You can probably picture the final plays of several Yankees’ World Series appearances. They are the right type of notable to be played as part of highlights packages and montages for the rest of time. For the most part, the actual plays themselves aren’t always that notable. Shane Victorino grounding out isn’t especially notable, but him doing so to make the last out of the clinching Game 6 win of the 2009 World Series is.
However, there are some plays that have been the final ones of a clinching World Series game that circumstances turned into even notable beyond what they clinched.
The final out of the 1951 World Series is just listed as lineout to right field in the box score, but it was a bit wilder than that.
The Yankees took a 4-1 lead into the ninth inning of Game 6 thanks to a bases-loaded triple from their right fielder Hank Bauer that broke a 1-1 tie. To try and finish off the ninth, manager Casey Stengel sent out Johnny Sain, who had come in for starter Vic Raschi and thrown scoreless seventh and eighth innings. However, the Giants recorded three-straight hits off him, and Stengel decided to go to the bullpen and bring in Bob Kuzava. He got two fly outs in his first two hitters, but both scored runs, getting the Giants within a run and putting the tying run in scoring position. Kuzava then got Sal Yvars to hit a liner to right field.
Bauer appeared to briefly lose track of the ball before finally regaining sight in time to make a sliding catch to save the game and clinch the series.
If you were of an age to remember the 1996 World Series or just a regular watcher of the YES Network, you can probably visually picture the final out against the Braves that year. Charlie Hayes makes the catch of Mark Lemke’s foul pop up, setting off wild celebrations in the Bronx. However, you might not remember what happened the pitch immediately before that.
In the at-bat prior, the Braves had scored a run on a Marquis Grissom single, getting Atlanta within a run and putting the tying run in scoring position. Then in the count full, Lemke popped up a ball right around the visiting dugout. As Hayes tracked it down, a bat boy in the Braves’ dugout got in Hayes’ way, causing him to not make the play on what could’ve been a catchable ball.
In another universe, that comes back to haunt the Yankees and Lemke pokes through a single, tying the game, and allowing the Braves to win that game and the series. Thankfully, we’re not in that universe and Lemke simply did the exact same thing on the next pitch.
In the clinching game of this year’s NLCS, Trent Grisham laid down a bunt that didn’t exactly seem the smartest. While he was almost certainly attempting to bunt for a hit, it didn’t come off. With two runners on, it did move them both into scoring position, but it was also the second out of the top of the ninth inning and left the Padres down to their last out. They couldn’t drive home either runner and were eliminated after losing by just a single run. Forty-five years earlier, the Yankees were the beneficiaries of a bunt hit attempt that went wrong.
Lee Lacy was very clearly trying to bunt for a hit when he popped that one up because it couldn’t have been anything else. It was the last out of the game and there was nothing to sacrifice.
Now, this one probably didn’t change much. Sure, the Dodgers had runners on when Lacy popped up his bunt, but LA was trailing 8-4 with only one out left to work with. If it had worked, it would’ve brought the tying run to the plate, but the Yankees’ win probability still would’ve been massively high. Thankfully, there was no need to test that because Lacy’s bunt was not very good.
The Yankees were down to their last three outs and down 3-2 in Game 7 of the 1926 World Series against the Cardinals. While that situation is not ideal, the Yankees had the right part of the lineup set to come to the plate, with the top of the order set due up. However, Hall of Famer Grover Cleveland Alexander retired the first two hitters of the inning, leaving the game in the hands of some guy named Babe Ruth.
Alexander was cautious with Ruth, who had hit his fourth home run of the series earlier in the game, and issued a full count walk. Bob Meusel then stepped to the plate representing the possible winning run, but the game would not be decided by him. On one pitch of that at-bat, Ruth took off, attempting to steal second base. However, Cardinals’ catcher Bob O’Farrell fired down a throw to second baseman Rogers Hornsby, who tagged out Ruth for final out of the game and series.
Ruth stole over 100 bases over the course of his career, which isn’t terrible considering his reputation as a mountain of a man who only ate hot dogs and slugged dingers. However, he probably should’ve picked his spot better.
The 1927 Yankees are one of the most famous teams in baseball history. The “Murderers’ Row” team won 110 regular season games, averaging nearly a full run per game more than the next closest MLB team, while also allowing the fewest. They then swept their way through the Pirates in the World Series, but did get some help to finish off the clinching Game 4 win.
With the Yankees just a couple outs away, Pittsburgh rallied in the seventh inning to tie the game, where it remained until the bottom of the ninth. The Yankees began the ninth inning quickly against Pirates’ pitcher Johnny Miljus, putting two runners on thanks to a Earle Combs walk and a Mark Koenig single. With Ruth at the plate, Miljus threw a wild pitch, almost certainly trying to be careful with the slugger at the plate. That moved both runners up a base, at which point, Pittsburgh intentionally walked Ruth. The move started to work as Miljus then struck out both Lou Gehrig and Bob Meusel to get an out away from ending the inning. However on the second pitch to Tony Lazzeri, Miljus uncorked another wild pitch, sending it high and wide of catcher Johnny Gooch. The catcher’s desperate attempt to recover the ball came in vain as Combs made it home safely for the title-clinching run.
There have been several other walk-offs that have won the clinching game of a World Series, but the odds of there being another walk-off wild pitch can’t be very good.
New York Times, October 11, 1951
New York Times, October 11, 1926
New York Times, October 9, 1927