November 5, 2007
You Could Look It Up
Sweepers, Part 2
In honor of the Red Sox and their four-game sweep of the Rockies, the 18th sweep in World Series history, I'm providing a capsule guide to the previous 17. At the end, we'll try to see where Boston's sweep fits in this gallery of postseason dominance. This is the second part; the first can be found here.
5. 1938: Yankees over Cubs
Combined Score: Yankees 22, Cubs 9
Upset Factor: None. The Yankees were going for their third straight championship. The Cubs had just snuck into the postseason. They won only 89 games, but upset the front-running Pirates in late September on player-manager Gabby Hartnett's "Homer in the gloamin'" and some clutch pitching by ace starter Bill Lee, a 10 WARP player that year. In the key September series with the Pirates, Lee relieved in the first two games and started the third, getting a complete game win. The Cubs were making their third World Series appearance of the 1930s. As next year will mark the 100th anniversary of their last championship, it is safe to conclude that they lost all three, including two sweeps at the hands of the Yankees.
Was the Series competitive despite the sweep? It was at first. The first two games were tight pitcher's duels, with Red Ruffing beating Lee 3-1 in the Series opener. The third game was 2-1 Yankees through five before New York pulled away, and although the Yankees went ahead early in Game Four, the Cubs narrowed the score to 4-3 through seven and a half before New York blew the game wide open in the bottom of the frame and went on to an 8-3 win.
Best game: Game Two at Wrigley Field. Lefty Gomez started for the Yankees against Dizzy Dean, the former Cardinals ace who was now in the Pedro Martinez 2006-2007 phase of his career-Dean posted a 1.81 ERA, but he could only make ten starts. Leadoff singles by Stan Hack in both the first and third innings set the Cubs up, and capitalized, leading 3-2 in the third. The score held there into the top of the eighth, when Dean finally ran out of gas. With two outs and a runner on, Dean just had to get past light-hitting shortstop Frank Crosetti to get out of the inning; Crosetti cranked a two-run homer to left. Dean came back to strike out Red Rolfe to end the inning, but the Yankees were now up 4-3. New York relief ace Johnny Murphy held the Cubs in the bottom of the eighth. Hartnett, a catcher whose value as player-manager definitely leaned on the player part, brought back Dean for the top of the ninth. Tommy Henrich led off with a single, Joe DiMaggio homered, and the Yankees led 6-3. Hartnett finally went to his pen for Larry French, and the inning was ended without further damage. In the bottom of the ninth, the Cubs had two runners on with two outs, but Hack had used up his mojo for the day, lining out to Crosetti to end the game.
Aftermath: As is revealed in our next entry, the Yankees came back in 1939 to win their fourth straight championship. The Cubs were on the old side, and as they didn't have much of a farm system, they couldn't reload. They finished fourth in 1939, then spent most of the next quarter century in the second division, with the exception of that war-time fluke pennant in 1945.
6. 1939: Yankees over Reds
Combined Score: Yankees 20, Reds 8
Upset Factor: None. By the time this Series was over it had been five years since the Yankees had missed a World Series, and three years since they had lost a World Series game.
Was the Series competitive despite the sweep? Yes. The Reds were a very good team, one put together by managerial great Bill McKechnie. They had a very good defense which accentuated the work of strong starting pitchers Paul Derringer and Bucky Walters, the latter a converted third baseman was voted the NL MVP after winning 27 games with a 2.29 ERA while also batting .325/.357/.433. Some of their glove guys could hit, too-the infield of first baseman Frank McCormick (9.4 WARP1), second baseman Lonny Frey (10.1), third baseman Bill Werber (8.8), and shortstop Billy Myers (8.3) had strong years with the stick. They were supported by catcher Ernie Lombardi, right fielder Ival Goodman, and midseason acquisition Wally Berger, a top power hitter who had the misfortune to be stuck with the Braves during the worst stretch of that franchise's history for the bulk of his career. Though the Reds lost in four straight, they were in three of the four games.
