Tag Archives: Boston Red Sox

The night Reggie Jackson won an epic Yankees-Red Sox game

Before Reggie Jackson was Mr. October, he was Mr. September.

I’m referring to a classic game between the Yankees and Red Sox from September 14, 1977. The Yankees had a 2 1/2 game lead over Boston and a 3-game lead over Baltimore in the division race, with 17 left to play (the Red Sox had 18, the Orioles had 19).

It was the middle game of a three-game series, the Yankees having won the night before. The younger generation doesn’t remember this game, but for fans a little older than I am, I imagine it’s an instant classic.

For the first eight and a half innings, the game was dominated by great defensive plays, of which Jackson had two including one that might have been a home run robbery, and missed opportunities, of which the Red Sox had many. The Red Sox were 0-for-5 with a man on third base in this game against Ed Figueroa, with the outs coming from Carl Yastrzemski (twice), Butch Hobson, Carlton Fisk, and Fred Lynn. The most frustrating of those was Lynn’s bases-loaded no-outs double play in the fifth inning.

The score stayed even until the bottom of the ninth when Thurman Munson singled. The next at-bat was a second-guessers delight on a couple of fronts. On the Boston side, many wondered why Don Zimmer stuck with Reggie Cleveland instead of going to top reliever Bill Campbell to pitch to Reggie Jackson. On the Yankees side, Jackson being asked to bunt, not once but twice, was a puzzle. He hadn’t bunted in a regular season game since the 1972 season.

The bunt sign came off by the time the count was 3-2 and Jackson followed with a 430-foot walk-off home run. It was the kind of moment the Yankees paid big money for when they signed him.

“We’re going to win the pennant,” said Yankees manager Billy Martin to the media afterwards. “I never doubted that. This is the kind of team that rises to the big occasion.”

None was better at that than Jackson, from whom the postgame comments (recorded by Michael Farber of the Bergen Record) were priceless.

“It’s like a fairy tale,” Jackson said. “It’s exciting. You feel everybody loving you. Everyone appreciating you … The more talent someone has, the more someone gets involved and the more he needs to be appreciated … Steinbrenner gave me a lot of bread. I went for the money. I went to New York and tonight was a situation in which I almost had to do something. In the on-deck circle, I prayed to God to let me hit one out and that I would tell everyone you did it. I hit it right on the screws, right on the joy spot.”

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A walk-off binds Babe Ruth and the 1919 White Sox

Babe Ruth hit 12 walk-off home runs. I like the first one the best.

It came in the final home date of the season for the 1919 Red Sox, who failed to defend their World Series title. They were playing the White Sox, the team that was about to dethrone them as AL champs (and the team that would later deliberately lose the World Series to the Reds). The White Sox needed only one win in these two games to clinch the pennant.

But while there would be a celebration in Fenway Park that day, it would not be one for the visiting team.

The Red Sox took an early 3-0 lead in a game that Ruth started on the mound. He couldn’t hold it. He moved to left field with the score 3-3 in the sixth inning. The score stood that way until the home ninth when Ruth faced Lefty Williams (one of the “8 Men Out”).  Ruth’s opposite-field home run, over the high fence in left field ended the game. The ball was said to have gone through a window in a building across Landsdowne Street.

Wrote James O’Leary of the <em>Boston Globe:</em>

“…the efforts of the Roman populace were only murmurs compared with the vocal explosion with which upward of 31,000 baseball fans expressed their feelings at Fenway Park yesterday afternoon when Babe Ruth made his 27th home run of the season. Nothing like this demonstration was ever heard in Rome or anywhere.”

The home run being the 27th was notable in this regard. It tied the single-season record for home runs set by Ned Williamson of the Chicago White Stockings in 1884 (that was a fluke record – Williamson never hit more than nine home runs in any other season in his 13-year career).

In-between games, Ruth was honored by the Knights of Columbus for his remarkable season (little did they know, he’d be headed elsewhere in the offseason). Both teams participated in the ceremony (which I find fascinating). Ruth also donated the bat with which he hit the homer to the Liberty Loan Newsboys’ Association where it was to be auctioned for a memorial fund for a newsboy killed in World War I.

The second game didn’t feature a walk-off, but the <em>Globe</em> tells a story that I deem worth repeating. Ruth thought he had the record-breaking home run in that game, but umpire Bill Evans said the ball landed in play, then bounced a short fence in the outfield, behind which a few thousand people were crowding in. The paper describes an argument that took place later between the umpire and “a sergeant of the military guard” who brought with him a written statement from a fan saying that call should have been a home run.

“It would be well for you to attend to your police duties and leave the umpiring to me,” Evans said.

Ruth hit the record-breaking home run at the Polo Grounds a few days later against the Yankees.  This one was a game-tying home run in the ninth inning. This too was a mammoth shot, described by W.O. McGeehan of the <em>New York Tribune</em> as both the first ball to clear the right field roof of the Polo Grounds and the longest home run ever hit (!)

The 1919 White Sox clinched the AL pennant that same day. They would be bonded by their shared celebrity for the moment, but there was much more ahead for the Bambino and the Black Sox. That story had not yet been written.

Ruth minutiae

-Babe Ruth hit 5 of his 12 walk-off home runs against the White Sox. That included two in a three-day stretch in 1922 and a grand slam when down by three runs in 1925.

Ruth broke his home run record again in 1920. After finishing 1919 with 29 home runs, he walloped 54 in his first season with the Yankees. That time he tied the record with a walk-off home run against the St. Louis Browns and broke the mark with a home run against … the White Sox.

Note: If any of this was covered in Jane Leavy’s or Leigh Montville’s biographies of Ruth … I don’t have either book. This was just something I noticed that I thought was cool

A Ted Williams walk-off story that you may not have heard

Continuing along with my plan to share fun and interesting walk-off stories this winter.

This is a good day to talk about Ted Williams, both from a historic perspective for Veterans Day, and a baseball perspective with the Rookie of the Year awards announced on Monday night (Williams’ 1939 is an all-time great rookie season).

If you know your Ted Williams history, you know him for two walk-offs. The home run that ended the 1941 All-Star Game and the home run that ended his career (not an actual walk-off, but his goodbye at-bat).

But I don’t ever remember reading or hearing about any other Williams walk-offs. The reasons for that are probably that the Red Sox didn’t have a championship team during his tenure, and that, relatively speaking, Williams didn’t have that many walk-off RBIs. He totaled seven, including two home runs (by comparison, David Ortiz had 17 with the Red Sox, including 10 homers).

My hunch is that the best of those came in the one pennant-winning season of Williams career, 1946. The way the Red Sox started that season told you they could be something special. They opened 5-0 on the way to a 104-50 mark. The fifth of those wins was a bonkers opening game of a doubleheader against the Philadelphia Athletics on April 21.

The Red Sox have had many improbable victories in their heralded run of success from 2003 to 2018. This game would have fit right in.

Boston had one of its ace pitchers, Boo Ferriss, on the mound, but this was not his day at all. He allowed two home runs in the first inning and seven runs in the first three frames, before being pulled. The Red Sox trailed 7-0 all the way into the bottom of the sixth inning.

Now, the Red Sox were fortunate in that they were facing an Athletics team that finished 49-105. The Red Sox took advantage, scoring five times in the home sixth, though Williams’ contribution was incidental, a walk that kept the line moving, so to speak.Teammates Johnny Pesky, Rudy York and Catfish Metkovich (what a name!) had RBI hits.

However, the Athletics responded with three runs in the top of the seventh, and another in the top of the ninth to extend their lead to 11-5. The ninth inning ended with Williams throwing George McQuinn out at the plate after a fly ball hit by future Hall-of-Famer George Kell.

No one knew it at the time, given that Boston’s deficit was six runs, but that turned out to be an important play, as was a home run robbery by Metkovich in the eighth inning (h/t Boston Globe for that detail). Reason being, the Red Sox launched an improbable rally in the bottom of the ninth.

Williams’ role was a bases-loaded single that scored two runs, chopping the deficit to 11-8. The next two batters after Williams made outs, but Metkovich (Catfish!) tied the game with a three-run home run.

The Athletics could not score in the top of the 10th and the Red Sox went to work to try to win in the bottom of the inning. With one out, weak-hitting pitcher, Joe Dobson, singled and Dom DiMaggio reached on an error. With lefty Johnny Pesky up, A’s manager Connie Mack brought in southpaw Porter Vaughan. This was Vaughan’s only appearance of the season, his first appearance in an MLB game since 1941 (he served in the Army in World War II) and in fact, the final one in his MLB career. He was in a heck of a predicament with two Red Sox on base and Williams looming.

Vaughan walked Pesky, trapping him into having to pitch to Williams with the bases loaded. Williams singled to center, scoring Dobson and giving the Red Sox a supremely unlikely victory. The Philadelphia Inquirer called the Athletics’ loss “a sad shocking affair.”

Soon thereafter Vaughan had an arm injury and retired from baseball, though I’m happy to note he had a highly successful career in real estate in his hometown Richmond, Virginia (the link goes into greater detail).

Williams went on to be arguably the greatest hitter who ever lived.

Ted Williams minutiae
– There’s another connection between Vaughan and Williams. In 1941, Williams entered the final day of the regular season trying to finish the season with a .400 batting average. Williams was hitting .3995 entering a doubleheader with the Athletics.

In the first game of the doubleheader, Williams went 4-for-5 as the Red Sox rallied from 11-3 down to win. That included two hits in two at-bats against Porter Vaughan. Williams went 6-for-8 in the doubleheader to hit .406. No one has hit .400 since.

Eerily, Vaughan and Williams faced off in two games. In each one, the Red Sox rallied from way behind to win, 12-11.

– Williams mauled the Athletics, hitting .353/.500/694 against them (he mauled every team). His 91 home runs against the Athletics were his most against any team.

– Williams is one of three players to hit an All-Star Game walk-off home run, along with Stan Musial (1955) and Johnny Callison (1964)