer in the bottom of the 5th before Luque came in to put out the fire with two outs in the inning. It was Luque’s skill and guile that held the Senators scoreless through the 9th inning and for the first time in Series history, there would be back-to-back extra-inning games.

With two outs in the top of the 10th, Mel Ott drove a pitch into the bleachers to give the Giants a 4-3 lead. But the Senators were not dead yet. In the bottom of the 10th, Luque got two quick outs before allowing a single to Joe Cronin and a walk to Fred Schulte. Up to the plate stepped Joe Kuhel the Senators leading home run hitter with 11 (Jimmie Foxx led the AL with 48) with the tying run on second and the winning run on first. Three pitches later, Kuhel went down on strikes to end the Series and the Giants were champions and Washington would not appear in the World Series again until 2019.

One interesting side note, Luque remains the oldest pitcher to win a World Series game having been born on August 4, 1890. Had Roger Clemens won Game 1 of the 2005 Series he would have become the oldest pitcher. Coincidentally, Clemens was ostensibly the same age as Luque, sharing the same birth date, having been born on August 4, 1962, but Luque picked up his victory on October 7 while Clemens pitched Game 1 on October 22 and would have been the oldest by 15 days had he won.