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How the Yankees won their first AL pennant

The Yankees got some, uh, help, as they clinched their first ever AL pennant.

Yankees Salute The Flag Photo by FPG/Getty Images

After coming up three games short the year before, the Yankees were locked in another tight AL pennant race in 1921. They trailed the Indians for most of the season before holding the lead for most of September. Then, from September 16-25, the two teams traded the lead twice and were tied on three occasions.

That culminated in a series between the two where the Yankees took two of three to open up a two-game lead. Three days later after the teams played separate opponents, the lead was up to 2.5. On September 30th, Cleveland won while the Yankees had the day off, cutting the lead to two games. At that point, they only had two games to play while the Yankees had three. All it would take was any win or Cleveland loss to clinch the franchise’s first pennant. Especially considering that two of the Yankees’ three games were against the last place Athletics, it was unlikely that they would mess things up.

They didn’t, but the fashion in which they clinched things happened in close to the most amusing way possible.

On October 1st, the Yankees hosted the A’s in their first chance to clinch the pennant. They struck first in the third inning, when Elmer Mays drove home a run with a triple. However, the A’s struck back with three runs in the fourth. Meanwhile, Babe Ruth, who was in what would arguably be the second-best season of his career, was held in check in his first three at-bats, stranding runners in the first two.

The Yankees added a run in the fifth when Wally Schang stole home while Elmer Miller stole second. They scored the tying run in the next inning in an even more amusing fashion. With two outs in the sixth, Wally Pipp kept the frame alive with a single.

During the next at-bat, Pipp attempted to steal second. The ensuing throw to second from catcher Cy Perkins was errant and flew into center field, allowing Pipp to go to third. Center fielder Frank Welch fielded the ball and attempted to throw Pipp out at third, but his throw was errant too. Thanks to one hit and two errors on one play, the Yankees had tied the game.

In the seventh, Mike McNally led off for the Yankees by drawing a walk, bringing Schang to the plate. He singled. In the ensuing running of the bases, Welch made yet another errant throw. That one allowed McNally to score, giving the Yankees the lead. They tacked on one more in the inning to go up 5-3. A’s pitcher Jim Sullivan was dinged with just two earned runs, fewer than the amount the eventual winning pitcher allowed.

Yankees’ ace Carl Mays threw two perfect innings to close things out, and the Yankees officially clinched their first AL pennant. They lost the World Series to the Giants, but it was the beginning of the first Yankees’ dynasty. Just two years later, they came out on top to win the franchise’ first championship.

Elsewhere, Cleveland lost to the White Sox, meaning the Yankees would have clinched that day even if they hadn’t come back against the Athletics. That being said, considering all the championships the Yankees have won in their history, it’s funny to think about how the first major success came about because their opponent just could not stop screwing up.