Before I continue this series of articles on the Series, I need to correct on bit on the Top Ten Game Fours. The 1957 World Series’s Game Four deserved a space on the list. I just plain missed it. I don’t have time to rehash it, but wanted to mention it should’ve been No. 5.
Anyhow, on to No. 5. Of the 103 World Series, 85 made it this far. In 41 games, a team entered with three wins under their belt. Those squads went 24-17. Only 11 games on this Top Ten list, which contains a trio of Series-enders, and a pair that saw a team stave off elimination.
10. 1926: Yankees 3, Cardinals 2 (10). The teams split the first four games, and neither could pull away here. The Cards scored in the fourth, only to see the Yanks come back and tie it in the sixth, 1-1.
The most interesting thing about this game is how different it was from modern baseball. An argument can be made that managers overuse their bullpens now, churning arms with such ferocity that they don’t get enough innings from quality pitchers. But this was 1926.
Starter Billy Sherdel had tossed a fine game through eight innings, holding the Yankees to one run. In the ninth, however, Lou Gehrig hit a leadoff double. Well, that’s Gehrig for you. The next batter singled. But hey, it was a bunt. Third baseman should’ve paid more attention. Another single. Tie game, and the winning run on third with no outs.
Maybe Sherdel’s out of gas, eh? Nonsense. Sherdel had pitched well and deserved the shot to pull it out. Sure enough, three ground outs later, the game entered extra innings. However, the first of those outs was a botched bunt, and the second was the opposing pitcher.
Sherdel came back in the tenth. Leadoff single. Oh boy. A wild pitch put the runner in scoring position. It was still Sherdel’s game. Walk, sacrifice and intentional walk loading the bases with one out. A deep fly brought home the winning run.
Late in a hard-fought World Series game, he faced 13 batters over two innings, blowing a one-run lead, but he never got the hook. Watching this game must have been torture for the St. Louis faithful.
9. 1930: A’s 2, Cardinals 0. In baseball’s great offensive year, these two clubs combined to score 1,955 runs during the season. That might be the record for World Series opponents. Naturally their best game was a pitcher’s duel.
After splitting the first four games, neither could score a run here. Cardinals starter Burleigh Grimes baffled the A’s lineup with his spitball. After seven innings, they had yet to get a man past first base. George Earnshaw, matched him frame-for-frame. The Cards never seriously threatened.
Both teams traded singles in the first but could only combine for three more hits—a pair of scratch singles and a two-out double—through the seventh inning.
In the top of the eighth, the A’s put runners on first and third (the first man there all day) with one out. This put Connie Mack in a peculiar spot as pitcher Earnshaw was due up next. Nowadays, he would definitely be lifted, but this was the Age of Sherdel.
Still, Mack lifted him for a position player, who walked to load the bases. Then, in what must have been a vexing series of events for the Tall Tactician, the top of the order failed to plate a single run, allowing Grimes to slither away unscathed.
St Louis manager Gabby Street let Grimes go back in the ninth in the still scoreless game. Big mistake. A two-run bomb by Jimmie Foxx provided the game’s only runs. Lefty Grove, pitching in relief, closed it out.
8. 1915: Red Sox 5, Phillies 4. There’s a background story. Phillies ace Pete Alexander started the first and third games in the series. After the squad fell behind three games to one, Philly’s manager announced he’d have Alexander start the fifth game.
On gameday, Erskine Mayer started instead. Rumor had it Alexander showed up too blotto to pitch. Many denied it, but regardless, a far inferior pitcher took the mound with the season on the line. And he got rocked and allowed hits to half the batters he faced before Eppa Rixey relieved him. Despite that, Boston only scored two runs. Taking advantage of that, Philly took a 4-2 lead.
And there it stood. Finally, in the eighth, Duffy Lewis hit a two-run homer to tie it. Next inning, a Harry Hooper long ball gave Boston their first lead of the day. Duffy got the glory, as his homer capped a tremendous Series, but Rube Foster was Boston’s unsung hero. After a shaky start he allowed two hits over the last five innings.
Fun fact: this is the only game on here without either the A’s or Yanks.
7. 1972: Reds 5, A’s 4. Do-or-die time for Cincy, who dropped three of the first four games. Early on it looked like die, as Oakland took the lead.
Cincinnati rallied behind Bobby Tolan’s bat and Joe Morgan’s legs. In the fifth, down 4-2, Morgan scored from first on a Tolan single. Yeah, that’s right—scored from first on a single. Three innings later, down 4-3, Morgan led off with another walk and stole second. Another Tolan single tied the score.
