Sixty-seven years ago this year, the Boston Braves won the National League Pennant but lost the World Series to the Cleveland Indians in six games. On September 14 of that year, 1948, Sports Editor Gerald Hern, of the Boston Post, published a poem that went like this;
First we’ll use Spahn, then we’ll use Sain,
Then an off day, followed by rain.
Back will come Spahn, followed by Sain,
Followed, we hope, by two days of rain.
This poem was inspired by the performance of Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain, the workhorses of the National League’s Boston Braves pitching staff who were in the process of carrying the Braves on their shoulders into the World Series.
In an unbelievable stretch of twelve days beginning with a Labor Day doubleheader, the duo had won eight games without losing. On Labor Day, Spahn won the first game of the twin bill, pitching 14 innings and Sain came back and won the second game. There followed 2 days off for rain and Spahn won the next day and Sain pitched the win the following day. Three days later, Spahn won again and Sain won the next day. Then, after a day off, Spahn won the first game of a doubleheader and Sain won the second.
I don’t know if this is the greatest achievement by a pitching twosome in the history of the game but I would doubt if any pair ever put together such a stretch. Going into Labor Day, the Braves had a 2 ½ game lead over the Dodgers and Cardinals but ended the season with a 91-62 record, 6 ½ games ahead of the second place Cardinals.
In the World Series, Sain bested Bob Feller in the first game throwing a complete game 2 hit shutout to win 1-0. Spahn took the loss in Game 2 lasting only 4 innings as Cleveland tied the series at 1-1. Cleveland won game 3 by a 2-0 score and Sain came back in game 4 and went all the way but lost 2-1. The Braves stayed alive in game 5 winning 11-5, with Spahn throwing the last four innings in relief. A crowd of 86,288, the largest in World Series history to date, watched this game. Cleveland went on to win the series, taking game 6, 4-3 with Spahn again coming on in relief in the eighth.
For the series, Spahn and Sain were each 1-1 with Sain pitching 17 innings and giving up just 2 runs and Spahn 12 innings and 4 runs. In the six game series, the Braves used a total of just 6 different pitchers and either Spahn or Sain appeared in 5 of the 6.
Warren Spahn was born on April 23, 1921, in Buffalo, New York and Johnny Sain on September 25, 1917, in Havana, Arkansas. Both made their Major League debuts with the Boston Braves in April of 1942, five days apart, and both enlisted in the military after the 1942 season, Spahn in the Army where he participated in the Battle of the Bulge and was awarded a Purple Heart and Sain in the Navy Air Corps. Both returned to the Braves for the 1946 season.
In that 1948 season, the pair won 39 games while losing 27 and Spahn pitched 16 complete games and 257 innings and Sain an amazing 28 complete games and 315 innings. Between 1946 and 1950, the two won 181 games and lost only 129 with Sain winning over 20 games 4 times and Spahn 3 times.
In their careers, both pitchers completed more than half of all the games they started with Spahn completing 382 of his 665 starts and Sain completing 140 of his 245 starts.
Sain was traded to the Yankees in 1951 and the duo was broken up. When the Braves moved to Milwaukee in 1953, Spahn went with them. He pitched a total of 20 years for the Braves and had 13 seasons with 20 or more wins. His total of 363 wins is the most by a left handed pitcher in the history of the game. In 1963, at the age of 42, he compiled a 23-7 record with the Braves. He made the All Star Team 14 times, won the Cy Young Award in 1957 at the age of 36 and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1973.
In the 1957 World Series, which the Braves won 4 games to 3, Spahn pitched the first game and lost to Whitey Ford 3-1 then came back and pitched a complete game 10 innings against the Yankees in game 4 and won the game 7-5. The next year, the Braves played the Yankees in the series again and this year the Yankees won, 4-3. Spahn beat Ford 4-3 in game 1, throwing a 10 inning complete game then returned with a complete game shutout 3-0 in game 4. He started the sixth game but, after being tied 2-2 at the end of 9, lost it in the tenth 4-3.
After leaving the Braves, Sain spent 4 years, mostly in relief, with the Yankees, playing on World Series Championship teams in 1951, 1952 and 1953. He spent his final big league year with the Athletics before retiring in 1955. He went on to become one of the most successful pitching coaches in the history of the game and was Coach on World Championship teams with the Yankees in 1961 and 1962 and with the Detroit Tigers in 1968.
Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain had remarkable careers beyond 1948, but they and that magical pennant run will always be remembered with ‘ Spahn, Sain and Pray For Rain’ which was more popular then in Boston than Sweet Caroline is today.