Obstruction, pick-off take place alongside most bizarre finishes in World Series history
Games 3 and 4 of this year’s World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals were the first ones ever in the Fall Classic to end on an obstruction call (Game 3) and a pick-off (Game 4). You can’t get any more rare than “first ever,” but in the entire 629-game history of the World Series (not counting ties), just 13 other games ended on a play that wasn’t a conventional out, ground-ball double play or a hit. What’s more, none of them came in the same World Series, never mind in consecutive games. Here they are, in chronological order.
1909 Game 6: Strike-’em-out/throw-’em-out double play
The Pirates had a 3-games-to-2 lead on the Tigers entering Game 6 of the 1909 World Series but trailed 5-3 in the top of the ninth at Bennett Park when they began to rally. A pair of singles to start the inning were followed by an error by Detroit first baseman Tom Jones on a bunt attempt, allowing the lead runner to score and putting the tying run on third base and the winning run on first with no outs. Jones made amends by getting an out at home on George Gibson’s subsequent grounder.
That left the tying and winning runs on first and second with one out for pinch-hitter Ed Abbaticchio, but Pittsburgh’s hope of winning the Series then and there evaporated when Abbaticchio struck out with the runners going and Chief Wilson was thrown out at third by Tigers’ catcher Boss Schmidt for the final out of the game. It remains the only time a World Series game came to an end on a strikeout/caught stealing double play. Undeterred, Pittsburgh crushed Detroit 8-0 in Game 7 to win the title.
1911 Game 3: Tying run caught stealing
The 1911 World Series between the New York Giants and Philadelphia Athletics was tied at one game apiece heading into Game 3, which was even at 1-all going into extra innings. In the top of the 11th, the Athletics scored twice against Giants ace Christy Mathewson, but New York rallied in the bottom of the inning. A double, a groundout and an error by Eddie Collins, Philadelphia’s Hall of Fame second baseman, made it 3-2 with two outs and Beals Becker on first base representing the tying run. With leadoff man Josh Devore at the plate, Becker was caught trying to steal second by A’s catcher Jack Lapp to end the game. The Giants lost the series in six.
1914 Game 3: Walkoff E1
Everything seemed to go right for the 1914 Boston Braves, a team that was in last place on July 18 but rallied to win the National League pennant and then sweep the World Series. They went 72-19 (.791) from July 6 through the end of the Series, earning the nickname the Miracle Braves.
The final play of World Series Game 3 against the Athletics was, if not miraculous, at least fortuitous. With the game tied 4-4 in the bottom of the 12th, Braves catcher Hank Gowdy led off with a ground-rule double. After an intentional walk to set up a force play, Herbie Moran attempted to bunt the runners up. A’s starter Bullet Joe Bush, in his 12th inning of work, tried to get lead runner Les Mann (who had pinch-run for Gowdy) at third base, but threw wildly, allowing Mann to score the winning run. Boston completed the sweep the next day.
1918 Game 3: Tying run thrown out trying to score on passed ball
The Red Sox led the Cubs 2-1 in the bottom of the ninth of another tiebreaking Game 3 in 1918. After two groundouts, Chicago second baseman Charlie Pick singled and stole second, putting the tying run in scoring position for pinch-hitter Turner Barber. When one of infamous submariner Carl Mays’ pitches to Barber went past Boston catcher Wally Schang, Pick got too aggressive and became caught in a rundown between third and home. Schang tagged him out to end the game, and the Red Sox won the Series in six. The Cubs have still not won a World Series since 1908.
1921 Game 8: Series-ending TOOTBLAN
TOOTBLAN is a popular acronym for Thrown Out On The Bases Like A Nincompoop, and that’s exactly how second baseman Aaron Ward brought an end to the first World Series in Yankees history.
In the last Fall Classic to be a best-of-nine, the Yankees trailed the Giants, their landlords at the Polo Grounds, 4-games-to-3 heading into Game 8. Trailing 1-0 in the bottom of the ninth, the only run of the game having scored on a first-inning error, Ward drew a one-out walk. Frank “Home Run” Baker followed with a hard ground ball between first and second. Giants second baseman Jimmy Rawlings made a diving stop to his left to retire Baker, but Ward, thinking Baker had singled into rightfield, kept running and was thrown out at third by an across-the-diamond throw from first baseman George Kelly, sealing the championship for the Giants.
