Earlier, we learned about arguably the best pitching debut in Yankees’ history. Here’s the flip side.
Duane Pillette is the answer to a couple historical baseball trivia questions. He started the St. Louis Browns’ final game before they moved to Baltimore. He made the move with the team, and became the first pitcher to record a win for the Orioles. While the team was in St. Louis, he was also the starting pitcher in the game where Eddie Gaedel got an at-bat for the Browns.
Before any of that happened, he came up with the Yankees in 1949. After getting six innings out of Allie Reynolds, the Yankees brought in Pillette for his major league debut on July 19, 1949 against the Indians. They were clinging on to a 4-3 lead, having scored a run off future Yankees manager Bob Lemon in the top of the eighth.
Pillette retired the first hitter of the inning, but then allowed a triple to Larry Doby. He followed that up with a ground out that kept Doby at third. Lou Boudreau doubled, however, scoring Doby to tie the game at four.
The first two hitters in the top of the ninth both singled for the Yankees. Pillette was the next hitter due up, and was not yanked for a pinch hitter. Naturally, he struck out. For some reason, Phil Rizzuto then bunted for some reason, even after the pitcher did not, but shocking that did not work either. The runners would be left stranded at second and third and the game stayed tied.
Pillette came back out for the bottom of the ninth, but gave up a walk-off home run. The player who hit it was named Jim Hegan. Although a multi-time All-Star as a catcher, Hegan was not a good hitter. He finished the season with a line of .224/.298/.338. That home run was one of just 92 Hegan hit in his 17-year career. The batter who was due up next was Lemon, the pitcher. He had better career hitting stats than Hegan.
Allowing home runs to bad hitters happens sometimes, but the consequences could have been so much more dire than they ended up being.
The Yankees went on to win the AL and the World Series. However, the final margin in the AL pennant race was just one game. Everything worked out in the end, but one other misstep along the way, and a rookie allowing a walk-off dinger to a light-hitting catcher could have been so much worse in retrospect.