Last minute, back-breaking losses in all sports hurt pretty bad, but there’s something worse about them in baseball.
Typically in baseball, you can see them coming somewhat. Your team has to be pitching and the other team has to get a bit of a rally going. Even if you have to start closer to the ninth, there’s always danger when a batter or two reaches base, even if you have the utmost confidence in the man on the mound.
A three-run home run in the bottom of the ninth in a game you were leading by two hurts different than, say, a buzzer-beating three-pointer in a basketball game your team was leading by two. At least then, the band aid gets ripped off. In the baseball equivalent, you probably have to sit through a couple agonizingly long at-bats, and then you get the gut punch.
In rare instances, there are times where your teams gets that gut punch, but then fights back. With those games in mind, let’s dig into the history books and look at three instance of that.
For this exercise, we’re going to be looking at the three worst individual performances according to Win Probability Added in games the Yankees still ended up winning. By definition, these are going to be games in which the Yankees blew a chance at finishing off a game they were on the verge of winning, only to then get their heads back on and bounce back and win. These are going to be some remarkable swings.
3. Vito Tamulis, -0.762, 5/25/35
The rest of the pitchers on this countdown all had their meltdowns extended over long, extended innings. Tamulis’ outing lasted just two batters, but it still nearly cost the Yankees a seemingly easy win.
With two outs in the top of the ninth, the Yankees led 6-2. After pitcher Johnny Broaca allowed an RBI single that put two runners on, the Yankees turned to Tamulis to try and get the last out. He issued one walk, and then allowed a grand slam to the St. Louis Browns’ Ed Coleman. Suddenly, they were in a 7-6 hole, having gone from a 97 percent chance to winning to just a 20 percent one.
After the inning finally ended, the Yankees quickly tied the game thanks to a Earle Combs single and an error on a Red Rolfe grounder. Three batters later, after two intentional walks, Tony Lazzeri singled, scoring a run and completing the comeback. Poor Tamulis didn’t even play in the game that long and still had arguably the worst performance in it.
2. Marshall Bridges, -0.815, 9/15/62
Having taken a 5-1 lead into the eighth inning against the Red Sox, the Yankees decided to hand the ball to Bridges to try and get through another inning in a straightforward win. Things would be anything but straightforward.
After getting a groundout to start the inning, the Red Sox went walk, reached on error, double, strikeout, reached on error, single, and a double, coming all the way back to take a 6-5 lead. It’s a little harsh on Bridges to pin it all on him since there were two errors, but WPA is a harsh stat. The Yankees had a 96 percent chance at victory when he came in, and just a 14 percent chance when he exited.
Down to their last three outs, the Yankees rallied back with a vengeance. They answered back with four runs in the ninth, led by Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, and Elston Howard all recording RBI hits. Jim Bouton had a much cleaner ninth inning, ensuring there wasn’t any more dramatics in an already dramatic game.
1. Sparky Lyle, -0.850 WPA, 8/27/72
Going into the eighth inning against the Royals, the Yankees were in total control. They were up 6-2 when they turned to Lyle with two on and one out in the eighth after Fritz Peterson had allowed one run to score earlier in the frame. They had a 99 percent win probability going into the inning, but after KC’s run, it was down to “just” 95 percent. However, the first batter Lyle faced was Lou Pinella, who homered, cutting the Yankees’ lead to just one run.
He bounced back to finish off the inning with the win probability now at 89 percent. Lyle then came back out for the ninth, but that went even worse. The Royals recorded four straight hits to start the ninth, scoring two runs, and chasing Lyle from the game. After entering the game with the Yankees at a 95 percent chance to win, they were down to just eight percent. The Royals tacked on one more run, going up two as the Yankees had just three outs left.
The Yankees were still down two and down to their last out after John Ellis grounded into a double play with two on and nobody out. Celerino Sánchez kept their hopes alive with an RBI single and two batters after that, Thurman Munson tied the game with another RBI single. That took the game to extra innings, where they stayed for quite a while. All the way in the 16th inning, a Horace Clark sacrifice fly scored a run to finally end the crazy game.