In the past couple weeks, the Yankees have suffered some unfathomably brutal losses.
On June 30th (or really the early hours of July 1st), Aroldis Chapman blew a four-run lead in just a third of an inning. The Yankees eventually allowed seven runs in the inning and lost the game after a long day that included multiple rain delays. Just last Sunday, Chad Green couldn’t hold a five-run lead against the Astros, costing the Yankees a much-needed sweep in Houston.
Not to mention that in between those games, the Yankees allowed six runs in the seventh and final inning of the first game of a doubleheader against the Mets. In that game, they “only” had a one-run lead heading into the inning, so the blown lead wasn’t quite as big. However, it was still very annoying.
Let’s ignore those games for a second. Instead, let’s go way back into the history books and look at what arguably is the Yankees’ most remarkable ninth inning comeback.
Heading into July 14, 1926, the Yankees were comfortably ahead in the AL pennant race, but had been in a bit of a funk. Since the start of that July, they had gone 4-12. What had been a ten-game lead at its peak was down to six. That included a series-opening loss to a .500ish Tigers team the day before.
The Yankees got the game on the 14th off to a better start, as they scored a run in the first inning. However, they recorded just one hit and one walk over the next seven frames. As that was happening, the Tigers kept putting runners on base in nearly every inning, and eventually cashed in for six runs.
Down 6-1 going into the bottom of the ninth, the Yankees had exactly who you would want to see due up. Babe Ruth was set to lead off the inning, with Lou Gehrig on deck. However, while Gehrig drew a walk, Ruth struck out before him. Earle Combs came up third and flew out, leaving the Yankees down to their final out. At that point, the Yankees win probability was below one percent, and even that seems high.
Tony Lazzeri kept the game alive with a single, and an error on the play allowed Gehrig to go to third. Then, the fun really began. Joe Dugan, Pat Collins, and Mike Gazella followed that with a single each. All three hits scored a run, and the Yankees suddenly brought the tying run to the plate.
That run also knocked Tigers pitcher Earl Whitehill out of the game. Up to that point, Whitehill had pitched 8.2 fairly great innings, but it wouldn’t matter for anything considering what happened next.
Hooks Dauss came in for Whitehill and allowed a stolen base and a walk, which not only loaded the bases, but put the tying run in scoring position. Mark Koenig then came to the plate and delivered, adding another single. It scored two runs, tying the game and completing the comeback. The Yankees had been down five runs and were down to their last out in six consecutive plate appearance, and yet still managed to tie the game. Somewhat ironically, it was Gehrig who actually made the last out of the inning and kept the Yankees from winning in the ninth. That wouldn’t be the case a couple innings later.
In extra frames, the Tigers threatened more, but Yankee pitcher Garland Braxton managed to strand runners at third two separate times. That kept the game tied at six for the bottom of the 12th, where Koenig, Ruth, and Gehrig were again due up.
Koeing led off the inning with a single, but he was erased on the basepaths when Ruth grounded into a force out at second. That brought Gehrig to the plate. The Yankees’ first baseman hit one down the line in left. By the time Tigers left fielder Bob Fothergill fielded it and threw it, Ruth was already headed for home. He successfully scored all the way from first, as Gehrig raced into third with a walk-off triple. If just one at-bat had gone slightly different in the ninth inning, the Yankees would’ve lost. Instead, they pulled off one of the more remarkable comebacks ever.
In terms of win probability, the 0.19-percent mark that the Yankees come back from is actually only in fourth place in Yankees’ history. The biggest-ever comeback in terms of WPA was one in a 1933 game against the White Sox, where they were down 11-3 in the eighth and ended up scoring 12 runs in the inning and winning 15-11. They were down to just a 0.12-percent chance of winning in that one. However, the margie of error of doing it all while down to your last out — as they did in 1926 — just feels way smaller.
New York Times, July 15, 1926