Bobby Abreu’s game winning home run off Mariano Rivera was shocking for two reasons. Not only has the great Rivera been seldomly beaten by the long ball (64 surrendered since 1995), but Abreu entered the game with only four round trippers all season. As John Sterling would say, you can’t predict baseball.
If the events in the top of the ninth were surprising, only a gaping mouth could describe what happened in the bottom half. With Mark Teixeira at the plate as the winning run, Curtis Granderson was picked off first by Jordan Walden. Adding insult to injury, Granderson was fooled by one of the oldest tricks in the book: the much maligned fake-to-third/throw-to-first. After two failed attempts to catch Granderson, Walden’s third try proved to be a charm as the Yankees’ centerfielder guessed wrong and left on the right hander’s first move. The result was a caught stealing and the Yankees left to wonder what might have been.
Although Joe Girardi tried to defend the move as an aggressive attempt to tie the game, there was no justification for Granderson’s blunder. Considering the risk, as well as Teixeira’s propensity for extra base hits (50 of 107 hits have been for extra bases), the advantage of Granderson advancing to second, particularly with two strikes already on the batter, was minimal. Nonetheless, because it was just a regular season game (although, should the Yankees lose the wild card to the Angels, the play will take on added infamy), and, more importantly, Granderson has played so well all season, the lapse in judgment was relatively overlooked after the game. Just imagine, however, if the error was committed in a much more important game…like game seven of the World Series?
Babe Ruth did just about everything imaginable to help the Yankees win the 1926 World Series. At the time, he established no fewer than seven Fall Classic records, not the least of which included the three home runs he slammed in game four. Despite his heroics, however, the Yankees still entered the bottom of the ninth in game seven down by one run.
Earlier in the series finale, the Bronx Bombers had their chance to break through against Pete “Grover Cleveland” Alexander, who, despite pitching a complete game the day before, came out of the bullpen in the seventh inning to face a rookie named Tony Lazzeri with the bases loaded. When Lazzeri belted a long drive off the aged right hander, it looked as if youth would triumph, but alas for the Yankees, the ball went foul. Granted a reprieve, Alexander not only struck out Lazzeri to end the seventh, but then proceeded to retire the next five batters in succession.
Only one batter stood in the way of the Cardinals’ 3-2 victory in game seven: Babe Ruth. Alexander may have been old, and maybe even a little over the limit, but he wasn’t stupid. So, the veteran walked the Babe after loading the count, opting instead to face Bob Meusel. The only problem for the Yankees was Meusel never got a chance to swing the bat. Instead, Ruth darted for second, but, by the time he slid into the bag, the throw from catcher Bob O’Farrell was waiting in Rogers Hornsby‘s glove. The World Series had ended on a caught stealing.
Did Babe Ruth make the proper play when he tried to steal second base and failed for the final out of the 1926 World Series? There seems to be considerable doubt in the minds of most baseball fans on this point.” – Former umpire and syndicated columnist Billy Evans, October 21, 1926
After the game, there was little, if any, focus on Ruth’s failed stolen base attempt. In fact, The New York Times dismissed the play as a “hit and run that went wrong”, but no substantiating evidence was provided. Instead, more ink was used lauding the efforts of the Babe and the great Alexander. As the dust settled, however, Ruth’s decision began to draw more scrutiny. On the one hand, some argued, the Yankees had struggled so much in the series, that the likelihood of two hits against Alexander seemed remote. In rebuttal, others stated that Meusel was a very good hitter in his own right, and, if there was one thing Ruth wasn’t good at, it was stealing bases (he was just a shade over 50% for his career). Both sides of the argument had merit, but the consensus seemed to agree with Evans when he wrote, “Ruth, in essaying a steal of second base, did what is considered correct baseball under the conditions that existed.” (For a more in depth look at the merits of Ruth’s stolen base attempt, click here).
The ramifications of Granderson’s walk-off caught stealing do not rise to the same level as Ruth’s, nor, perhaps, does it lend itself to the same justification. However, if the Yankees’ centerfielder needs some consolation, it can’t hurt to hold a place alongside the Bambino in Yankee history. Of course, Granderson wouldn’t be advised to repeat the same mistake in the World Series. The New York scribes may have let Ruth off the hook in 1926, but you can be sure they won’t be as generous if given the same opportunity again.