Best Game: It's tough to pick. The last game of the Series has gone down in history, but two others were quite good as well. Game Two should have been a mismatch in favor of the Reds, but would prove nearly historic for the Yankees. Walters faced off against Monte Pearson of the Yankees, a decent pitcher, but one as famous for complaining about phantom injuries as he was for winning games. The Yankees scored three runs in the bottom of the third, highlighted by Charlie Keller's RBI double. New York added another run in the bottom of the fourth on first baseman Babe Dahlgren's solo homer (this was the season where, early on, Dahlgren had taken over for Lou Gehrig). Meanwhile, Pearson was pitching a no-hitter. Through the top of the eighth, only one Red had reached base, and that on a walk. With one out in that inning, Lombardi singled over second to break up the no-hitter, but the Reds failed to score. The scenario repeated itself in the ninth, with Billy Werber singling but failing to score. Pearson had pitched a two-hit shutout in the World Series.
This contest has largely been forgotten because of Game Four at Crosley Field in Cincinnati. The Yankees' Oral Hildebrand started against Derringer, who was pitching on three day's rest. After six scoreless innings, the Yankees went up 2-0 on solo homers by Keller and Bill Dickey. The Reds were able to respond for the first time in the Series, battering Steve Sundra-who had replaced Hildebrand in the fifth-for three runs. Bucky Walters took over for Derringer in the top of the eighth and retired the Yankees in order. The Reds added another run in the bottom of the eighth to go ahead 4-2. Only the top of the ninth inning stood between them and a fifth game.
The Reds had no bullpen to speak of-the team had pitched 86 complete games in 154-so McKechnie stayed with Walters. Keller singled to lead off the inning, and DiMaggio singled to move him to third. Dickey followed with what might have been a double-play grounder, but shortstop Myers bobbled the ball. Dickey reached as Keller scored; the Yankees now trailed 4-3. After advancing to third on George Selkirk's fly ball, DiMaggio tried to come home on Joe Gordon's grounder to third. The throw came home and DiMaggio beat it, so game tied. The next two Yankees went down to end the inning. Yankees' closer Johnny Murphy retired the Reds in the bottom of the ninth, and the game went to extra innings.
Crosetti led off the tenth with a walk, and third baseman Red Rolfe bunted to first to move him into scoring position, bringing Keller to the plate with two on. He grounded to short, but Myers again bobbled the ball; the Yankees had first and third with only one out. Here's where things became unusual. Joe DiMaggio singled to right field, and Crosetti scored easily. 5-4 Yankees. Racing for third, Keller observed Goodman bobbling the ball. Keller turned and headed for home, and Goodman's throw arrived a split-second behind Keller. Catcher Lombardi lunged forward to field it, and...no one knows what happened next. You can view films of the play and still not be clear on what took place. Keller came in standing up. It seems as if his knee made contact with Lombardi as he ran past the plate. Perhaps Lombardi took a knee to the head; other sources say it was to the groin. The end result was the same-Lombardi momentarily blacked out, the ball rolled a short distance away, and the score was 6-4 Yankees. The gigantic Lombardi (6'3", 230 lbs) lay senseless, so DiMaggio kept coming. As Lombardi slowly recovered, he saw DiMaggio bearing down on him. He lunged for the ball, got it into his huge hands, and threw himself at the plate. He was going to beat DiMaggio, but Joe executed a perfect hook slide, the toe of his shoe skimming the plate just ahead of the tag, making the score 7-4 Yankees. The legend of "Lombardi's Snooze" was born.
The Reds staged a rally in the bottom of the tenth, putting two runners on base with none out against Grandma Murphy to bring the tying run to the plate. Murphy retired Lombardi for the first out. The potential of that potentially heroic, redeeming moment having passed, Murphy retired Al Simmons and Wally Berger for the Yankees' ninth consecutive win in a World Series game.
Aftermath: The Yankees finally missed the World Series in 1940, finishing a close third behind the Tigers and Indians. They would be back in the race in 1941, 1942, and 1943, winning twice. The Tigers' World Series opponents in 1940 would be the Reds, a team substantially unaltered from the year before; this time around, the Reds would emerge the champions in a closely-fought seven-game Series in what would be their last championship until 1975.
Tune in next week for the third part of the series on sweeps in the World Series.
Steven Goldman is an author of Baseball Prospectus.
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