We are well and truly into clinching time in MLB. Several teams, including the Yankees, have locked up playoff spots and division titles. While there’s still some races that need to be decided, every day we get a clearer and clearer look at the playoff picture.
While they steadied themselves in the end, for a while, the Yankees were in a bit of trouble at points of the playoff race. After leading the division by as many as 15.5 games, a September 9th loss dropped the Yankees’ edge to just 3.5. That loss, and the following two games were against the second place Rays. The Yankees would win the next two games to get some breathing room, but had they lost them instead, the lead would been just 1.5, and we would’ve truly been into a scary time.
One-hundred years ago in 1922, a Yankees team had a similar scare, even deeper into the year.
Coming off their first ever AL pennant in 1921, the Yankees spent much of ‘22 trading the lead in the AL back and forth. For most of the season, their main competition was the St. Louis Browns. Over two series, one in late August and the other in mid-September, the Yankees took five of seven off St. Louis, giving them a very slight edge in the race. They ended the September series up 1.5 games, and then reeled off another five-straight wins. That put the Yankees up 4.5 games with just five games left, and with four left for St. Louis. All they had to do was not fall apart and win one game. For a while, it looked like that might not happen.
The Yankees’ September 23rd win over Cleveland took them to 4.5 games up, but their series against them was not over just yet. They wrapped it up the following day, but things did not go great. Despite six hits, Cleveland kept the Yankees off the scoreboard, with pitcher George Uhle throwing a complete game shutout. Bob Shawkey threw six shutout innings himself, but Cleveland scored three in the seventh and kept the score there. The Browns won the same day, cutting the lead to 3.5 games.
Next up for the Yankees was a trip to Boston. They got several off days in between, not playing from September 25-27, finally resuming on the 28th. The Browns had an ever longer gap, and they wouldn’t be in action until the 29th.
When the Yankees resumed action, they quickly fell behind Boston, allowing a run in the second inning. However, they immediately answered in the top of the third, however after that, things started to look like their previous game. The Yankees recorded just one hit over the final six innings, eventually losing 3-1 to drop their AL lead to three games with three left.
Things didn’t get any better in game two of the Red Sox series. Jack Quinn, who the Yankees had traded to Boston the previous offseason, held his former team to no runs on five hits. Meanwhile, the Browns won, meaning the AL race was still very much alive. Worryingly, the Yankees had now scored just one run in 27 innings, 28 if you include the game before the losing run started.
Needing something, anything really, the Yankees started the September 30th game in the perfect fashion. The top four in the order — Whitey Witt, Joe Dugan, Babe Ruth, and Wally Pipp — recorded four-straight singles off Red Sox starter Alex Ferguson to open the game. A Bob Meusel sac fly then allowed the Yankees to open up a 3-0 lead with only one out on the board. The offense didn’t add any more runs to the score from there, but those three would be enough. Across eight innings from Waite Hoyte and one from Bullet Josh Bush, the Yankees allowed just one run. That gave them not only a win in the game, but in the AL pennant. While St. Louis had also won that day, the Yankees now led by two games with just one remaining. The trip to the World Series was theirs.
The win would be especially important as the Yankees would lose the following day, leading to the final margin being just a single solitary game over St. Louis. Across the Yankees’ final five games of the season, they scored just five runs. That would be a sign of things to come, as they would then score just 11 runs over five games of the World Series, losing to the Giants 4-0, with one game finishing tied due to darkness.
Say whatever you will about the Yankees’ struggles that led to the close calls this season, they weren’t exactly “nearly messed up a 4.5 game lead with a week left” bad.
New York Times, October 1, 1922