The time a Lou Gehrig walk-off HR capped a huge comeback!

I don’t have a particular reason to write a walk-off post on Lou Gehrig, other than that I thought that there would be a good story there. And there is.

On September 8, 1937, the Yankees and Red Sox played a doubleheader at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees won the first game in walk-off fashion, with Gehrig scoring the winning run on a hit by Myril Hoag. The second game is where the goodness lies.

The Red Sox were winning 6-1 going into the bottom of the ninth inning. The lead was built up by two RBIs from left fielder Buster Mills and three runs scored by Hall-of-Famer Jimmie Foxx. It was held by pitcher Jack Wilson, who had allowed only two hits through the first eight innings. The 1937 season was Wilson’s best. He went 16-10 with a 3.70 ERA. But there was a notable blemish in the form of this game.

Gehrig walked against Wilson to lead off the ninth inning, but the Red Sox moundsman was able to get two outs, sandwiched around a walk to Hoag. That’s when the floodgates opened. Don Heffner tripled in Gehrig and Hoag to make it 6-3. Pinch-hitter Bill Dickey doubled home Heffner to make it 6-4. Frankie Crosetti hit a ground ball to shortstop that Joe Cronin bobbled, then threw away, allowing a pinch-runner to score. Red Rolfe’s walk advanced Crosetti to second.

All the while, Wilson remained in the game. Wilson would later gripe that Cronin, the manager, didn’t know how to handle pitchers (this SABR bio
is well-detailed on that). Cronin was mad that he couldn’t get pitching help from his farm system because five of the teams needed pitchers for their playoff runs. We should point out that the Red Sox had not used a relief pitcher through 17 2/3 innings of the doubleheader.

So Wilson pitched to DiMaggio and DiMaggio did what DiMaggio does: he singled home the tying run. Finally, Cronin called on Tommy Thomas to come out of the bullpen to pitch to Gehrig. The 37-year-old Thomas entered the appearance with a 6.42 ERA. This would be the 397th appearance of a 398-game career.

However, perhaps there was a method to Cronin’s madness. Gehrig was 2-for-his-last-20 against Thomas, so perhaps this was an example of Cronin playing the matchup. It didn’t matter.

Gehrig homered to win the game. The Yankees tallied eight runs in the ninth inning to win, 9-6. The five-run deficit is the largest overcome in the ninth inning by the Yankees in a walk-off win against the Red Sox in the time for which full data exists on Baseball-Reference.com (since 1908).

Minutiae
On the same page as the game story in the New York Daily News are ads for home beer keg service ($2.50) and a shoe store offering a clearance sale on Oxfords with rubber soles for 79 cents.

Gehrig had only three walk-off home runs in his career, the other two coming in 1932 against the Indians and 1934 against the Indians. That’s the same number of career walk-off home runs as Brett Gardner.

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