The gold standard for a Yankees’ clutch World Series hitting performance probably belongs to Reggie Jackson. In the clinching Game Six win of the 1977 World Series, Jackson hit three home runs, plating five of the eight runs, and cementing his “Mr. October” nickname.
Had Jackson not done all of that and the Yankees lost that game, they would’ve had another shot at home the following day. It was a massive and legendary performance, but in terms of pure importance to altering the outcome of a series, Hank Bauer’s in Game Three of the 1958 World Series is arguably bigger.
The Yankees dropped the two opening games of the 1958 World Series against the Milwaukee Braves on the road. In Game One, the Yankees were five outs away from a win, only for Milwaukee to rally in the eighth and win via walk-off in the 10th. The next day, the Braves scored seven first-inning runs and cruised to an easy win. The Yankees were in dire need of a win when the series shifted back to New York for Game Three.
Bauer had gotten off to a good start to the series, recording four hits and three RBI across the first two games. He continued that in Game Three, leading off the game with a single only to be stranded on a double play in the next at-bat.
On the mound for the Yankees was Don Larsen, who just two years earlier had tossed the only perfect game in World Series history. He didn’t come close to repeating that, but he was still good on this day. He allowed three singles and a walk in the first five innings, but every time the Braves threatened, he responded with a strikeout to end the inning. That set the stage for Bauer and the Yankees in the bottom half of the fifth.
In the fifth, Braves starter Bob Rush looked to pull off a similar feat as Larsen had been. He walked Norm Siebern to lead off the inning, but then responded with two straight outs. In order to get to Larsen in the nine spot, Rush and the Braves intentionally walked Gil McDougald. That backfired as he then proceeded to lose the zone and also walk Larsen, bringing Bauer to the plate with the bases loaded. The Yankees’ leadoff hitter did his part, scoring two runs with a single.
The Braves nearly got back into the game in both of the next two innings. Larsen had to strand a pair of runners in both the sixth and seventh. When his spot came up next in the bottom of the seventh, the Yankees sent Enos Slaughter up to pinch-hit for him. That would be the correct move as Slaughter drew a walk to set the stage for Bauer again.
With Don McMahon now pitching for Milwaukee, Bauer homered off the reliever, extending the Yankees’ lead to four runs. He now had three hits on the game and all four of the Yankees’ runs had been driven in by him.
The Yankees tasked Ryne Duren to pitch the eighth and he lost the zone a bit, walking two runners and throwing a wild pitch. However, he got out of the jam while keeping the Braves off the board. He settled down in the ninth and threw another scoreless inning to finish off a 4-0 win for the Yankees.
While the likes of Larsen also deserve an immense credit for the win, Bauer’s contributions cannot be overstated. Not only did he drive in all the runs, he accounted for thee of the four hits. The Yankees’ lineup had enough good hitters in it that someone might’ve driven home a run if he hadn’t, but as things played out, he was nearly solely responsible for the win on the offensive side of things.
The Yankees lost the next game, meaning that if Bauer, Larsen, and others hadn’t stepped up in Game Three, they would have been swept out of the series. Instead, the Yankees were just in a bleak spot down 3-1. That allowed them the possibility of a rally, which they did.
The Bombers won Game Five comfortably, before squeaking out a 10-inning win in Game Six. A four-run eighth inning broke a tie in Game Seven and allowed the Yankees to complete the comeback, winning the series 4-3.
Bob Turley won World Series MVP, likely for his performance on the mound. However, if it was awarded to a Yankees hitter, it probably should’ve been Bauer. In addition to his Game Two performance, he hit four home runs, and drove home eight of the Yankees’ 29 total runs. His 1.032 OPS was the highest of any Yankee who batted at least twice.
Hank Bauer’s performance in the 1957 World Series does not have the notoriety of Reggie Jackson’s, or the immediate visible impact of say, Joe Carter’s home run. However all things considered, it is one of the sneakily important performances in World Series history.