In Game 3 of the World Series between the Phillies and Astros, some history was made. The Phillies slugged five home runs off Astros starter Lance McCullers Jr., who became the first pitcher to ever allow that many in a World Series game. One of them in particular was especially notable, and that was Alec Bohm’s in the second inning. The reason for the notability is that it was the 1,000th in World Series history.
As you could guess, Yankees hitters are responsible for a lot of those 1000. In fact, they’ve hit more than a fifth of them, having slugged 216. Babe Ruth started things off, hitting the first in Game 4 of the 1921 series, while Hideki Matsui’s in Game 6 of 2009 is as of now, sadly, the most recent. Going through the list of all of them got us thinking about which ones were the most important.
To do that, I sorted them by Championship Win Probability Added. If you’re unaware, cWPA is a stat that measures each play by how much they added to or subtracted from a team’s chances at winning the championship. This is simply a list of the top five according to that metric, if you’re wondering why such and such home run didn’t make it. As you might be able to figure out, game-changing home runs that came in a key conjuncture of a series tend to have led to the biggest changes in cWPA. With that in mind, let’s look at the top five.
1. Yogi Berra +34.32% cWPA (Game 7 vs. Pirates, 1960)
In what’s going to be become a bit of a trend, the most significant home run in Yankees World Series history according to cWPA came in a series the Yankees ended up losing.
The 1960 World Series is fairly infamous for the Yankees vastly outscoring the Pirates but still losing the series. The aggregate final score might’ve been a tad bit closer had Berra not come up with a massive home run that put the Yankees just a couple outs away from a title.
Through five innings, the Yankees were trailing the winner-take-all Game 7 against Pittsburgh 4-1. In the top of the sixth, the first two Yankees hitters got on, chasing Pirates starter Vern Law from the game. After Roy Face got one out, he then allowed a single to Mickey Mantle that scored one run and brought Berra to the plate. With two runners on, he homered into the second deck at Forbes Field, putting the Yankees in front with just 12 outs to go.
As you may know, the Yankees couldn’t hold that lead, losing it in the eighth on catcher Hal Smith’s three-run bomb (the biggest in MLB history per cWPA). After tying the game in the top of the ninth, Bill Mazeroski led off the bottom of the ninth with a walk-off home run, winning the World Series for the Pirates, and sadly upstaging Berra’s heroics.
2. Tom Tresh +24.29% cWPA (Game 5 vs. Cardinals, 1964)
Four years later, Berra was the Yankees manager for another massively important World Series home run that eventually came in a losing effort.
After splitting the first four games of the series, the Yankees were tasked with having to face Cardinals ace and baseball legend Bob Gibson in Game 5. For eight innings, Gibson had the Yankees’ number, allowing four hits and two walks but no runs as St. Louis nursed a 2-0 lead. Down to their last three outs, the Yankees got a break when Mantle reached on an error to start the inning. However, Gibson retired the next two hitters, leaving the game in the hands of Tresh. The Yankees’ left fielder was about a league-average hitter in 1964, but he came up huge, homering off Gibson to keep the game alive.
Instead of going down 3-2 in the series, the Yankees were now a run away from taking a crucial lead.
However, that did not happen, St. Louis promptly scored three runs in the 10th, and Gibson bounced back with a scoreless bottom half of the inning, giving the Cardinals a 5-2 win. While the Yankees did force a Game 7, Gibson came back on just a couple days rest and helped the Cardinals finish off the series.
3. Scott Brosius +24.19% cWPA (Game 5 vs. Diamondbacks - 2001)
The Yankees were down 2-0 and on the verge of going down 3-2 in the series when the 1998 World Series MVP Brosius stepped to the plate with a man on. Just the night before, the Yankees had rallied off Arizona reliever Byung-Hyun Kim, with Tino Martinez tying the game in the ninth and Derek Jeter becoming Mr. November with a walk-off in the 10th. They couldn’t do the same thing the very next day, could they? Well ...
For the second-straight night, Yankee Stadium was sent into madness after a massive game-tying home run. Alfonso Soriano hit a walk-off single in the 12th, and the Yankees took a 3-2 lead in the series, a win away from taking a fourth-consecutive championship. The series then shifted to Arizona where ...
4. Alfonso Soriano +23.12% cWPA (Game 7 vs. Diamondbacks - 2001)
The Yankees lost Game 6 in Arizona, and were held in check for six scoreless innings in Game 7. Trailing 1-0, the Yankees finally broke through thanks to a Martinez RBI single in the seventh, tying things up. In the eighth, Soriano stepped to the plate, looking to be a hero once again.
The future All-Star’s homer gave the Yankees a late 2-1 lead, needing just six outs for a title. After that, [REDACTED].
5. Johnny Mize +21.47% cWPA (Game 5 vs. Dodgers - 1952)
To finish up, we finally have a home run from a World Series that the Yankees won, but ironically, it came in a game that they lost.
The Yankees and Dodgers split the first four games of the 1952 World Series. Brooklyn then opened up a 4-0 lead in the fifth inning of Game 5, which was set to be the final one of the series played at Yankee Stadium.
Dodgers pitcher Carl Erskine had mostly cruised through the first couple innings, but ran into some trouble in the fifth. After a walk and a single, Irv Noren drove in the first Yankees run with a single, and then another scored on a Gil McDougald ground out. After Phil Rizzuto got on with a single, Erskine got the massive out of Mickey Mantle, getting him to pop up in foul territory. That brought up Johnny Mize. The first baseman did not let the potential series-swinging moment go to waste, homering to put the Yankees in front.
The Yankees couldn’t hold onto that lead and eventually lost in extra innings. However, they did go on to win both Games 6 and 7 in Brooklyn to rally and win the series.