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Yankees history: 1928 and the lopsided, close pennant race

The 1928 Yankees needed every last one of their wins against their AL pennant competition.

Miller Huggins and Connie Mack

Wednesday’s win over the Blue Jays took the Yankees’ record to 22-8, and had them take a 4.5 game lead in the AL East at that time. While the Yankees have been good in general this year, they managed to open up that cushion thanks in part to their play against Toronto.

After finishing a sweep of the mini, two-game series, the Yankees have now gone 6-3 against the Blue Jays so far. Winning at a 67 percent clip against any team is good, but it’s especially good to do so against a team you will likely be competing with for the division and/or playoff spots. Flip even just one or two of those six wins into a Blue Jays victory, and that would make a noticeable difference in the standings.

Few, if any, seasons in Yankees’ history demonstrate how crucial a lopsided head-to-head record can be than 1928.

The 1928 Yankees followed up their famous “Murderers’ Row” 1927 season with another AL Pennant and World Series championship, but the race to get there was a lot tighter. Whereas the ‘27 team finished with a 19-game cushion in the AL standings, the ‘28 squad finished just 2.5 games ahead of the competition. They still put up a great win total at 101, but they didn’t manage to run away with things.

As you might expect, the ‘28 Yankees played very well against the AL competitors that finished near the bottom of the league. They went 16-6 against Cleveland and Boston, who finished seventh and eighth in the AL respectively. Add in a 15-7 record against the sixth-place Tigers, and they pretty much handled business against the teams they should’ve.

However, there is one more team they put a really good record against. The ‘28 Yankees also went 16-6 against the Philadelphia Athletics, the team that ended up finishing just 2.5 games behind them.

The two teams met on Opening Day in 1928, with the Yankees picking up two wins in two games against the A’s to start the season. Philadelphia returned the favor when the teams met a week later. Then in May, the Yankees took five of six games between the teams and slowly began to expand their lead in the AL. By June 9th, they were up 10.5 games, and after another six wins over the A’s, that number was 13.5 by July 1st.

However, the longer July went, the more the lead started to shrink. A 4-8 stretch to end July saw the margin drop to just 5.5 games. By the end of August, it was down to 2.5, and on September 8th, they lost the lead for the first time since April 29th.

All that happened because while the Yankees were treading water, the A’s were catching fire. From July 1st to September 8th, when they took the lead, they went 50-19, which would be a 117-win pace in a 162-game season.

Luckily for the Yankees, they had one series left against their main competition. Starting with a doubleheader on September 9th, the teams met in one last showdown at Yankee Stadium. Pitcher George Pipgras got them off to a perfect start, throwing a complete game shoutout in the series opener. That spurred them onto two more wins before the A’s got one back in the series finals. However, in continuing their good play against Philly that season, the Yankees went from a half-game back to 1.5 up. While the two teams wouldn’t meet again that season, the Yankees held onto their lead and never fell out of first again.

The Yankees’ final record against the A’s in 1928 was 16-6. Almost 16 percent of their wins on the season came against the team they were directly battling with for the pennant. If the season series had even just finished 11-11, the Yankees not only lose the pennant, they lose it by 7.5 games. You can’t be expected to put up an excellent record against one of the other best teams in the league, but the Yankees did it and pretty much needed every last win they got against them.

Hopefully, the 2022 Yankees won’t need that drastic a split against the Blue Jays or any other team they get in a race with.