Luckily, the Yankees won by the American League by two games in 1952. If a few things had gone differently and they had lost the pennant, there’s one game in particular that would stand out as the biggest missed opportunity that you could find.
The Yankees ended up winning the AL that year thanks primarily to putting up .700 winning percentages in both June and September. However, heading into May 30th, they were just above .500 at 18-15, and 3.5 games out of first.
On that day, the Yankees hosted the Philadelphia Athletics in a doubleheader. The A’s were a few games behind the Yankees with a 13-19 record. Going into the opening game, Philadelphia had allowed the second-most runs in the AL, ahead of only the St. Louis Browns. That being said, staff ace and eventual MVP Bobby Shantz got the ball in the opener.
The Yankees tasked Tom Morgan with facing Shantz. In his previous outing, Morgan lasted just two innings as the Yankees got crushed by the Red Sox. He would go quite a bit longer than two innings this time around.
Morgan and Shantz traded zeros until the bottom of the third. Mickey Mantle led off the inning with a home run to get the Yankees on the board. The Yankees could have used Mantle coming up to bat an inning earlier, as they had left the bases loaded in the second. That missed chance would loom large as the game went along.
Meanwhile, Morgan allowed just four baserunners, one on an error, in his first six innings. He couldn’t hold off Philadelphia forever, and the A’s finally got on the board in the seventh. The Yankees’ starter was an out away from escaping the inning with the shutout still intact, but Skeeter Kell doubled to get the Athletics on the board.
In the bottom of the inning, the Yankees had a chance to take the lead right back, yet they left two on after Yogi Berra made an out to end the inning. Flash ahead two innings, Morgan singled but was left on base in the ninth, sending the game to extra innings. In total, the Yankees had 12 runners through the first nine innings, but one measly run to show from it.
In the tenth, Morgan threw a 1-2-3 inning, and the Yankees responded by leaving two runners on. With both starters still in the game, the teams then traded another three scoreless innings.
Morgan came back out again for the 14th. After retiring the lead off hitter, he issued two straight walks. At that point, Casey Stengel decided to go to the bullpen and brought in Jim McDonald. The reliever then allowed a single to the first batter he faced, and for the first time all game, Philadelphia led.
With their last chance in the bottom of the 14th, the Yankees again threatened when Mantle hit a ground-rule double with one out. The next two hitters were retired in order and the Yankees lost 2-1 in 14 innings.
Morgan was credited with the loss, and that is correct by rule, but it is also obviously a brutal ruling. He allowed his fair share of runners, but kept Philly off the board for 13.1 innings. It was only after he left that the Yankees fell behind.
Meanwhile, the Yankees’ offense finished the game with nine hits, seven walks, and a hit by pitch. The Athletics committed two errors to boot. He may be credited with the loss, but it was on the lineup more than Morgan. His 0.854 winning percentage added is the highest ever by a Yankees starter in a game the team lost.
Luckily, the Yankees went on their hot streak in June and never looked back. They won the AL and eventually the World Series. Meanwhile, Morgan had a five-year career in pinstripes, where he was mostly right around a league-average player. His best year came nine years later when he got MVP votes for an excellent season out of the bullpen with the Angels.
In one final cruel twist of fate related to this game, the Yankees traded Morgan to the now Kansas City Athletics in 1957 in a 13-player trade. One of the players who went the other way was Bobby Shantz.
All data courtesy of Baseball Reference.