The sky was overcast, with temperatures in the 40s. A stiff wind blew across Lake Erie, sending dust swirling in tiny circles around Cleveland's mammoth Municipal Stadium. It was the last day of the major league baseball season (October 2, 1938), and a topcoat crowd of 27,000 was in the stands.
What brought the fans out for a double-header on that raw autumnal Sunday was not so much the third-place Cleveland Indians playing the fourth-place Detroit Tigers as watching First Baseman Hank Greenberg of the Tigers. Greenberg had 58 home runs and needed only two more to tie the record of 60, set 11 years earlier by Babe Ruth. He had failed to hit a home run in his previous three games, and the double-header was the last chance for the 6-foot-4, 215-pound slugger from The Bronx.
"The game scheduled for Saturday at League Park," Greenberg said recently, "was canceled to make the Sunday double-header at the stadium. The deep stretches of the stadium were always tough for a right-handed hitter like me," he said.
Cleveland's starting pitcher for the first game was Bob Feller, the young man with the high kick and the hard fast ball. Only two years away from his home on a Van Meter, Iowa farm, Feller stood to win his 18th of the season and was determined "to make Greenberg earn any home runs he hit off me."
Detroit's pitcher was Harry Eisenstat, a left-hander from Brooklyn, who began his career with the Dodgers. Eisenstat, a curve-baller with fine control, had an 8-6 record as he started the game for the Tigers.
Feller retired the Tigers easily in the first inning, striking out Second Baseman Benny McCoy and getting Pete Fox and Roy Cullenbine on routine plays.
"You've got it today," Cleveland Catcher Frank Pytlak told Feller between innings. Feller's curve broke sharply, and Pytlak, a good curve-ball catcher, was calling for it often. Eisenstat retired the Indians in order in the first inning, and the stage was set for Greenberg as he led off the second inning.
"It was dark, and I had trouble following the ball," Greenberg said. "Feller's curve was jumping wickedly and with that and his fast ball, he was murder."
Every swing counted
Greenberg dug in tenaciously against Feller. He had to make every swing count. Feller got two quick strikes on him, then threw a fast curve. Greenberg swung hard, missed, and the Cleveland crowd roared. Feller ended the inning with a flourish, striking out Chet Laabs and Tony Piet.