In the ninth, the Reds turned two singles and an error into the winning run. The A’s didn’t go quietly. In the bottom of the ninth, they put runners on the corners with one out. A hard-hit shot could give them their first championship since 1930. Instead, they had a GIDP.
6. 1911: Giants 4, A’s 3 (10). The Giants had dropped three of the first four, so they needed this one. Things didn’t look good when Philly took a quick 3-0 lead.
One thing about John McGraw—he used his bullpen more than his peers. He yanked Rube Marquard after three innings. Relievers Red Ames and Doc Crandall never let another American Leaguer make it to third.
With Philly pinned down, the Giants rallied. Things looked mighty bleak in the ninth, losing 3-1, they had a man on second, but they were down to their last out with the pitcher (Crandall) due up. McGraw let him bat for himself. With the entire season on the line. Ohh-kaay. Crandall doubled. Gotta love it. The next batter singled him home. Hello, extra innings.
Darkness ensured the 10th inning would be the last no matter the score. The Giants ensured it wouldn’t be a tie, completing the comeback on a sac fly.
In 1957, Lew Burdette won two of the last three games of the World Series, both complete-game shutouts. Not too shabby. This was the better game.
Creating drama, Burdette looked vulnerable the entire game. He didn’t get a 1-2-3 inning until the fifth. While the Yanks kept getting on base, Burdette wasn’t working with a net as the Braves didn’t score until he’d retired 18 men.
In a sign of changing times, neither starter in the 1996 duel threw a complete game. It was actually a better pitcher’s match, though. The only run was unearned and the loser struck out 10.
The only run came in the fourth, on a Cecil Fielder double. Wait—Cecil Fielder was on the Yanks? I totally missed that. He had three of their four hits in this game.
Atlanta had a runner on every inning except the first, but they couldn’t do anything against Yank starter Andy Pettitte. Not only didn’t they score, but they never even made it to third base until the final inning. That’s when Joe Torre went to the bullpen, as John Wetteland saved the game.
4. 1929: A’s 3, Cubs 2. The best five-game Series ever ended in style.
Through eight innings, Cubs starter Pat Malone had pitched a majestic game, allowing only two hits, and facing the minimum three batters seven times. With a 2-0 lead, it looked like he would cruise to victory after he struck out the first Philly hitter in the ninth.
Then things all went ka-blooey! on him. After a single, Mule Haas homered. So long, lead.
After he got the next batter out, Al Simmons doubled. An intentional walk later, Simmons came home on a Series-ending double. The A’s had twice as many hits in the ninth as the entire first eight innings.
3. 1942: Cards 4, Yankees 2. “Repeated victory will make [a baseball team] invincible.” Stonewall Jackson (give or take a word or three).
Understanding the backstory to this game is vital to understanding why I rank it so high. From 1927 to 1953, the Yankees appeared in the World Series 16 times. They won 15. This was the final game of the 16th.
Incredible as it may sound, the above paragraph actually underestimates how much the Yankees dominated the NL. In their eight World Series appearances prior to 1942, the Yanks had lost a total of four games. Yeah, that’s right, they went 32-4. That’s an amazing pace if the games are against the worst teams in baseball. Hell, that’s mighty darn tootin’ if you’re playing Triple-A squads. Against pennant winners? It’s inhuman.
It’s commonly said in stathead circles that the postseason is a crapshoot. While luck plays a role, I believe that chemistry and attitude and all that ephemeral stuff that can’t be qualified also factors into it. The pressure of the best-of-seven brings out the best and worst in some. It brought out the best in the Yanks. I can’t possibly explain their October dominance any other way.
The ultimate Yankee October moment came the year before , when the Dodgers struck out Tommy Heinrich for the 27th out to end Game 4, only to see him advance to first when catcher Mickey Owen dropped strike three, sparking a four-run bottom-of-the-ninth rally. This was a team that just could not be beat, would do anything to win, and always pounced on every little mistake.
So you can imagine how shocked the world was when the Cards won three of the first four in 1942. It put the Yanks on the verge of elimination—something no player on that team had ever experienced. Then again, they had repeated enough victories to feel invincible. They weren’t about to buckle. Baseball fans had to at least half expect them to win out. These were, after all, the Yankees.
The St Louis faithful can be forgiven for getting paranoid when the first Yankee batter, little Phil Rizzuto homered. Man, if even he’s hitting homers, how can they lose? Sure the Cards tied it in the top of the fourth, but in the bottom half of the inning, Joe DiMaggio singled in a run to regain the lead, 2-1. Even when the Cards came back two innings later, they could only tie it. And the score remained tied after eight innings. If ever a team looked like it was in a position to win it, down three games to one and tied in the ninth, it was these Yanks.
