Round of 16 action in our All-Time Yankees Fantasy Showdown is under way and the teams in the Ruth region didn’t disappoint.
For the uninitiated, we’re using Out of the Park Baseball 21 to stage a simulated tournament between the Yankees’ best teams to see who reigns supreme. You can check out summaries of other first-round action here, here, and here.
Let’s get to it.
(1) 1927 vs. (4) 1951
It took seven games for the legendary “Murderer’s Row” team of 1927 to defeat their close cousins, 1926, in the first round of our fantasy tournament. Similarly, the fourth-seeded 1951 squad, which featured a soon-to-retire Joe DiMaggio and a rookie Mickey Mantle, went the distance against 1956’s team before prevailing.
In this second-round matchup, 1951 got off to a quick start, winning Game One 5-3 on the back of a three-RBI game from the Yankee Clipper. Game Two was a pitcher’s duel between Eddie Lopat and Waite Hoyt, with 1927 edging their ’51 counterparts 2-1. From there, “Murderer’s Row” won the next two games to take a 3-1 series lead. Down but not out, Allie Reynolds and Joe Ostrowski threw a combined one-hit shutout to stave off elimination for ’51.
Game Six was a classic, going 14 innings. Heading into the eighth inning, 1951 were up 4-0 and seemed poised to force a decisive Game Seven. Starter Eddie Lopat had successfully stifled 1927’s bats the way Reynolds and Ostrowski had done the previous game. But “Murderer’s Row” began to stir in the bottom half of the eighth, with shortstop Mark Koenig lining a one-out single to center field before third baseman Joe Dugan smashed a double to right, scoring Koenig and chasing Lopat from the game. Two batters later, with two outs and the left-handed Ostrowski on in relief, second baseman Tony Lazzeri jacked a two-run shot to left to pull ’27 within one.
After an uneventful top of the ninth, Ostrowski returned to close the game out. But he faced the heart of 1927’s lineup: Ruth, Gehrig and Bob Meusel. Ruth led off with a single to left. Gehrig bounced out to second base, but crucially, Ruth was able to advance safely to second. Meusel followed that up with an infield single that put Ruth on third with one out. Catcher Pat Collins lofted a fly ball to left and Ruth was fleet-footed enough to score on the sacrifice fly, knotting the game at four.
There the game sat until the bottom of the 14th, which once again began with Ruth leading off, this time against lefty hurler Art Shallock. Babe drew a walk, which brought another pitching change for 1951. Southpaw Bob Kuzava came in to face Gehrig, who grounded to short. Rizzuto flipped to McDougald at second to retire Ruth, but they couldn’t double up Gehrig at first. Meusel lined a single to right, which Pat Collins followed up with a walk to load the bases. Mark Koenig, a journeyman infielder who played with five clubs in his 12-year career and amassed just 7.1 bWAR in that time, capped off a unlikely series-winning performance with a sac fly to left, which scored Gehrig and sealed an Elite Eight berth for his 1927 team.
It was Koenig’s lone RBI, but his .417 average was the best on the team and garnered him series MVP.
(6) 1958 vs. (7) 1996
Both the 1958 and 1996 teams came into the Round of 16 riding high off dramatic first-round upsets. Mickey Mantle’s ’58 squad overcame Babe Ruth’s ’23 team; Jeter’s ’96 outlasted DiMaggio’s ’41. On paper, this matchup looked wide open and it absolutely was. It also featured a mind-boggling ending.
The ’58 team got out of the gate first, winning Game One by a 3-1 margin. Both starters – Andy Pettitte for ’96 and Whitey Ford for ’58 – pitched well. The ’96 bullpen was a different story, and this would become a critical theme throughout the entire series. After Pettitte guided his team to a 1-0 lead through six innings, he handed the ball to Jeff Nelson, who surrendered the tying run in the seventh. Mariano Rivera came on in the eighth, but got touched up for two runs that proved decisive.
Ninety-six answered back emphatically in Game Two, winning 7-1, but the third game bore a troubling resemblance to Game One for Joe Torre’s boys. Up 6-4 in the top of the ninth, Torre turned the ball over to closer John Wetteland (who in real life, it should be noted, faces horrific child sex abuse charges and is awaiting trial). Wetteland quickly surrendered a leadoff homer to third baseman Andy Carey, then walked Yogi Berra before first baseman Bill “Moose” Skowron went opposite field for a two-run shot. Just like that, ’58 had stormed back to take the lead and they’d close out a 7-6 victory.
Undaunted by the two blown saves, ’96 won Game Four convincingly, 7-3, with contributions up and down the lineup. But ’58 hit back with a 6-2 victory in Game Five to take a 3-2 series lead. Faced with elimination, 1996 came through with a narrow 3-2 win, but once again, the bullpen struggled: Rivera conceded a run in the eighth and Wetteland followed suit in the ninth. Though they’d forced a Game Seven, Torre’s confidence in his pen was undeniably shaky. And that would manifest in the final game.
The starting pitcher matchup for Game Seven was laced with irony. Don Larsen, who in 1956 pitched the only perfect game in World Series history, faced off with David Cone, who tossed his own perfecto in 1999. Who tossed out the first pitch before Cone’s masterpiece? Don Larsen. Neither was perfect on this day, however. Cone gave up three runs in five innings of work; Larsen surrendered four (three earned) in 5.1 innings.
By the end of seven innings, 1996 held a 5-3 lead. And the bullpen performance following Cone was … actually fine. David Weathers, Jeff Nelson and Graeme Lloyd all contributed scoreless frames heading into the ninth. But this is where things get weird. As noted earlier, 1996’s two top relievers – Wetteland and Rivera – had gotten roughed up in the series, and both had pitched the night before. Perhaps simulation Torre was simply spooked, or wary of 1958 sending three lefties to the plate in the ninth. Maybe it was a bit of both, because his next decision was stunning: he placed the responsibility of closing out the game, and the series, on … Kenny Rogers!
The southpaw Rogers had actually started Game Four, giving up three runs (two earned) in four innings. But he was apparently Torre’s guy in this spot.
Things started out fine. Rogers struck out Marv Throneberry. But then he surrendered back-to-back doubles to Tony Kubek and Norm Siebern. 5-4.
Elston Howard then struck out, moving ’96 to within an out of the Elite Eight. Mickey Mantle stepped to the plate and Rogers wanted no part of him, walking him on four pitches. With runners on first and second, Andy Carey was 1958’s last hope. And he came through, singling to right to drive Siebern home and tie the game 5-5. Another save had been blown and 1996 was now teetering on the edge of elimination. Obviously, Torre would make another call to the bullpen to restore order and fight it out in extra innings.
Rogers stayed in to face the lefty-swinging Yogi Berra. Yogi, with a flair for the dramatic, deposited Rogers’ 1-0 offering into the right field seats. Walkoff three-run homer. Fifty-eight moves on.
Berra was the hero of the game, but Mantle earned MVP honors, hitting .500 with two homers and five RBI.