July 17, 1941 and 1956: On this day, in 1941, Reds’ pitcher Elmer Riddle wins his 11th consecutive game to start the season 11-0, and in 1956, Brooks Lawrence wins his 13th consecutive game to start the season 13-0 in a couple of the great pitching seasons in Reds history.
The 1941 Reds had won the 1940 World Series championship with a team built on defense and the arms of ace starting pitchers Bucky Walters and Paul Derringer. In 1941, the Reds were able to add two more exceptional arms: one from the emergence of Elmer Riddle and a second when Johnny Vander Meer found enough control to regain the major league dominance that he showed during his double no-hit 1938 season.
Riddle didn’t get his first win until May 20 and it came in relief against the Boston Braves. The Reds were trailing 5-3 after eight innings when Riddle entered the game, giving up a run in the top of the ninth. The Reds scored six in the bottom of the ninth, with first baseman Frank McCormick winning the game on a walkoff three-run homer and getting Riddle his first victory. Riddle’s second victory was also a relief effort and it came three days later over the Chicago Cubs in relief of Vander Meer. The Reds had jumped out to a 6-0 lead, but Vander Meer lost control and pitched three innings of no-hit ball, but allowed three runs on six walks and a hit batsman. Riddle came on in relief to pitch six innings of four-hit one-run baseball to secure his second win. His third win also came in relief, a 4 2/3 one-hit effort in an extra inning 3-2 win over the Cardinals.
Riddle’s first win as a starter didn’t come until June 2 when he pitched eight innings, allowing three runs, improving his record to 4-0 in a 4-3 win over the New York Giants. Riddle was still in the pen and his next appearance came seven days later to nail down a 9-7 win over the Brooklyn Dodgers (no decision). Riddle finally got another start in the second game of a doubleheader on June 15 and he responded with a complete game 5-2 victory over the Giants. Riddle finally had manager Bill McKechnie’s confidence and he proceeded to six more complete game victories, including two shutouts, in running his record to 11-0. Win number 11 came against the New York Giants on July 17. The Reds had jumped to a 5-1 lead by the middle of the third and Riddle held on to get the win. His streak was finally broken on July 23rd when he lost to the Dodgers, 5-4, when he gave up three runs in the top of the eighth to blow a 4-2 lead.
Riddle finished the season with a 19-4 record with a major league leading 2.24 ERA. He dropped to 7-11 with a 3.69 ERA in 1942, but came back in 1943 to go 21-11 with a 2.63 ERA despite walking 107 and only striking out 69 for the season. Riddle finished his career with the Pirates and a 62-52 record with a 3.40 ERA. He played with his brother, catcher Johnny Riddle, for both the Reds and the Pirates. As a team, the 1941 Reds never rose above third place and finished the season in third, 88-66, 12 games behind the league champion Dodgers.
In 1956, Brooks Lawrence did Riddle two wins better. The Reds had been a second division team since the days of Riddle, having not finished better than fifth since 1944. But, the 1956 Reds were built on power, hitting a then record tying 221 home runs as a team and finished the season in third place with a 91-63 record, only two games behind the league champion Dodgers.
Lawrence had been acquired from the Cardinals in a trade for pitcher Jackie Collum following the 1955 season after going 3-8 with a 6.56 ERA. Lawrence opened the season as a swingman for the Reds. Lawrence’s first appearance (2/3 of an inning) resulted in his first win in extra innings versus his former Cardinal teammates with the loss being charged to Collum for whom he was traded. He started the second game of a doubleheader three days later against the Cubs getting no decision, but beat the same Cubs one week later in a complete game victory. Of Lawrence’s 13 victories, 10 came as a starter and three as a reliever. Six of his wins were complete game victories, including a shutout of the Brooklyn Dodgers, a two-hitter on June 22nd.
Lawrence’s 13th win came on July 17 with a complete game win over the Dodgers. The Reds were down 3-2 in the bottom of the eighth when rookie Frank Robinson blasted his 20th home run of the year off young Dodger hurler, Sandy Koufax, to tie the game. Lawrence retired the Dodgers in order in top of the ninth before leading off the bottom of the ninth with a double to left field, chasing Koufax. Jim Dyck was sent into pinch run for Lawrence and all-star reliever Clem Labine took the mound for the Dodgers. Johnny Temple sacrificed Dyck to third base and the Dodgers intentionally walked both Smoky Burgess and Gus Bell to load the bases with one out. Ted Kluszewski singled through the infield into right field to score the winning run for the Reds.
Lawrence’s first loss came to the Pittsburgh Pirates on July 21st in a complete game 4-3 loss. Leading 3-1 entering the ninth inning, Lee Walls led off the Pirates ninth with a single. One out later, Frank Thomas singled to right with Walls moving to third base. Roberto Clemente followed with a three-run homer to give the Pirates the 4-3 lead. Roy Face retired the Reds in order in the bottom of the ninth and Lawrence suffered his first loss of the year.
After starting 13-0, Brooks Lawrence finished 1956 with a 19-10 record with a 3.99 ERA. Lawrence followed up his 1956 season with a 16-13 record in 1957. For his Reds career, Lawrence went 51-48 over five seasons with a 4.06 ERA. Ewell Blackwell holds the Reds record with 16 consecutive wins in 1947.