In the ninth, the damnedest thing happened. The Cards hit a two-run homer, taking their first lead of the game. I mean, you don’t really think it could happen? The Yankees—I can’t even say “lose”—but do you think the Yankees might not win? Two-run lead; only three outs to go. A nation inched forward on their sofas, transfixed to their radios.
Joe Gordon leads off the bottom of the ninth with a single. Ever get that sinking feeling? It’s common to feel like you’re sinking when playing the Yankees in autumn. Still, it’s just a runner on first. Let’s not panic. Bill Dickey swings at an offering and grounds to second. As slow as the aging catcher is, this should be a double pl- NOOO! Second baseman Jimmy Brown muffed it. Everyone’s safe. The tying run is on, and there are still no outs.
From a logical point of view, there’s little drama going on. Rationally, the Yanks have little chance to get both in before making three outs. But what kind of jerk watches the World Series rationally? The team is the Yankees and the month is October. Give them an inch, and they’ll take a mile. If ever a team should be expected to pull off a comeback, it’s them. And once they do it, you know it’ll inspire them to win the next two and take yet another title. They were invincible. Mickey Owen might be gone, but his spirit is marching on. God dammit.
And then it happened. Something no one hadn’t seen since Babe Ruth was thrown trying to steal second to end the 1926 World Series—the Yanks got caught napping at a crucial moment in October. After a pitch to Yankee hitter Jerry Priddy, Cardinal catcher Walker Cooper rifled a throw to second. Joe Gordon, caught flat-footed, was picked off.
Whooaahhh! Someone just out-Yankeed the Yankees! And just think—last time the Yanks lost a Series, the key out in the bottom of the ninth came at second base against the Cards. Could this nifty bit of symmetry spell the end of the Yankee juggernaut?
Right afterwards, Jimmy Brown redeemed himself for his earlier error by making a beauty of a play on a fly ball. One out away from the impossible. George Selkirk hit a grounder to second. Brown fields, throws, and…
…October 1942 was a mighty tough time for our country. Nazis fought toward the heart of Stalingrad. The Japanese sunk US boats by Guadalcanal. But for one glorious afternoon, the nation could take heart that one fearsome fascist foe had been defeated. God bless America.
2. 2001: Yankees 3, Diamondbacks 2 (12). You know all that stuff I just said about the 1942 Yanks? Well, it applies to the early Torre Yanks.
Some like to say the Yanks winning three straight was just luck. I think those people overlook that not only did the Yanks win nine series in 1998-2000, but they only faced elimination in one game, and they scored six runs in the top of the first that time. From 1996-2001, the Yanks went 56-22 in postseason play, good for a .718 winning percentage. That’s a better clip than their legendary 1998 squad, while playing against top-tier squads in a half-season’s compliment of contests. You know, there’s something going on there.
I really don’t think the Yanks pull this one out unless they’d won so many games in the previous years. With all that repeated success, they felt invincible.
It’s so recent and well-known, it’s beside the point rehashing it. Trailing by two in the bottom of the ninth, the Yanks get a game-tying homer. After defusing a bases-loaded one-out situation in the 11th, they won in the 12th for their second-straight comeback.
I’ll always remember the Yankees fans chanting/serenading Paul O’Neill as he manned his position late in the game. He just had to retire after this Series. No going away present could top that.
1. 1956. Yankees 2, Dodgers 0. Yup, the Don Larsen game. I wanted to avoid putting this in first. But I had to. In compiling these lists, I tell myself, “How much would I have enjoyed watching this game if I was in the stands?” And really, how do you not go with the perfect game?
Not only was it a perfect game, but it was baseball’s first one since Charlie Robertson did it on April 30, 1922. Since then, baseball had 43,105 regular season games (yes, I checked), and 197 postseason games. Since two hurlers always start, that means Don Larsen did what no other had done in the 86,604 previous attempts: perfection.
To do that under any circumstances is amazing. That he did it against a fantastic offense is even more awesome. But, to top it off, doing it in a World Series knotted up two games each while the opposing starter pitched great? Yeah, that’s #1.
As great as Game Fives were, some of the most storied history comes in Game Sixes. That’s for next time. Merry Christmas, everyone!
References & Resources
Enders, Eric, “100 Years of the World Series, 1903-2003.” New York City: Barnes & Noble, 2004. This helped out big time.
James, Bill. “The New Historical Abstract.” New York: The Free Press, 2001. This is where I heard about Pete Alexander and the 1915 World Series (unless I’m confusing this with another James tome).