After the dust settled on September 24, 1952, the Yankees held a two-game lead in the American League. On that day, they swept both games of a doubleheader in Boston against the Red Sox, winning the first in extra innings. Meanwhile, the only team that could still catch them, the Indians, beat the White Sox to somewhat keep pace.
Cleveland trailed by two games despite being only one behind the Yankees in the win column. Due to either weather or a weird scheduling quirk, the Indians only had two games left in the season, while the Yankees still had four to go. The Yankees had a three-game lead in the loss column, however. All they had to do was not mess up and, say, let a .500 Red Sox team hang around.
The next day, the Yankees were still in Boston, wrapping up their series against the Red Sox. On that crucial day, they gave the ball to Allie Reynolds.
By pretty much every statistic available, the 1952 season was Reynolds’ career-best. He led the league in ERA, strikeouts, and shutouts. Looking back with a more modern eye, his WAR, ERA+, WHIP, FIP, and BB/9 were all career-best marks or close to it. All that would culminate in a second place finish in AL MVP voting. He was who the Yankees would have wanted on the mound in a big game. On this day, he didn’t disappoint, for multiple reasons.
Through the first four innings, Reynolds allowed just three hits. Unfortunately for him, two were solo home runs. Meanwhile, on the other side, the Yankees had failed to cash in on their three baserunners.
In the top of the fifth, the Yankees finally got on the board when Gil McDougald led off the inning with a home run. The following inning, Joe Collins doubled home Mickey Mantle to tie the game. Over the course of the next couple frames, the two teams traded stranding runners. After Reynolds worked around a leadoff single in the eighth, the game was still tied at two going into the ninth.
Red Sox starter Sid Hudson was also in the game, and walked Irv Noren to start the inning. As this was 1952, the Yankees then had the reigning Rookie of the Year McDougald bunt to move the runner over. However due up next was generally below-average hitter Billy Martin. Predictably, Martin then flew out. That left the inning up to Reynolds.
While never a great hitter, 1952 was one of Reynolds’ worst years at the plate. He went just 13-85 on the season. His career OPS was .422, but in 1952, he was fifty points below even that mark.
Despite that, Reynolds managed to collect just one of those 13 hits at exactly the right time. He singled to score Noren and give the Yankees their first lead of the game. As a go-ahead run in the middle of the AL pennant race, you could make the argument that Reynolds’ single was the most important hit of the season. Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, or any of the other great hitters didn’t get it. The bad hitting pitcher did.
Boston still had a chance in the bottom of the ninth. The eight spot was due up first, so should one or two Red Sox batters reach, Reynolds would be dealing with the heart of their order. Instead, Reynolds threw just his second 1-2-3 inning of the game. After getting a pair of pinch hitters out, Reynolds retired Dom DiMaggio to finish off a 3-2 win for the Yankees.
Elsewhere, Cleveland had the day off. That win gave the Yankees a 2.5 game lead in the AL. That win did not outright clinch the pennant, although it would have taken a miracle for the Indians to even come back and tie the Yankees.
The next day, the Yankees made it official with a 5-2 win over the Athletics. Cleveland won out, but they could not catch the Yankees, who ended up winning the AL by two games.
In the World Series, the Yankees went on to beat the Dodgers in seven games. Reynolds won two games, got a save in another, and allowed just four runs in over 20 innings. Were there a World Series MVP award in 1952, it probably would have gone to him. He got zero hits in the series, though. Slacker.
All historical standings data and box scores courtesy of Baseball Reference