On Tuesday, the Yankees were simply looking to survive. Tonight, they hope to conquer.
Thanks to the surprising performance of A.J. Burnett in game 4 of the division series, the Yankees escaped from Detroit with their World Series hopes intact and now face a sudden death playoff game for the first time since losing the 2005 ALDS to the Anaheim Angels.
The Yankees have played in the most winner-take-all October showdowns, which shouldn’t be surprising considering the team’s playoff history encompasses 368 games to date. However, despite the franchise’s incomparable 48-22 record in all postseason series, the Bronx Bombers are only 11-10 when facing a mutual elimination. Of course, that speaks to how difficult it has been to knock the Yankees out in October. While fewer than one-fourth of their series wins have come gone to the wire, almost half of their loses have gone the distance.
Because the Yankees have played in almost 14% of all sudden death postseason games (21 of 152), many of the sport’s most dramatic October moments have involved the pinstripes (for a companion piece on sudden death games involving all teams, check out my latest post at Bronx Banter). In terms of WPA, five of the top-25 offensive performances in the history of deciding games have been recorded by Yankees. Perhaps the most famous such game is Chris Chambliss’ pennant winning homerun against the Kansas City Royals that sent the Yankees back to the World Series in 1976 for the first time in 12 years. Of course, younger fans of the Bronx Bombers are probably more partial to Aaron Boone’s long ball, which sealed the Red Sox fate in the 2003 ALCS. Either way, both moments not only rank among the most dramatic in Yankees’ history, but all of baseball lore.
Top-10 Sudden Death Games by a Yankees’ Batter, Ranked by WPA
Among pitchers, Ralph Terry’s 1-0 complete game victory over the San Francisco Giants in the final game of the 1962 World Series easily rates as the most “clutch” performance by any Yankees’ hurler. That game is best remembered for a game-ending line drive off the bat of Willie McCovey, who often stated it was one of the hardest balls he ever struck. Unfortunately for Stretch, the atom ball found the glove of Bobby Richardson instead of the outfield grass, giving Terry one of the most impressive outings in World Series history. Compared to other sudden death games, Terry’s outing trails only Jack Morris’ epic performance in the 1991 World Series in terms of WPA by a pitcher.
Interestingly, the Yankees’ next five top WPA performances in the face of sudden death were turned in by a reliever, including Mariano Rivera’s three inning performance that made Boone’s walk-off homerun possible. Rivera also earned a second slot in the top-6 with his 1 2/3 inning appearance that polished of the Oakland Athletics in the 2001 ALDS.
Top-10 Sudden Death Games by a Yankees’ Pitcher, Ranked by WPA
|Bob Kuzava||10/7/1952||WS||7||BRO||S||2 2/3||NA||0.434|
|Bob Turley||10/9/1958||WS||7||MLN||W||6 2/3||NA||0.241|
|Mariano Rivera||10/8/2000||ALDS||5||OAK||S||1 2/3||NA||0.235|
|Roger Clemens||11/4/2001||WS||7||ARI||ND||6 1/3||64||0.194|
|Mike Torrez||10/9/1977||ALCS||5||KCR||ND||5 1/3||NA||0.166|
The Yankees’ hitter with the highest career sudden death WPA is, surprisingly, Mickey Rivers, who played an instrumental role in besting the Kansas Royals in the ALCS finale during both 1976 and 1977. On the flip side, another Yankees’ centerfielder, Bernie Williams, has struggled the most in winner-take-all games. Williams’ WPA of -0.455 is not only the lowest among all Yankees, but fourth worst in baseball history. Then again, joining Bernie at the bottom of the list are Chipper Jones, Roger Maris, and Mike Schmidt (and Alex Rodriguez, in only nine at bats, isn’t too far behind), so he shouldn’t feel too bad about his company. Using OPS as a measuring stick, Jason Giambi stands atop the heap at 1.700, while Roger Maris brings up the rear at 0.154 (among hitters with at least 10 plate appearances).
On the strength of his 1962 World Series shutout, Ralph Terry also has the highest cumulative WPA among all Yankees’ pitchers in double-elimination showdowns. One interesting addition to the list, however, is Mike Stanton, whose cumulative WPA is actually higher than Rivera’s. Of course, it should be noted that Rivera’s -0.625 recording from his game 7 loss in the 2001 World Series severely mitigates against the 0.902 rating compiled over his five other sudden death performances. It also ranks as the lowest WPA ever recorded by a Yankees’ pitcher in a single game. In terms of ERA, Andy Pettitte brings up the rear in elimination games thanks to two clunkers in game 5 of the 1997 and 2000 ALDS.
Anything can happen in a deciding game 5 or 7. One timely hit or a clutch pitching performance can turn even the most anonymous player into an October legend. Over their illustrious history, the Yankees have had more of those than any other team. Will another one emerge tonight?