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How three small moments can change a pennant race

When a race comes down to the wire, it’s often one at-bat or moment that can completely change things. In the race for the AL in 1952, there were a couple.

MLB: AUG 22 Yankees at Athletics Photo by Cody Glenn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Any race that comes right down to the wire is going to have games that could have changed things had they played out differently. Every one doesn’t necessarily have a one-run game between the top two teams that would have completely altered the standings had the loser actually won.

The 1952 AL pennant race between the Yankees and Indians had three.

After the early season weirdness that can occur in the standings, Cleveland took the lead on May 10th. On that same day, the Yankees found themselves all the way back in sixth place, four games back. A 19-8 run over their next 27 games vaulted them into first, where they then spent most of the rest of the season. From June on, the Yankees played .647 baseball.

Meanwhile, Cleveland played well over that same period, but wasn’t quite winning at the same pace. On July 22nd, they trailed the Yankees by 7.5 games. That was an 11.5-game swing in just a little over two months.

However, by August 22nd, Cleveland had come all the way back and had evened things up after beating the Yankees that day. That set up a crucial game the next day in what would be the penultimate meeting between the teams that season.

The Yankees gave the start that day to Vic Raschi. The All-Star got himself into and out of jams in the second and third, while the Yankees took a 1-0 lead in the fourth. Raschi then settled down, retiring 14 straight batters at one point.

However, with one out in the top of the eighth and the Yankees still up just a run, Cleveland’s Bill Glynn singled. After Raschi bounced back with a strikeout, Dale Mitchell came to the plate. The left fielder hit a ball into right field, and Glynn attempted to score all the way around from first. Hank Bauer got the ball into Billy Martin at second, who got it to Yogi Berra in time to tag Glynn and record the third out of the inning. The Yankees held on for a 1-0 win. They would never trail in the AL again.

That wasn’t the only close call the two teams had played that season.

Back on July 16th, the Yankees went into the bottom of the eighth trailing 7-5. Yogi Berra hit a game-tying home run before a Bauer gave them a walk-off win in the 10th. In between that, Cleveland put a runner on in both the ninth and tenth inning.

The next day, Raschi allowed a home run in the ninth, allowing the Indians to tie the game. Joe Collins hit one of his own for another walk-off win in the bottom half of the inning. However, Raschi had nearly gotten himself into some more trouble after giving up the home run. One Cleveland hitter had singled, but was thrown out trying to stretch it into a double. That hitter was Bill Glynn. Another base-running error from him let the Yankees off easy and kept them from further trouble.

Why did those three games end up mattering so much?

Those weren’t the only close games the two teams played the season, but in all three of those instances, basically one moment in the late innings went in the Yankees’ favor and allowed them to win. Essentially winning three coin flips like that isn’t an impossible game, but the odds of it aren’t in you favor.

The two teams both went exactly 19-5 in September. The final standings saw the Yankees win the AL by two games. So had one of those three games gone differently, there would have been a tie atop the standings. Had two gone differently, Cleveland wins the pennant, and the Yankees’ streak of five World Series titles in a row would have been snapped after the third. All three were essentially a sliding door moment, and somehow the Yankees had everything work out perfectly for them.

Thankfully for the Yankees, Bill Glynn does not appear to have been the best runner.

All historical box score and information courtesy of Baseball Reference