If I asked you to name the most pivotal home runs in Yankees’ history, good or bad, you could probably rattle off a bunch fairly quickly. There are a bunch of notable plays of all types that had a massive impact that will probably come to mind quickly.
However, the crucial plays — the ones that stick in the mind — all tend to be of the fairly normal variety. It’s pretty rare that walk-off hits or outs to clinch a World Series come on unusual plays. Sure there are some famous errors, but other than that, it’s hard to think of a famous World Series catcher’s interference, for example.
However, those plays still do exist in high pressure situations. So, using Baseball Reference Stathead’s Championship Win Probability Added pivotal play finder, let’s find out what the most consequential weird plays have been.
If you’re unaware of Championship Win Probability Added (cWPA), it’s a statistic that aims to measure how much a given play adds or subtracts to a team’s chance at a championship. Playoff games and late-season pennant race games obviously tend to create the biggest cWPA plays, since they tend to have the most impact on potentially swinging a championship.
So, let’s start with the example I gave a couple paragraphs earlier: catcher’s interference. The most impactful in Yankees’ history helped the Bombers in the 1943 World Series. With the Yankees trailing 4-1 in the sixth inning in Game 2, Bud Matheny reached on CI thanks to Cardinals catcher Walker Cooper. It came with a runner on base, meaning the Yankees brought the tying run to the plate in a series they already led 1-0. It had a cWPA of 2.47 percent. In this instance, the “probability” part of CWPA was just that, as the Yankees scored no runs in the inning after that and ended up losing the game. They still won the series, however.
Nine years after that came the most influential balk in Yankees’ history. In a must-win Game 6, the Yankees went into the seventh inning trailing by a run, only for Yogi Berra to tie the game with a home run. Gene Woodling followed that with a single, bringing Irv Noren to the plate. During that at bat, Dodgers pitcher Billy Loes balked, increasing the Yankees’ championship hopes by 2.36 percent. This time, the play led to a win, as Woodling was singled home a few batters later. The Yankees went on to win 3-2 and then won Game 7 the next day.
In plays that hurt the Yankees, one player very famous player getting caught steeling dropped the Yankees cWPA by -10.22 percent and actually did end a season. In Game 7 of the 1926 World Series, the Yankees trailed the Cardinals by a run in the bottom of the ninth when Babe Ruth drew a two-out walk off future Hall of Famer Grover Cleveland Alexander. However during the next at-bat, he was thrown out attempting to steal second, ending both the game and series. Luckily for him, Ruth made up for it many times in the ensuing years.
In the 1962 World Series, another baserunning blunder harmed the Yankees, but not in the way you might think. Game 6 was scoreless in the fourth inning with the Giants put two runners on base. In the next at-bat, Whitey Ford then picked off Felipe Alou at second base. However, he then erred on the throw, allowing Alou to not only stay alive, but to score, with the other runner moving to third. In terms of cWPA, it cost the Yankees -7.15 percent. They did lose the game, but won the series in Game 7.
In the game prior, there was a wild pitch that positively influenced the Yankees. With the Yankees trailing 1-0 in the fourth, an errant pitch by the Giants’ Jack Sanford allowed the Yankees to score a tying run, and moved another runner to second. It added 5.89 percent to the Yankees’ championship chances. Interestingly, this was an even greater swing in cWPA than the wild pitch by Pirates righty Johnny Miljus that clinched a championship for the Yankees in 1927 when Tony Lazzeri crossed home plate. That one was a 4.59 percent swing but was less impactful in part because it was the final play of a nearly-decided sweep.
There are several other weird plays like the Miljus wild pitch that caused a decent-sized change in the Yankees’ championship hopes, but those aforementioned five were the ones that led the list.