April 23, 1927, New York Yankees at Philadelphia Athletics
(Excerpt from my manuscript for the upcoming book “The 1927 Yankees: Anatomy of the Greatest”)
Ruth’s batting slump continued to be a hot topic. Some people even insinuated that he was suffering from “Klieg eyes”, an ailment found among motion picture actors and actresses whose eyes were exposed for long periods of time to the powerful studio lights. The Babe’s explanation was that he just didn’t feel all that good. So whether it was a cold, a different bug, Spring fever or just a normal batting slump, few knew, even Ruth.
Ford Frick penned his column for Saturday’s New York Evening Journal with, “Mr. Ruth has had a hitting slump of gigantic proportions. No kidding, when Mr. Ruth goes in for anything he goes in ‘all over’. His hitting slumps are as gargantuan as his home runs – and his strike-outs are as ponderous and enthusiastic as his line drives. ‘Seems as though I can’t get hold of those doggone balls theses days,’ Mr. Ruth complained as he thumbed a score book. ‘They come up there big as balloons and then I top ‘em into the ground or miss ‘em a mile. But I’ll get going one of these days – and when I do some poor pitcher will suffer.’”
In Philadelphia, for what was now the rubber match in the shortened series, Huggins maintained his pitching plans. He sent Dutch Ruether (2-0) to the mound.
To make it a match-up of southpaws, Mack countered with Rube Walberg (0-1). Used twice in relief in the opening series against the Yankees in New York, the Athletics’ lefty would be making his second start of the year. It would also be the third southpaw the Yanks had faced in the last four games, and they had lost against each of the first two.
In front of 35,000 fans amid weather more suited for football, Walberg faced Combs to open the game, the owner of a 10-game hitting streak, he was off to a fine start. Walberg retired Combs and Koenig to start the game. Next came the Babe.
The owner of a .167 batting average in the first two games of the series, the lone hit coming on a bunt of all things, Ruth looked to break out of his slump. He immediately smashed Walberg’s first offering for a high line drive to right that cleared Shibe Park’s wall by 30 feet before it bounced onto 20th Street and up onto a front porch, all of which sent the local kids scrambling for a souvenir. The Babe’s homer and run production droughts were over at six games. His 35th career clout at Shibe Park staked the Yanks to a quick 1-0 lead as catcher Cy Perkins watched Ruth’s cleats touch home plate, now the owner of two homers and two RBI on the season.
Next into the batter’s box was Gehrig, and the generous Philadelphia applause for the Babe’s heroics had barely died down when the Buster more than duplicated the feat. He also swung at the first pitch and his shot also flew clear out of Shibe Park in right field, but the ball didn’t touch down on the street, instead it landed on the rooftop of one of the row houses, though not the same one. It was a good fifty yards longer than Ruth’s shot. The duo had just victimized Walberg with back-to-back home runs, which marked the third time they had done it to go along with one time in ’25 and one in ’26. The ’27 trick, completed by Gehrig’s fourth homer of the season, also obviously made it 2-0 in favor of the visitors.
The third member of the “Big Three” was up next, Meusel. Back on September 10, 1925 in the same ballpark, the trio of Meusel, batting second in the order, Ruth and Gehrig hit three consecutive home runs off Sam Gray, and the “Big Three” moniker showed up in the newspapers. It was only the fourth time in major league baseball history that the feat had been done, and at the time it had been over 23 years since the trick had been last performed, when three Cleveland batters homered in a row on June 30, 1902. Ever since the “Big Three” did it, the feat hadn’t been matched.
Fortunately for Athletics’ fans, there would be no sequel. Walberg retired Meusel for the third out.
Any pitcher liked to be staked to a lead before he even took to the hill in the bottom of the opening inning, and Ruether was no different. He retired the first two batters, and then Ty Cobb arrived on the scene. He slapped a beautiful drive to right-center that went to the wall, and the Georgia Peach flashed signs of old as he legged it out to third, his second straight game with a triple. Al Simmons followed, and he dribbled a slow roller down the third base line that Gazella couldn’t do much about, able to beat it out for an infield hit while Cobb was forced to hold at third. Sammy Hale then singled to left to plate one. When Dud Branom couldn’t continue the rally, Philadelphia had to be content to be down by one, 2-1.
In the home half of the third, Ruether worked his way into a jam. Following a walk to Eddie Collins and an out, consecutive singles by Cobb, Simmons, marking his seventh straight game against the Yankees with at least one safety, and Hale counted two runs and put Mack’s crew ahead, 3-2. Worthy of note, when the Georgia Peach crossed the plate on Hale’s single with the go-ahead run, it was the 12th run Cobb had scored during the season, but more importantly, it marked the 2,100th of his illustrious career, extending his major league record. When Branom poked a single, the Athletics’ fourth straight, the bases were loaded with just one out. Fortunately, the Yankees’ defense rescued them from any further damage on Perkins’ grounder down to Lazzeri, which started an inning-ending double play.