1926 Game 7: Babe Ruth caught stealing
One of the most famous final outs in World Series history came in the bottom of the ninth of Game 7 of the 1926 Fall Classic between the Yankees and Cardinals. New York trailed 3-2 but had the bases loaded with two outs in the seventh when the great — and on this occasion allegedly hungover — Grover Cleveland Alexander came out of the bullpen to strike out Tony Lazzeri and strand all three runners. The 39-year-old Alexander worked a perfect eighth and got the first two outs of the ninth before walking Babe Ruth to put the tying run on base for the heart of the Yankees’ formidable order.
Then the unimaginable happened. With Bob Meusel at the plate and Lou Gehrig on deck, Ruth tried to steal second to get into scoring position but was thrown out easily by Cardinals catcher Bob O’Farrell. World Series over. Cardinals win, the first of their 11 championships.
1927 Game 4: Wild pitch plates Series-winning run
Famous as Ruth’s failed steal attempt is, few remember the wild end to the next year’s World Series, despite the fact that it crowned a team many consider one of the greatest ever, the 1927 Yankees.
That’s likely because the Murderers’ Row Yankees, already heavy favorites, swept the Pirates that year. Still, the fourth game was tied 3-3 heading into the bottom of the ninth. New York centerfielder Earl Combs led off with a walk and moved to second on a bunt single by shortstop Mark Koenig. Both runners then moved up on a wild pitch by Pittsburgh reliever Johnny Miljus, who had entered the game in the seventh inning. With first base now empty, Miljus completed an intentional walk to Ruth, then struck out Gehrig and Meusel, bringing Lazzeri to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs.
Lazzeri, who struck out against Alexander in that situation in the final game of the previous year’s World Series, didn’t get a chance to make contact here. Miljus fired another wild pitch off catcher Earl Smith’s glove, allowing Combs to trot home with the Series-winning run.
1936 Game 5: Tying run caught stealing
The Yankees were leading the Giants 3-games-to-1 heading into Game 5 of the 1936 World Series but trailed 5-4 going into the bottom of the 10th inning. Bill Dickey led off for the Bronx Bombers with a single and was pinch-run for by journeyman Bob Seeds, who had played just 13 games for the Yankees that year and was making his only career appearance in the World Series. Two batters later, Seeds was still at first base with two out. Once again, Lazzeri was at the plate with a chance to deliver a key Series hit. Once again, the bat was taken out of his hands as Seeds, like Ruth a decade before, tried to steal his way into scoring position and was thrown out to end the game, with Giants catcher Gil Mancuso doing the honors this time. The Yankees won the Series the next afternoon.
1953 Game 4: Out at the plate
Holding a comfortable 7-2 lead, the Dodgers were three outs away from tying up the 1953 World Series at two games apiece in the top of the ninth inning of Game 4. However, the Yankees loaded the bases with no outs against Dodgers starter Billy Loes on a pair of singles and a walk. Brooklyn manager Charlie Dressen then called on reliever Clem Labine, who struck out Phil Rizzuto and got pinch-hitter Johnny Mize to fly out without a run scoring. That brought Mickey Mantle to the plate with the bases still loaded and two outs. Mantle singled. Gene Woodling scored to make it 7-3, but Mantle’s buddy Billy Martin tried to follow Woodling home and was thrown out by leftfielder Don Thompson, who had entered the game that inning as a defensive replacement for Jackie Robinson. The Dodgers had tied the Series, but the Yankees won each of the next two days to win the title.
1965 Game 5: Line-drive double play
The first game of the 1907 World Series ended on a line-drive double play with a runner getting doubled off first base, but that game ended in a 3-3 tie and was replayed, so it’s not included here. That makes this 1965 game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Minnesota Twins the only game in World Series history to end on such a play.
It wasn’t especially dramatic, however. Though the Series was tied 2-2 heading into this game, the Dodgers had a 7-0 lead on the Twins in the bottom of the ninth when Minnesota centerfielder Joe Nossek hit a line-drive off Sandy Koufax to shortstop Maury Wills and Wills flipped to Dick Tracewski to double Frank Quilici off second for the final out. Two games later, Koufax shut out the Twins again to give Los Angeles its fourth championship in 11 seasons.
