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The most important plays in Yankees regular season history

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These four plays had an extremely large impact on the Yankees’ championship chances.

Johnny Lindell Sanding Bat

Everyone reading this can probably name the big playoff moments in Yankees history. From Babe Ruth’s “called shot” to Aaron Boone’s ALCS walk-off, those moments are ingrained into Yankee fandom.

However, you don’t end up in the playoffs without getting there via the regular season. There are important regular season moments, they understandably don’t get quite as much shine as a big playoff hit or strikeout. Let’s give them some.

Using Championship Win Probability Added (cWPA) and Baseball Reference, here are what have been determined to be the four biggest regular season plays that have positively changed the Yankees’ chances at winning a championship.

Also, before anyone asks, the Bucky Dent home run or anything else from game 163 in 1978 aren’t under consideration. Those technically get included as part of the regular season when they happen, but they aren’t regularly scheduled at the start of the year. These games were all part of the standard 162, 154, or whatever number games they were supposed to play.

With that said, let’s see what moments turned out to be quite important.

1. October 1, 1949

With two games left to play in the 1949 regular season, the Yankees trailed the Red Sox by a game. As it happened, the two teams would be matched up in those two games. That put the Yankees’ fate in their own hands, but they also had no room for error.

In the first game, the Red Sox opened up a 4-0 lead, but the Yankees battled back, scoring two runs in both the fourth and fifth innings. After the game was tied, the teams started trading zeros, with neither team putting a runner past second base in the sixth or seventh innings.

It looked like the eighth was going to be the same when Joe Page threw a scoreless frame for the Yankees, followed by Joe Dobson retiring the first two Yankees in the bottom of the inning. Johnny Lindell then stepped to the plate, and hit a solo home run, giving the Yankees a 5-4 lead. It had a quite large 31 percent increase in WPA in the game. However, it also had a massive 8.47 percent increase in cPA.

More on these two teams in a second.

2. September 18, 1922

With 13 games left in the season, the Yankees led the St. Louis Browns just half a game in the AL pennant race. They kicked off those last 13 games by heading out to St. Louis to face off with the Browns in three pivotal games.

They split the first two, meaning the third would be for first place. Down to their last six outs, the Yankees trailed 2-0. In the eighth, Wally Pipp got them on the board with a two-out RBI single that score one run. The following inning, they loaded the bases with one out, prompting the Browns to bring in their ace and former and future Yankee Urban Shocker.

Shocker responded by getting a force-out at home on a grounder, putting the Browns one out away from the AL lead. However, next up was Whitey Whitt, who singled home two runs, giving the Yankees their first lead all day. Whitt’s big hit was worth 6.67 percent cWPA.

The Yankees hung on in the game and in the pennant race. The World Series didn’t go as great, as the Giants won the series, 4-0, with one game finishing in a tie.

3. October 2, 1949

The day after Lindell’s home run, the Yankees and Red Sox had another tight contest, this time in a winner-take-all game.

The Yankees scored one run in the first, and then clung to that lead for most of the game. In the eighth, Tom Wright drew a one-out walk, bringing Dom DiMaggio to the plate for Boston. Vic Raschi got him to ground into an inning-ending double play, a 6.47 percent cWPA boost.

The Yankees tacked on four runs in the bottom of the eighth, allowing them to withstand a rally attempt by the Red Sox in the ninth inning. The win clinched the AL pennant, and they went on to bat the Dodgers in the World Series.

They don’t get there without a pair of very important plays from Lindell and Raschi.

4. September 20, 1951

The Yankees were tied with Cleveland and 3.5 up on Boston with 10 games left in 1951. However, they were in danger of taking a loss to the fourth-place White Sox on September 20th.

After falling behind 2-0, only to then even the score, the Yankees then put just two runners on from the second through the seventh innings. Meanwhile, the White Sox had opened up a 4-2 lead.

In the eighth, Phil Rizzuto led off with a single to center, and after a fly out, Mickey Mantle drew a walk. That brought Joe Collins to the plate. The first baseman then went deep, belting a three-run home run to give the Yankees the lead after they hadn’t done much for so long. It was a dinger worth 5.88 percent cWPA.

The Yankees closed out the win and won seven of their last nine to get past Cleveland and Boston. They added a World Series title over the Giants to complete the season.