When you think of the Yankees from the 1920s through the 1950s, you probably imagine some all-conquering, dominant force. That’s definitely true to some extent, as they won 18 World Series titles in those four decades.
However, with the way the way baseball was set up then, they would have been the underdog in at least some of those series. Back then, only the first place team in each league played in the postseason and went straight into the World Series. That meant that even though the Yankees were the best team in the AL in all of those seasons, they were facing another really, really good team in a lot of those years.
One of those years was 1943. The Yankees won 98 games and won the AL pretty comfortably. On the other side was the St. Louis Cardinals. They won 105 games and the NL by 18 games. It was Stan Musial’s third season in the majors, and by some measures, it was the second best year of his incredible career. The Cardinals were an impressive team. Besides all that, they had also just beaten the Yankees in five in the World Series the season before, and would go on to beat the St. Louis Browns for another title the year after.
Due to wartime travel restrictions, the 1943 World Series was played in a special 3-4 format. The first three games were played in New York before shifting to St. Louis for the remainder of the series. The Yankees held serve winning 4-2 in Game One, however the Cardinals took Game Two 4-3 after a ninth inning rally fell short.
That meant the Yankees would have to win at least two games in St. Louis, where the Cardinals had a .734 winning percentage that season. They avoided putting their backs really against the wall by taking Game Three 6-2 thanks to a five-run eighth inning. That meant the Yankees led 2-1 as the series shifted to St. Louis for an extremely important Game Four.
In Game Four, the Yankees gave the start on the mound to Marius Russo.
Russo had started his career very well. After a couple really good seasons, he was part of the Yankees’ 1941 World Series winning team. In that year’s postseason, he threw a complete game, giving up just one run. That allowed the Yankees to win Game Three after the series had been tied at one. They went on to win in five games. However, injuries limited him the next couple years and he struggled in 1943. The Yankees still turned to him in arguably the biggest game of the season.
The first three innings of Game Four went by without much happening as the two teams combined put only three runners on base. In the fourth, the Yankees took a 1-0 lead when Bill Dickey singled home a run.
The Cardinals evened things up in the seventh, but Russo wasn’t too much at fault as the Yankees made two errors in the inning. The first came with two outs and no one on, and probably should’ve ended the inning. The second allowed the run to score before Russo got out of the inning with the game tied at one.
Russo stayed in the game and was due up first in the bottom of the eighth. He had already doubled once in the game, which matched his number of extra-base hits from the entire 1943 regular season. He was never a particularly good hitter and finished his career with a .521 OPS. However, for the second time this game, he doubled.
Tuck Stainback bunted Russo over to third, bringing Frankie Crosetti to the plate. The shortstop flew out, but it was deep enough for Russo to tag up and score, giving the Yankees the lead.
The next two innings were adventurous for Russo. He allowed two singles in the eighth, before getting out of it. In the ninth, he gave up a one-out double, but got the next two hitters to make outs, sealing a 2-1 win. The Yankees now just needed to win one of the next three games.
They did so the very next day. The winning runs came from a much more normal method when Dickey hit a two-run homer as the Yankees hung on for a 2-0 win.
Because of the weird series set up, the series status, and the game status, Russo’s eighth inning double in Game Four is arguably the biggest hit in the 1943 World Series. The fact that it came from a pitcher who had a bad enough season that he maybe shouldn’t have been pitching is all the more wilder.
All histortical stats and game information courtesy of Baseball Reference