1969 Game 4: Walkoff E1
The heavily favored Baltimore Orioles were trailing the upstart Mets (another team to earn the “Miracle” moniker) after the first three games of this World Series and were stymied by New York ace Tom Seaver for most of Game 4. It wasn’t until they were down to their last two outs in the top of the ninth that the O’s tied the game 1-1, with their run scoring on a sacrifice fly that is best remembered for a diving catch from Mets rightfielder Ron Swoboda.
New York catcher Jerry Grote led off the bottom of the 10th with a double off Baltimore reliever Dick Hall. O’s manager Earl Weaver then ordered Hall to intentionally walk Al Weis, bringing up Seaver’s spot in the order, and then brought in lefthanded stopper Pete Richert. Mets manager Gil Hodges sent J.C. Martin up to pinch-hit for Seaver and bunt the runners along. Martin bunted down the first base line. Richert, cutting off catcher Elrod Hendricks, picked the ball up with his bare hand, spun and threw to first, but his throw hit Martin in the back, allowing pinch-runner Rod Gaspar to come around to score the winning run and put the Mets ahead 3-games-to-1 in the Series.
There was some controversy over the fact that Martin appeared to be in fair territory, not the running box, when the ball hit him, but nothing came of it because he was not egregiously out of the baseline and made no deliberate move to deflect the ball. The Mets completed the upset and their miracle season with a win the next day.
1972 Game 5: Pinch-running pitcher out at home on foul-pop double play
The Oakland A’s were up 3-games-to-1 on the Cincinnati Reds heading into Game 5 of the 1972 World Series, but the burgeoning Big Red Machine took a 5-4 lead in the the ninth that day. Eventual Series MVP Gene Tenace led off the bottom of the ninth for Oakland with a walk against reliever Ross Grimsley, but Ted Kubiak popped up his attempt to bunt Tenace into scoring position. A series of substitutions followed as A’s manager Dick Williams sent catcher Dave Duncan in to hit for the pitcher and put pitcher Blue Moon Odom in to run for Tenace; Reds skipper Sparky Anderson countered by replacing the lefthanded Grimsley with righthanded Game 3 starter Jack Billingham.
Duncan singled off Billingham to push Odom to third with one out. Shortstop Bert Campaneris then hit a foul pop just behind first base that Cincinnati second baseman Joe Morgan caught running away from the infield. Odom tagged and broke for home and Morgan slipped when turning toward the plate, but his throw beat Odom anyway. Catcher Johnny Bench applied the tag to bring the Reds within one game of Oakland in the Series. Cincinnati would force a Game 7, but Oakland won that one for the first of its three straight titles.
1986 Game 6 – Walkoff E3
This game was a Shakespearian play in its own right, long before Bill Buckner’s infamous error ended it in a thrilling (some might say, tragic) final act.
The Red Sox, who had not won a World Series since 1918, led the Mets 5-3 heading into the bottom of the 10th of Game 6 at Shea Stadium. Reliever Calvin Shiraldi got two quick outs, but New York then connected for three straight singles to make it 5-4. Boston manager John McNamara replaced Schiraldi with veteran reliever Bob Stanley as Mookie Wilson, the Mets’ speedy leftfielder, came to the plate. Stanley allowed the tying run to score with a wild pitch (some feel it should have been ruled a passed ball on catcher Rich Gedman), then got Wilson to hit a slow roller down the first base line.
Creaky-ankled veteran first baseman Bill Buckner, who typically was taken out for a defensive replacement in such situations but was not on this night so that he could celebrate the final out with his teammates, hobbled over to field the ball. His well-worn glove flopped closed at just the wrong moment and Wilson’s grounder got through his legs, allowing Ray Knight, the eventual Series MVP, to dance home with the winning run for the Mets.
After a day of rain, New York won again in Game 7. The Red Sox and their fans would have to wait until 2004, when they swept the Cardinals, to break their championship drought. Now, after being on the wrong end and then the right end of two more bizarre finishes in this year’s World Series, Boston is two wins away from adding another title to its collection.