Herb Pennock was an unassuming who generally kept to himself and had a much calmer lifestyle than many of his teammates who lived it up in the "Roaring Twenties." While guys like Babe Ruth would spend hundreds on life in the city, Pennock took his first World Series bonus from the Yankees and invested it in a fox pelt farm. His pitching reflected this calm demeanor, as he chose to master the curveball rather than the fastball and according to acclaimed writer Grantland Rice, pitched "with the ease and coolness of a practice session." It was an effective strategy that had the kid from nearby Kennett Square, Pennsylvania in his first major league game by age 18 with Connie Mack and the defending World Series champion Philadelphia Athletics in 1912. It took him awhile to stick in the big leagues, but once he did with the Boston Red Sox in 1919, he became a workhorse. Pennock averaged 29 starts and 237 innings per year with a 3.27 ERA and 120 ERA+ for the next 10 seasons, even as the home run became a valued offensive weapon.
Unfortunately, the man affectionately known as "The Squire of Kennett Square" did not have very good luck prior to 1923. He was too young to make much of an impact on Mack's 1913 World Series champion Athletics team, and while he did have his first season of more than 150 innings '14 for the Athletics as they won the American League pennant, they were stunned in the World Series by a stunning Boston Braves sweep. After moving on to the Red Sox, he only pitched a combined 40.2 innings for their '15-'16 repeat World Series champions. While he was away from baseball in '18 serving in World War I, the Red Sox again won the title and then slumped to the second division upon his return the next season. Pennock watched many of his Boston teammates head to New York in deals with former manager Ed Barrow, now the GM of the Yankees. Finally, he too was traded to the two-time defending AL champion Yankees in January of '23, and he reportedly celebrated with his wife by dancing a jig on a San Francisco pier. He proved to be one of the last pieces the Yankees needed to at last defeat the crosstown rival New York Giants in the World Series, as he pitched to a 3.13 ERA and 126 ERA+ in 238.1 regular season innings, then won two starts in the Yankees' first World Series victory.
Pennock's next two seasons were arguably the best of his career, as he averaged 282 innings and a 146 ERA+, but the Yankees failed to reach the World Series. His ERA in '26 was his highest mark in six years (3.62), but he won 23 games and led the league in WHIP (1.265) and BB/9 (1.5) as the Yankees won the AL pennant. Despite Pennock's two wins and 1.23 ERA in 22 innings, the Yankees lost the series in a seven-game heartbreaker. The Yankees returned to the Fall Classic in '27 with one of the greatest teams in the history of baseball. The '27 Yankees rightfully get a ton of credit for the legendary "Murderer's Row" lineup that scored 975 runs and romped their way to a then-AL record 110 victories. The pitchers have not been as well-remembered, but they pitched to a 3.20 ERA as a staff and allowed only 599 runs (3.9 per game). The offense did not even need to score much thanks to stellar seasons by Pennock, Waite Hoyt, Urban Shocker, and bullpen ace Wilcy Moore. Pennock's 3.00 ERA and 130 ERA+ were highest among this quartet, but when the Yankees actually played in the World Series, none of them pitched nearly as well as Pennock did in Game 3.
The Pittsburgh Pirates picked an awful year to make a World Series appearance with their terrific team. The offense was led by Paul and Lloyd Waner, otherwise known as "Big Poison" and "Little Poison," respectively, as well as third baseman Pie Traynor, one of a very small group of Hall of Famers at the hot corner. The entire team hit a combined .305/.361/.412 and tied for National League lead with 817 runs while their pitching staff allowed just 4.2 runs per game, second in the league. The Pirates were clearly not a group of slouches, and though some Yankees and newspaper reporters spread the rumor that they were overwhelmed watching the Yankees take batting practice before Game 1, they certainly did not appear to be in awe during the first two games.
The Yankees took the first game at Forbes Field in a tight 5-4 victory, and the second game was close at 3-1 until New York broke through for three eighth inning runs thanks to some wildness from Pirate starter Vic Aldridge and reliever Mike Cvengros. They took their 2-0 series lead back to Yankee Stadium with Pennock on the hill in Game 3, and he turned in one of the best pitching performances in the 109-year history of the World Series.
Pennock was the early recipient of a two-run lead, as Lou Gehrig tripled in Earle Combs and Mark Koenig against Pirate starter Lee Meadows in the first. After this early bump, Meadows settled down and shut the powerful Yankees down over the next five innings. Unfortunately for him, the Pirates offense looked hopeless against Pennock. Inning after inning went by, and Pennock did not allow a single baserunner. He struck out just one batter through seven innings, but his defense simply got to every ball hit behind him without much effort--11 of the 21 outs came on ground balls. A newspaper account of the game wonderfully describes Pennock's pitching that day:
For seven innings today, the Pirates were held in the hollow of Pennock's marvelous left hand, bewildered, baffled and impotent before the sharp breaking curves and puzzling change of pace of a veteran who was a cripple, with a badly hurt knee, only three days ago. Through this stretch not a Pirate got the semblance of a hit not did a Corsair foot trod first base safely by any route as the Yankees gave their star brilliant support.
That "brilliant support" came in the bottom of the seventh, the Yankees put any doubt about who would win the game to bed with a six-run frame that knocked Meadows out and saw Ruth cap the inning with a three-run clout against Cvengros. Combined with his amazing regular season total, it was number 61 on the season for the Bambino. The one drawback to the long inning is that Pennock likely lost his momentum. He got a routine grounder from shortstop Glenn Wright for to draw within five outs of a perfect game, but it was the Hall of Famer Traynor that broke it up with a clean single to the left side. The shutout was also lost when left fielder Clyde Barnhart followed with a double to right-center field, but the game was too far out of hand for it to matter. Two groundouts and a one-hit ninth later, the gem was completed without a single walk tarnishing his record.
Pennock finished with a dominant three-hitter and the Yankees took a 3-0 lead in the World Series. The Yankees captured the fourth game 4-3 on a walk-off wild pitch of all plays, and the very first World Series sweep was done. The highlight of it was Pennock's gem, 85 years ago today.