While not as dominant as the famous 1927 “Murderers’ Row” team, the 1928 Yankees were no slouches. The final margin in the AL pennant race only ended up being 2.5 games over the Athletics, but the Yankees still racked up 101 wins en route to another World Series.
There, they would be matched up against the NL champion St. Louis Cardinals, who themselves were in a tight race. St. Louis won 95 games, which was just two ahead of the second place Giants. Their win set up a rematch of the World Series from two years earlier, where the Cardinals won in seven games. The series ended after Babe Ruth was thrown out at second for the final out in the ninth with the Yankees trailing by just one run. The Yankees had gone to another level the year after, but having some excitement about the rematch would certainly have been warranted.
The 1928 World Series started in New York, with two fairly straight-forward Yankees’ wins. The series then shifted to St. Louis for Game 3, where the Cardinals had the chance to hold serve themselves, getting three-straight games at home. They started off that run in perfect fashion, opening up a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first on a Jim Bottomley RBI triple.
Lou Gehrig answered back by leading off the top of the second with a home run, and then gave the Yankees the lead with an inside-the-park-er that also scored Ruth in the fourth. That would later be answered by the Cardinals in the fifth when Andy High doubled home a run to tie the game. That set the stage for the top of the sixth, and a sequence that would change the game, and very possibly the series.
Mark Koenig led off the top of the sixth for the Yankees with a single, but he was quickly erased on the basepaths after Ruth grounded into a force out at second. A Gehrig walk gave the Yankees two baserunners as Bob Meusel then came to the plate. Meusel grounded one to third, where Cardinals’ third baseman High fielded and threw to Frankie Frisch at second. Frisch got Gehrig out on the force play, but the two also collided. The collision caused Frisch’s throw to first for a possible double play to be errant, leading to Ruth to head home.
Bottomley, the Cardinals’ first baseman, recovered the ball and got it home before Ruth, but another collision pried the ball lose from St. Louis catcher Jimmie Wilson. After Wilson got the ball, he threw it to second with Meusel headed there. However, Frisch was still down, leading to another error on Wilson, his second of the play. When the dust settled on the play, the Yankees had a 4-3 lead and a runner on second with just one out in the inning. Before the inning was over, the Yankees tacked on two more runs, both unearned, to stretch their advantage to three runs.
In the seventh, the Yankees got another run on a Ruth RBI single. That one was also unearned as the runner, Cedric Durst, had reached base thanks to an error on St. Louis left fielder Chick Hafley.
Meanwhile, the Yankees’ starting pitcher, Tom Zachary, had settled down after the Cardinals had tied the game back in the fifth. The only real trouble he got in after that came when St. Louis’ first two hitters of the eighth inning both singled. However, Zachary then got Wilson to add to his very bad day by grounding into a double play. Zachary threw four scoreless innings to end the game, sealing a 7-3 Yankees’ win. The final margin of four runs ended up being the exact same amount as the number of unearned runs the Yankees scored on the day.
That also put the Yankees up 3-0 in the series, and they were never losing from there. Two days later, the Yankees came back from a 2-1 deficit by scoring a total of six runs over the seventh and eighth innings. Another 7-3 win in Game 4 would see the Yankees clinch their second-straight World Series and third title in franchise history.
At the same time, who knows what happens if the wild play in the sixth inning of Game 3 doesn’t play out like that? Maybe the Cardinals end up winning that game. Vibes wise, pulling out a close win to make a series 2-1 with two more home games to come probably feels a lot better than being down 3-0 to the defending champions. A Yankees team led by prime Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig with a 2-1 lead should probably still win two times in four chances, but hey, they play the games for a reason.
So, sure, you probably can’t say that one play changed the entire trajectory of the 1928 World Series. However, the Yankees also absolutely benefitted from the Cardinals seemingly briefly losing their minds.
New York Times, October 8, 1928