New York knotted the contest in the fourth, as Lazzeri walked, worked his way around to third on Gazella’s hit off Walberg’s left shin, and the Signor eventually score on Grabowski’s long sacrifice fly to Simmons. Afterwards, Rube settled down, and pitched effectively, but not without height.
In the top of the fifth, Combs singled to extend his hitting streak to 11 games. Koenig then slapped a grounder towards Collins at second and Earle jumped to avoid being hit by the batted ball, but he landed right on the veteran Athletics’ lap. Before Collins could even complain, Combs was ruled out for runner interference, a decision that quickly brought Huggins jumping out of the Yankee dugout to unsuccessfully argue the call.
In the bottom of the same frame, Huggins thought his team was again getting the short end of an umpire’s call. When Simmons was hit by a very slow Ruether offering, Hug pleaded his case to George Hildebrand that the batter had made no attempt to avoid getting plunked. As James Harrison of The New York Times scribbled, “In both debates the Hugmen ran second in a field of two”.
Thereafter the hitting may have continued, but there was no scoring for inning after inning. The Yanks got two men on and three Athletics reached first base, but the scoring hits failed to materialize due to some pretty fielding, good pitching and one thing or another.
In the eighth, with the game still tied at 3-3 after three consecutive scoreless frames, the Yankees threatened when Meusel opened with a double. Lazzeri laid down a bunt to move him up, Walberg fielded it and threw wildly to first, but Meusel stayed put to give the Yanks runners on first and second. Gazella also tried to bunt but failed in his bid and finally struck out. Picking up the slack, Grabowski’s grounder moved the runners along to second and third. Huggins opted for a professional hitter, so Ben Paschal was sent to pinch hit for Ruether, ending his day after allowing 11 hits in seven innings. Paschal tapped a soft grounder down to Hale at third, and the threat was thwarted with the third out.
Unable to score, Moore was again required on the mound for the fourth straight game. At the rate he was going, he figured to get into 100 ball games or so.
Walberg handled the top of the Yankee lineup in the ninth. He had bounced back nicely since the first inning, yielding eight scattered hits, but particularly tough against Ruth and Gehrig. Both were held hitless the rest of the way, the former on two flies and two grounders while the latter didn’t hit another ball out of the infield. As such, the game remained tied at 3-3 heading into the bottom of the ninth inning.
For the Athletics, Mack inserted Zack Wheat to bat for Perkins. The veteran slapped a terrific liner straight back at Moore, who barely touched it, and on the ball’s journey toward center Koenig intercepted it, and twisting, he threw Wheat out. Joe Boley singled, and up came Walberg, interestingly left in by Mack to bat at such a critical juncture, the Tall Tactician apparently preparing for extra innings. When Walberg also singled, it put runners on first and second for the top of the Philadelphia order.
Regular catcher Mickey Cochrane had been given the day off, but now his services were requested, and he was sent to bat for Jimmy Dykes, who had earlier replaced Collins at second base. Cochrane hit a sharp grounder down towards Lazzeri at second, and extra innings were only a routine double play away for a defense that had already turned four. The Signor customarily fielded it cleanly and pivoted to toss accurately to Koenig to retire Walberg on the front end, however, Mark Anthony’s throw to finish the twin killing sailed slightly high and Gehrig probably should have jumped to use both hands, but he depended on his mitt and the ball glanced off the side of his glove. Lou immediately scrambled toward the grandstand in pursuit while Boley, who had advanced over to third on the force play, just kept on going and he slid safely across home plate with the winning run, 4-3, which sent 35,000 fans into a tizzy.
Koenig’s error meant that New York had just tossed victory right into Philadelphia’s laps. It was a bad break, because the Athletics would have been retired had the play been properly made.
A game that had started off with such a promising bang for the Yankees, or if you prefer, two bangs onto 20th Street, had just finished with major disappointment. It was a quick and unexpected finish to a game that had the fans on the edge of their seats all game.
The Mackmen out-hit the Yanks, 13-10, but only one of the Athletics’ hits went for extra bases, Cobb’s triple. He was one of five players that stroked a pair of hits for Mack’s crew, while the Yankees could boast three players with a pair of hits.
The series over, Philadelphians could take pride in knowing that they got the best of New York. The locals wouldn’t want it any other way.
Walberg had collected himself enough to go the distance for the victory, allowing nothing more off the two biggest Yankee bats. Wrote Bill Brandt for the Philadelphia Public Ledger, “Walberg was chargeable with those two tremendous thumps, but no more. Ruth whaled two loud drives to left his next two times at bat, but in later pinches he topped weak grounders to the right side of the infield. Gehrig hit the ball out of the infield no more after he lifted that first one into infinity.”
So after getting swept in New York to begin the season 0-3, Philadelphia took three out of four from Washington and two of three from the Yankees, both legitimate teams. Not only did it even the Athletics’ record at 5-5, it also showed their potential as a viable pennant contender. Last but not least, they were only two games off the Hugmen’s pace.