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The passed ball that could have cost the Yankees a championship

Everything worked out in the end, but one passed ball could have changed history.

Chicago White Sox v New York Yankees Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Every playoff series has its game-changing moments. In ones that go six or seven games, it’s usually something that happens in one of those later games. In series that don’t last long, it might be something that happened in the first couple games that seemingly took the wind out of a team’s sails.

Below the surface, there are also always little things that get overlooked. That’s either because they happened earlier in a series and just get forgotten about. Or maybe, because that moment didn’t end up having a major impact on the final result of the series.

In the 1952 World Series, the game-changing moment is Billy Martin’s catch in the seventh inning of game seven. With the Yankees leading 4-2, Martin caught Jackie Robinson’s pop up, saving at least one run, and keeping the tying run off base.

The Yankees hung onto their lead and won a fourth consecutive championship.

That is very much an obvious series-changing moment. Who knows what happens if Martin doesn’t catch that, and the Dodgers have seven outs to make up a run?

Thanks to Martin’s catch, a lot of the less memorable important moments from the Yankees, good or bad, aren’t as remembered. That includes one mistake from an unusual source.

In Game Three of the ‘52 World Series, the Yankees took a 1-0 lead in the third on a single from starting pitcher Eddie Lopat. However, the Dodgers scored a run each in the third, fifth, and eighth innings to go up 3-1.

In the bottom of the eighth, Yogi Berra homered to get the Yankees back within one as the game moved to the ninth.

Despite having allowed the three runs, Lopat still came out for the top of the ninth. He got one quick out but then allowed two singles, and was removed from the game for Tom Gorman. Gorman got Roy Campanella to fly out, but during that at-bat, Pee Wee Reese and Robinson executed a double steal, putting both in scoring position.

Andy Pafko was due up next, and during his at-bat, the unexpected happened. Berra allowed a passed ball. Not only did the passed ball score Reese from third, but Robinson came all the way around from second, scoring to put the Dodgers up 5-2.

In the bottom of the ninth, Johnny Mize homered, getting the Yankees back within two runs. Any rally stopped there, however. That meant the difference in the final score was the two runs that scored on the passed ball.

As a team, the Yankees allowed just five passed balls all season, which was tied for the least in the American League. All five of them were given up by Berra, who not surprisingly caught the vast majority of the innings at the position. He had a good reputation as a defensive catcher, so him messing up there is a bit of a shock.

It should be noted that Pafko did single after the passed ball. Maybe if it doesn’t happen, the at-bat plays out the same and the runs still score. However, most pitchers would pitch differently with two runs in scoring position than they would with the bases empty. It’s also possible without the passed ball, Gorman gets the out, and Mize’s home run ties the game and sends it to extra innings.

Lucky for Berra and the Yankees, it doesn’t matter if the passed ball cost them the game or not. They won the World Series anyway. However, in some alternate universe the Yankees lose Game Seven, and this post is ruing the passed ball that helped cost the Yankees a championship.


All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference