The Yankees’ 10 Most Memorable Games
October 18, 1977: Reggie! Reggie! Reggie!
The Yankees would end a 15-year championship drought in 1977, but not without enduring through a memorably tumultuous season—and certainly not without first-year New York star slugger Reggie Jackson, the unapologetic ego who was often in the middle of the tumult.
Having clashed all year with teammates and (especially) confrontational manager Billy Martin, Jackson was ready to make it all up the best way he could: By using his bat. Before Game Six of the World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Jackson drove 35 batting practice pitches into the Yankee Stadium seats and felt as good as he ever had prior to a game. He would magnificently leverage that vibe to the game itself.
Jackson walked in his first at-bat against starter Burt Hooton in what would be the wisest move by a Dodger pitcher all evening. When Jackson reappeared against Hooton in the fourth inning with the Yankees trailing 3-2, he took the first offering and slammed it over the fence for a two-run shot, knocking Hooton out of the game and giving New York a one-run lead. An inning later, he repeated the feat against reliever Elias Sosa, hammering his first pitch into the bleachers. When he next returned to the plate in the eighth against knuckleballer Charlie Hough, the crowd was buzzing with chants of “Reggie! Reggie! Reggie!” Jackson would not disappoint, meeting the anticipation with yet another first-pitch home run—this one well beyond the center field fence, into the closed-off bleacher spaces reserved for the hitter’s background. Jackson circled the bases and answered the thunderous curtain call of the fans, yelling out to them, “Thank you! Thank you!”
The three home runs in one game tied Babe Ruth’s Series record (he did it twice) and set the mark for most homers in a series with five. Aided by Jackson’s theatrics, Yankees starter Mike Torrez went the distance and defeated the Dodgers, 8-4, wrapping up a big-budget world title earned by, not so arguably, the most contentious Yankee team ever compiled.
October 8, 1956: The Perfect Game
Going into Game Five of the 1956 World Series, only three perfect games had been thrown through the 20th Century—and none in 34 years. No one was certainly anticipating such a feat in a contest featuring two rock-solid offenses in the Yankees and Brooklyn Dodgers, and certainly no one would have expected one from a guy like Don Larsen.
Larsen was a hard-throwing, hard-drinking pitcher struggling with control and success; just two years earlier, he had finished 3-21 for the Baltimore Orioles. He was as wild off the field as he was on it, once given the ultimate backhanded compliment from Mickey Mantle as the “greatest” drinker he ever knew. In 1956, Larsen split his time between the rotation and bullpen, finishing the year with a respectable 11-5 record and 3.26 ERA. But in his first start of the World Series against the Dodgers, he lasted barely more than an inning, allowing four runs on a hit and four walks.
Three days later, Larsen got his second shot at the Dodgers. He threw first-pitch strikes. He was sharp. He was in control. When the Dodgers seem to connect, the ball seemed to find a Yankee glove or the foul side of the foul pole. Jackie Robinson had the best chance of the day to reach base when his sharp grounder eluded third baseman Andy Carey—but a deflection off Carey’s glove went right to shortstop Gil McDougald, who threw out the speedy Robinson. Mantle hit a solo home run in the fourth and Hank Bauer hit a run-scoring single two innings later; that was more than enough support for Larsen.
Having retired the first 24 batters he faced, Larsen took the mound for the ninth, surviving Carl Furillo’s deep fly to the warning track and Roy Campanella’s routine grounder for the first two outs. That led to pinch-hitter Dale Mitchell, a tough-hitting veteran with a great eye who worked the count to 2-2—then took a borderline strike three call from umpire Babe Pinelli (calling his last game). Catcher Yogi Berra sped to the mound and jumped into Larsen’s arms in celebration, and one of baseball’s most unlikely performances had been cemented.
October 1, 1932: The So-Called Shot
Even before the first pitch of the 1932 World Series between the Yankees and Chicago Cubs had been thrown, the two teams had already made it one of the most acrimonious matchups to date: The Cubs were out to prove that Yankees manager Joe McCarthy, unceremoniously dumped by Chicago three years earlier, was not up to the task of winning baseball’s big prize as was hinted when he was with the Cubs, while the Yankees were infuriated over the treatment of former Yankee and current Cub Mark Koenig, dissed out of a full World Series share by his new teammates. When play began, both teams were in no mood for congeniality, barking one profane taunt after another towards each other within easy earshot of horrified fans.
The Yankees won the first two games of the series at New York and came to Wrigley Field for Game Three. The first two Yankees batters reached by error and walk, and Babe Ruth made the Cubs and starting pitcher Charlie Root pay by sending a three-run shot over the wall. Lou Gehrig added a solo homer in the third, but the Cubs stayed tough, tied the game against Yankees starter George Pipgras and entered the fifth with newfound confidence, as reflected when they stepped up the taunting on Ruth as he re-approached the plate with one out; the heckling only intensified when Root took the count to two strikes. But being intimidated was a foreign concept to the mighty and relaxed Ruth, who self-assuredly looked to the Cubs bench and pointed a finger towards the mound. Root remembers Ruth saying, “You still need one more, kid.” Others insist he was pointing to center field to let everyone know where the next pitch would be hit.
There was no argument over what happened next. Ruth crushed Root’s next pitch exactly where he had allegedly predicted it would go, to Wrigley’s center-field bleachers. As he circled the bases, Ruth waived off the Cubs’ bench, which even after the titanic blast continued to ride him hard. If that didn’t quiet the Cubs, Gehrig followed next with a home run of his own, and the Yankees were on their way to a 7-5 win and a four-game sweep.
Ruth’s “Called Shot” remains as controversial as it does legendary; opinions from those then and now differ widely as to what the Sultan of Swat truly meant when he raised his finger towards center field. Curiously, Ruth seemed taken aback by reporters’ questions when asked about it after the game and, years later, even admitted to a few others that he didn’t call the homer—adding that it did make for one hell of a story.
October 1, 1961: Maris’ Asterisk
For much of the 1961 season, New York teammates Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle were dropping deep flies over the outfield fences at record rates and were closing in on one of baseball’s most hallowed records: Babe Ruth’s season home run record of 60 in 1927. To the eyes of the omnipresent Gotham media, Mantle was the hero in pursuit, Maris the relative villain—the young Midwesterner who hated the big city atmosphere of New York, the new kid in town who hadn’t plied his trade long enough in pinstripes. That he lacked a warm and fuzzy façade with the press didn’t make matters any better; if that wasn’t burden enough, commissioner Ford Frick decreed at midseason that, because of the American League’s increased 162-game schedule, any record set after the 154th game—the old season standard—would be denoted in the record book with a “distinctive mark,” an asterisk.
By early September, injuries doomed Mantle’s chances to catch Ruth, leaving Maris all alone in the race for 61. He failed to get there by the Yankees’ 154th game, finishing the day at 59. But four days later Maris tied Ruth’s mark and, on the final game of the season at home against Boston, he stepped to the plate in the fourth inning and launched the record breaker into the right-field seats—a solo shot that would be the only tally in the game. Because fans so used to the 154-game schedule frowned on an achievement accomplished playing eight more games, the intensive light that had shined on Maris was now dim. Yankee Stadium was at one-third capacity for the game; after Maris’ 61st homer, no one stopped the game, and no ceremony ensued. Those in the Stadium demanded a curtain call, and Maris literally had to be forced out by his teammates to do so. Ford Frick, who had rained on Maris’ parade with the distinctive mark, was not at the game.
October 2, 1978: Denting the Red Sox
Down 14 games to first-place Boston in mid-July, the Yankees embarked on one of the game’s greatest comebacks down the stretch to tie the Red Sox after 162 games and force a tie-breaking playoff to decide the AL East title. The role of hero would not be afforded to scene-stealing Reggie Jackson, 25-game winner Ron Guidry or popular supporting stars Graig Nettles and Chris Chambliss. It would go, instead, to the lightest of light-hitting infielders to be found on the New York roster: Bucky Dent.
The Red Sox took a 2-0 lead on friendly Fenway Park territory through the first six innings, but the Yankees began rallying in the seventh with one-out singles from Roy White and Jim Spencer. That brought up Dent, battling bad knees and justifying his number nine spot in the lineup with a .125 average over his last 20 games. Expecting a bunt or an attempt for a seeing-eye single somewhere through the infield, Boston pitcher Mike Torrez and the rest of the Red Sox were shocked when Dent swung away—and lifted a high fly into the Fenway jet stream, up and over the Green Monster for an unreal three-run shot that put the Yankees ahead to stay. New York added two runs’ worth of insurance (including a solo homer by Jackson) and held off a late Boston rally to take the division on their way to a second straight world title. Dent’s name would be cursed for generations in Boston, and the loss only perpetuated the legendary curse said to be laid on the Red Sox nearly 60 years earlier when the team sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees.
October 9, 1996: The Kid is Alright
The notion of home field advantage was taken to extremes for Game One of the ALCS between the Yankees and Baltimore Orioles thanks to a 12-year-old kid from across the river in New Jersey who decided to skip out of school at lunch and get a first-row seat behind the right-field wall at Yankee Stadium.
A pair of solo home runs by the Orioles’ Brady Anderson and Rafael Palmeiro helped give Baltimore a 4-2 lead through the first six innings off Yankees starter Andy Pettitte. In the seventh, New York closed the gap to one when Darryl Strawberry (who would have a terrific series in the midst of his career downslide) drew a bases-loaded walk. An inning later, with one out and no one on, Yankee rookie shortstop sensation Derek Jeter strode to the plate to face flame-throwing Orioles reliever Armando Benitez; Jeter lifted a high deep fly to right, and Baltimore outfielder Tony Tarasco backed up to the wall and was sizing up what was expected to be a close catch—but then suddenly, the ball was gone, scooped out from over the fence by the glove of Jeffrey Maier, the 12-year-old from Jersey. Tarasco immediately pointed upward to argue interference, but umpire Richie Garcia, patrolling the right-field lines, disagreed and ruled it a home run. Orioles manager Davey Johnson argued bitterly, but all he got out of it was an ejection. With full video replay still some 20 years away, there was nothing else Baltimore could do about the blown call.
With the game taken into overtime, the Yankees nearly won it with the bases loaded and one out in the 10th, but future New York manager Joe Girardi lined into a double play; an inning later, Bernie Williams led off and punched out a no-doubt-about-it homer to win the game, 5-4. As Maier made the media rounds the next day, the Yankees leveraged his serendipitous catch towards a series victory in five games, returning to the World Series for the first time in 15 years. Meanwhile, few tears were shed for the Orioles; many saw the Maier incident as a case of poetic justice after Baltimore star second baseman Roberto Alomar was controversially allowed to perform in the playoffs despite his notoriously spitting assault on umpire John Hirschbeck in the regular season’s final weekend.
October 14, 1976: Return to Glory
The decisive fifth game of a spirited ALCS between the Yankees and Kansas City Royals—the first of three straight championship series between the two teams—was played with equal vigor and conquered in a single moment amid mob-like euphoria at Yankee Stadium, ending a 12-year pennant drought for the Yankees.
The Royals struck first with John Mayberry’s two-run homer in the first, but the Yankees equalized in the bottom of the inning when the first three batters each knocked out hits to send Royals starting pitcher Dennis Leonard to a very early (if not premature) exit. After the Royals tallied once in the second to retake the lead, New York seized it right back in the fourth with two runs, and scored twice more in the sixth when the top four batters in the Yankee lineup (who accounted for all 11 of the team’s hits) came up and appeared to put the game in secure position. But in the eighth, Royal star hitter George Brett—who had yet to knock in a run in 12 games against the Yankees for the year—blasted a three-run, tape-measure homer off reliever Grant Jackson and into the Stadium’s third deck to tie the game at 6-6.
The contest remained tied in the bottom of the ninth for leadoff hitter Chris Chambliss, who wasted no time; he belted the first pitch delivered by Mark Littell over the right-field wall to seal the game and the pennant, sending hundreds of delirious Yankees fans streaming onto the field, overcoming the helpless batch of New York’s Finest; Chambliss was tackled by an overzealous fan at second, ran into a scrum of fans at third (where he couldn’t even find the base) and somehow made it home—but to make sure, he came out afterward under police escort and touched the last two bases to make the game official.
April 18, 1923: The Stadium Opens
Proving that the Yankees had become the gold standard in baseball, the franchise spent less than a year and $2.5 million erecting Yankee Stadium, a monstrous palace that housed some 20,000 more seats than the next largest major league facility, and ended 10 years of tenancy at the Polo Grounds, home of the New York Giants. None of the Stadium’s 74,000 seats would be empty for the first game ever played there on a crisp, sunny Wednesday afternoon.
Appropriately, the Yankees’ opponent on the day would be the Red Sox, who helped feed the Yankee macro-machine by shipping their best players for common players and lots of cash to, in turn, feed Boston owner Harry Frazee’s devotion to creating a hit on Broadway. The game was scoreless until the bottom of the third, when the Yankees rallied and scored the first run as starting pitcher Bob Shawkey (who had reached on a fielder’s choice) came home on a Joe Dugan single. With two runners on, up came Babe Ruth—who launched an impressive line-drive home run into the right-field seats. Up 4-0, the Yankees coasted to the end, with Shawkey allowing only a run-scoring triple by Norm McMillan in the seventh.
The Yankees would actually draw fewer fans (barely one million) in their first year at the Stadium than each of their three previous seasons at the Polo Grounds, but it was their ballpark, a monument to the emerging Yankee greatness that would largely be sustained throughout the 86 years of the facility’s existence.
October 23, 1996: Return to Glory II
Having dispensed of Baltimore in the ALCS, the Yankees focused on winning their first world title in 18 years against an Atlanta team possessed with juggernaut-like precision, winning its five previous games (including the first two games of the World Series against New York) by a combined score of 48-2. A major momentum shift was needed, and the Yankees got it, for the moment, in Game Three with a 5-2 win; but that appeared to be nothing more than a temporary tease when they fell behind 6-0 in Game Four. That notion ceased starting in the sixth inning at Atlanta.
It all began with some luck. Derek Jeter hit a pop fly down the right-field line, and although it appeared playable for Atlanta outfielder Jermaine Dye, he found umpire Tim Welke in the way and couldn’t make the catch. The play ignited a three-run rally that re-awoke the Yankees; two innings later against Braves closer Mark Wohlers (sent in early for a two-inning save), the Yankees placed two men on with one out and Jim Leyritz, who entered the game in the sixth, walloped a high home run that cleared the left-field fence to tie the contest.
The Yankees nearly won it in the ninth, loading the bases after the first two batters were retired—but started another two-out rally in the 10th that did lead to paydirt, as Wade Boggs walked with the bases loaded ahead of insurance from a Ryan Klesko error that brought home another run. Yankee closer John Wetteland, who would save all four wins for New York, nailed down the Braves in the bottom of the 10th, and the Yankees would win the next two games to overcome the early Atlanta edge and take home the first of three straight World Series trophies.
October 2, 1949: Bye Bye Birdie
The Yankees and Red Sox, eternal rivals in arms, knocked heads once again at the end of a regular season with the Yankees at a disadvantage; New York had to win both games of a weekend series against Boston to take the AL pennant. They survived the first game, and barely—overcoming an early 4-0 Red Sox lead to win 5-4 on an eighth-inning home run by Johnny Lindell.
For the winner-take-all affair on Sunday, the Yankees had voluminous chalkboard incentive courtesy of Boston catcher Birdie Tebbetts, who early in the Saturday game (with the Red Sox cruising) taunted Yankees hitters as they came to the plate, crowing about the Red Sox’ celebration party to come. On the mound, two 20-game winners went at it: Ellis Kinder for the Red Sox, Vic Raschi for the Yankees. New York scratched first when Phil Rizzuto led off the first with a triple and scored on a Tommy Henrich grounder. The game stayed 1-0 all the way to the eighth inning when the Yankees began beating up on the Boston bullpen, relieving Kinder after he had been unsuccessfully pinch-hit for in the top of the frame. Henrich started the carnage with a solo homer and Jerry Coleman capped it with a three-run double that increased the Yankee lead to 5-0. Raschi lost the shutout—and nearly the game—in the ninth as the Red Sox rallied for three runs, but clamped the AL flag down when, fittingly for the Yankees, Tebbetts’ popped a foul for the final out.
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