On Oct. 8, 1927 the World Series ended in a rather unusual way, giving the powerhouse Yankees the title. Richard looks back at this and other last moments of the fall classic.
I once had a notion that I would write an entire book about the final play of each individual World Series. I can not imagine why I thought this would be a full-length book someone would want to read—even at the time it seemed kind of boring—but I got far enough along in the idea to put together a list of each last play and its key participants. (Which, to answer the obvious question, I didn’t use when writing this piece because I managed to wipe it off my computer at some unknown point in the past.)
On the other hand, at column length—when one can focus on just a handful of notable World Series endings—the idea has some merit. Of course, there are a handful of World Series endings that just about everyone knows: the walk-off home runs by Joe Carter and Bill Mazeroski are among the most famous plays in baseball history.
Other notable walk-offs are the recent duo by Edgar Renteria and Luis Gonzalez. On the other hand, while Gene Larkin’s 1991 walk-off is less than 20 years old, it has been largely overshadowed by the other events of that game: Jack Morris’ pitching heroics and the “bluff” of Lonnie Smith by Minnesota’s infield defense.
Perhaps the strangest walk-off in World Series history came in 1927. Holding a 3-0 lead in the Series, the Yankees’ Wilcy Moore surrendered two runs in the top of the seventh to allow Pittsburgh to tie the game 3-3. Facing Johnny Miljus in the ninth, the Yankees managed—thanks in part to a wild pitch—to put runners on second and third with nobody out. After an intentional walk to Babe Ruth, both Lou Gehrig and Bob Meusel struck out.
Facing Tony Lazzeri and seemingly ready to escape an almost impossible jam, Miljus instead uncorked his second wild pitch of the inning. A jubilant (and one must admit, probably a bit surprised) Earl Combs scored and the Yankees had their World Series sweep.
|Eric Hinske, who has personally witnesses the last three World Series last outs (Icon/SMI)|
Compared to the walk-offs, World Series last outs are virtually unknown in baseball history. The exception to this is maybe the most famous caught stealing in baseball history, Ruth’s failed try at second base that ended the 1926 World Series. It was a bizarre attempt—Ruth would later claim he was hoping the base could be stolen because it was so unexpected—and not a particularly close play at second. Ruth’s try remains the last time a World Series ended on a caught stealing.
Only twice in baseball history has the World Series ended on a double play, and never since 1947. The Yankees were involved both times. In 1921, more poor base running was their undoing, as Aaron Ward ran into the third out at third base after Home Run Baker’s groundout to second, leading to the unusual 4-3-5 double play.
The Pinstripes were on the other side of a more traditional double play in 1947 when Joe Page induced a 6-4-3 twin killing to end that Series, breaking the heart of Dodgers’ fans once more.
Speaking of rarely seen ways to end a World Series, while there have been nine walk-off hits in World Series history, only once has a World Series ended with the winning run scoring on a sacrifice fly. That came in 1912, with the Giants taking a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the 10th at Boston’s Fenway Park. Leading off the inning, Fred Snodgrass committed an error on a routine play—it would later be known as “The $30,000 Muff”—allowing tying run Clyde Engle to reach second base.
After a fly out, a walk and a single tied the game and put the winning run on third base. Larry Gardner, just a .179 hitter in the Series that year, then lifted a fly ball to right field that would drive in the winning run. That play remains the only time a World Series has ended with a team scoring the winning run on an out.
(In fact, perhaps owing to the defensive strategy of bringing outfielders way in during situations in which any regular length fly ball would win the game, there have only been two game-winning sacrifice flies in World Series history since Gardner’s. Frank Robinson hit one for Baltimore in 1971 and Jerry Willard did it for the Braves in 1991.)
When last year’s World Series ended with Mariano Rivera inducing a ground out from Philadelphia’s Shane Victorino, that broke a streak of three consecutive years the World Series had ended with a strikeout. In contrast to the decline of sac flies as game enders, strike outs have picked up in popularity, ending four World Series of the 1980s—the first decade to see more than two Series end with a K—and the three consecutive years during the 2000s.
Meanwhile, the strikeout’s opposite number, the walk, has never been the ending play of a World Series and indeed only once—in the 1999 NLCS—did a team walk-off to series victory with a walk.
For individual players, special call must go to Rivera who is the only pitcher to end four World Series, and was previously the only pitcher to end three. On the reverse side, Boss Schmidt had the unfortunate luck of ending the 1907 and 1908, the first on a pop-up to short and the second on a 2-3 groundout. Schmidt remains the only man to twice end a World Series.
Finally, Schmidt’s 1907 at-bat (when he was batting as the tying run) also represents another notable World Series occurrence, that of a pinch-hitter ending the Series. More than any other position a pinch-hitter has made the Series’ last out, 21 times. Pinch-hitters as last outs reached their peak during 1940-1946 when all but two World Series ended that way, but they have come back of late with three of the last five seeing their last out come from a PH.
By definition, even the most routine play to end a World Series is an exciting one. While not all can compete with the exhilaration of Mazeroski’s walk-off or even the craziness of Miljus’ wild pitch, each one is something to note. With the 2010 World Series fast approaching, it remains to be seen what excitement this year will bring.