Blowing a decent sized lead in the top of the ninth inning cannot be a good feeling. You were just a couple outs away from a win and now suddenly have to get your heads back in the game. If you’re lucky, the opposing team only tied the game and you just need to push across one run to win. If you’re unlucky, suddenly you have to rally yourselves.
On September 4, 1916, the Yankees were on the more fortunate end of blowing a ninth inning lead. For one, their opponent only tied the game and also stranded some runners on base, missing a chance at the lead. They were also lucky in how they were then gifted a winning run.
The Yankees were theoretically still in the AL pennant race going into September 4, 1916, as they were six games back of the Red Sox team they were set to take on that day. The teams were set to play a doubleheader that day, and Boston took the opener in comfortable fashion. The Red Sox won 7-1 with some pitcher named Babe Ruth throwing a complete game for Boston.
In the second game of the day, the Yankees sent Bob Shawkey to the mound. While he allowed one single in the second and two walks in the third, he got through the first couple innings scoreless, allowing the Yankees’ offense to then strike.
The first four Yankees’ batters reached in the bottom of the third thanks to three hits and a Red Sox error on a sacrifice bunt attempt. Roger Peckinpaugh and Fritz Maisel recorded RBI hits in the inning, while a third run scored on a Joe Gedeon groundout.
With a lead, Shawkey then went to work. He proceeded to retire the next nine hitters he faced, and then worked around baserunners in both the seventh and eighth innings. While his offense was unable to add any more support in the meantime, it seemed like the Yankees were on their way to a much-needed victory.
The 4-5-6 hitters were due up for Boston in the ninth, as the Yankees stuck with Shawkey to try and finish things off. Things didn’t start ideally as the Dick Hoblitzell recorded an infield single. After a walk to pinch-hitter Chick Shorten, Shawkey did induce a groundout. However, it only got the out at first, with both runners moving into scoring position.
Jimmy Walsh then brought them both home with a double, getting Boston on the board. Pinch Thomas then immediately followed that with a single, and just like that the game was tied. To make matters worse, Yankees’ left fielder Hugh High made an error on the throw in, allowing Thomas to go all the way to third. With the go-ahead run 90 feet away, the Red Sox sent in Mike McNally as a pinch-runner for Thomas.
With the pitcher’s spot due up, Boston used Del Gainer as a pinch-hitter. Gainer appeared to have gotten the job done as he hit a fly ball to right field. However, Yankees’ right fielder Rube Oldring made the catch and then fired home to double up McNally at home plate. While the game might’ve now been tied, the Yankees had at least prevented Boston from taking the lead. That ended up being an important distinction.
For the bottom of the ninth, Boston made a pitching change and sent future Yankee Carl Mays to the mound. With the pitcher’s spot due up in the order, the Yankees countered and used Home Run Baker as a pinch-hitter. In a sign of things ahead, Mays let a pitch get away from him and hit Baker, giving the Yankees the winning run on base.
Mays quickly bounced back by getting a force out grounder at second and a fly out, to put himself on the verge of ending the inning. Looking to get something going, Lee Magee — who had grounded into the force out — stole second, and then moved to third on a Peckinpaugh single. After Peckinpaugh stole second himself, the Red Sox intentionally walked Wally Pipp to bring Maisel to the plate. During the at-bat, Mays sent down a pitch that got past Red Sox catcher Forest Cady, allowing Magee to race home safely, and give the Yankees a wild 4-3 win.
Give the Yankees some credit for getting their heads back on straight for the bottom of the ninth, but that is quite an assist they got.
New York Times, September 5, 1916