When you think about the greatest ever Yankee playoff pitching performances, the first one that comes to mind almost has to be Don Larsen’s perfect game in Game Five of the 1956 World Series. In terms of importance, Johnny Kucks’ three-hit shutout in Game Seven two days later also has to be up there.
In between those two is another really good one. For a variety of reasons, it isn’t really talked about. Due to that, there’s a decent argument that it’s the greatest forgotten playoff pitching performance in Yankees’ history.
After making the All-Star game in his first season with the Yankees in 1955, Bob Turley took a step back the following season. He allowed five runs each in his first two starts of the season, and by the end of May, his ERA sat at 5.56. After up and down June, he spent the next couple months getting back on track. However in Turley’s final two starts of the season, he gave up a total of 10 runs in just 7.2 combined innings. The Yankees still easily won the AL, but Turley wasn’t in Casey Stengel’s rotation to start the World Series.
Turley made two relief appearances in Games One and Two of the series, throwing 1.1 perfect innings across them. However, the Yankees lost both. Whitey Ford got them back on track with a Game Three win, and then followed that with two more, including Larsen’s perfect game.
With a chance to clinch the series, Casey Stengel opted to go to Turley in Game Six at Ebbets Field.
In the first four innings, Turley allowed at least one runner to each frame, but also managed to escape every time. In the sixth, he dealt with two on and one out, but got two pop flies to end the frame. In the eighth, he worked around a lead-off ground rule double to again keep the Dodgers off the board. He completed nine scoreless innings by retiring Roy Campanella.
Nine scoreless innings in a potential World Series clinching game should be the stuff of legends. Except there’s a reason this one is not. There’s also a reason what the Yankees’ offense did hasn’t been mentioned. The Yankees’ put up seven hits and two walks against Dodgers’ starter Clem Labine, but none even made it past second base. That continued in the tenth when Labine retired the Yankees’ side in order.
Turley retired the Dodgers’ pitcher to start the bottom of the tenth, but then allowed a walk to lead-off hitter Jim Gilliam. After Pee Wee Reese laid down a sac bunt, the Yankees opted to intentionally walk Duke Snider. That particular gamble did not work out as Jackie Robinson singled to score a run and win the game for the Dodgers. To this day, it is one of just three World Series games that was scoreless going into extra innings.
Was Turley perfect in this game? No, not even close, he allowed eight walks and four hits in total. Yet if he puts in that performance, and the Yankees get a lucky bounce and score a run in any other inning, he’s a World Series hero. Maybe not the biggest hero considering what happened the day before, but a shutout in a clinching World Series game goes down in Yankee lore. Instead, Kucks gets that honor.
Two years later, Turley got his moments when he won World Series MVP. He also won the Cy Young Award that year, so his career received plenty of plaudits. He also threw an incredible World Series gem that, for understandable reasons, isn’t mentioned much.
All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference.