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The sweep the Yankees almost lost

When you picture playoff sweeps, this typically isn’t what you imagine.

World Series - Chicago Cubs v Cleveland Indians - Media Day Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

When you think of a prototypical playoff series sweep, you probably think of something like the one we just watched: the Yankees over the Twins in the ALDS. There were some tight moments and a close game, but after the bottom of the third in Game One, the Yankees never trailed.

The Yankees swept the Phillies in the 1950 World Series. However, if just a few things had gone differently, it would have been a lot closer. It might’ve even ended up with the Phillies sweeping the series.

Despite trailing by as much as 4.5 games as late as August 17, the Yankees won the AL in 1950 by three games over the Tigers. From that date on, they went 30-12, eventually sealing the pennant with several games to spare, and finishing with 98 wins.

Meanwhile in the NL, the young “Whiz Kids” Phillies looked to have things sealed up, as they led by five games on September 26 with just six games left in their season. A five-game losing streak then meant they went into the final game of the season with one up over the team they were playing, the Brooklyn Dodgers. It took 10 innings, but the Phillies won 4-1, escaping a one-game playoff, and winning the NL.

The Phillies hosted Game One and sent 1950 NL MVP Jim Konstanty to the mound. It was a bit of a surprise move, as while he threw over 150 innings, Konstanty was used as a reliever in all 74 of the games he pitched in the regular season. However, he was excellent in his unexpected role, allowing just four hits and one run on a sac fly in the fourth inning.

The thing was, Yankees’ starter Vic Raschi bettered him. Except for two singles in the fifth inning and a walk in the sixth, Raschi was perfect. One run and four hits is not going to be enough to win most World Series games, but it was that day for the Yankees.

Losing by one when the league MVP is excellent would have been disappointing, but things only got more disappointing for the Phillies from there.

The Yankees took the lead in the second inning in Game Two, before Philadelphia evened things up in the fifth. Whereas Game One was about Raschi dominating, Game Two was the Phillies shooting themselves in the foot. In all but two of the first nine innings, the Phillies put a runner in scoring position, and only in the fifth did they actually capitalize. That’s not to say the Yankees didn’t squander chances themselves, but at least most of their hits were singles.

The game went to extra innings, where Joe DiMaggio led off the 10th with a home run. In the bottom of the inning, things started perfectly when Jackie Mayo, hitting in the pitcher’s spot, walked to start the inning. That flipped things around to the top of the lineup. He was bunted over to second, setting things up for future hall of famer Richie Ashburn and three hitter Dick Sisler. Naturally, they stranded one last runner, and the Yankees went up 2-0 in the series.

Things shifted to New York for Game Three, and while the Yankees struck first, runs in the sixth and seventh gave the Phillies the lead going to the bottom of the eighth. Philadelphia starter Ken Heintzelman had been really good all day, but then lost it walking the bases loaded after getting the first two outs in the eighth.

At that point, the Phillies turned to Konstanty in a much more normal role for him. He induced a ground ball, but an error by shortstop Granny Hammer allowed the Yankees to tie the game.

Hammer made up for it somewhat, leading off the next inning with a double. He got within 90 feet after a sac bunt, but was later thrown out at home on a fielder’s choice. The Yankees got out of it with the tie intact. Then in the bottom of the inning, the Phillies again got two quick outs. However, three straight singles, the last by Jerry Coleman, gave the Yankees a walk-off win by a one-run margin for the third straight game.

In Game Four, the Yankees scored the game’s first five runs and appeared to be on their way to putting the series to bed. Yogi Berra led the way with two hits and two RBI, as the Yankees went to the ninth up five runs.

Whitey Ford had shutout the Phillies all night and was left in to finish off the World Series. He allowed the first two hitters to reach, but then recorded the next two outs. A Gene Woodling error on a fly ball that would’ve ended the series scored two runs and kept Philadelphia alive. A single in the next at-bat then chased Ford from the game and brought the tying run to the plate. Allie Reynolds came in and struck him out to finish off the game and another World Series title for the Yankees.

The combined final margin of the series was just six runs. The Yankees won two separate games in this year’s ALDS by that margin. They only allowed five runs in total, so all credit goes to the Yankees’ pitching. However, there is quite literally one at-bat in all five games that if it went differently, the series outcome would be entirely different. You’re unlikely to see many sweeps that close.

All historical game data courtesy of Baseball Reference