Precedents for a 2016 Cubs comeback: The 1952 and 1958 Yankees

Trailing three games to one in a best of seven series is usually a death knell. The Cubs were in that very situation entering Sunday, but managed to stave off elimination with a 3-2 victory over the Indians. To break the franchise’s more than a century long championship drought, the club will have to win games six and seven on the road in Cleveland. It’s not an impossible task, but certainly still a lot to ask at this juncture.

Two Yankees teams have accomplished the feat of winning games six and seven on the road. The 1952 Bombers did so against the Brooklyn Dodgers. In 1958, the Yankees did the same against the Milwaukee Braves. That ’58 club not only won games six and seven on the road, but was also on the brink of elimination in game five, just like the Cubs were last night. Let’s take a more detailed look back at how those two famous Yankee clubs overcame unlikely odds, just like the Cubs hope to by the end of Wednesday’s potential game seven.

1952 World Series

The Yankees and Dodgers alternated victories in the first five affairs, leaving Brooklyn up 3-2 and with an opportunity to finish off their crosstown rivals at home. The Dodgers were poised for their first title in franchise history and to obtain sweet revenge after World Series losses to the Yankees in 1941, 1947, and 1949.

Game Six (Yankees win 3-2, full broadcast on YouTube):

Ebbets Field was the host of a pitchers duel between Yankees hurler Vic Raschi and adversary Billy Loes. Neither side broke through for a run until the bottom of the sixth, when Duke Snider launched a solo home run to right. That left the Dodgers nine outs away from the organization’s elusive first title.

Brooklyn’s lead was gone in the blink of an eye, as Yogi Berra opened the top of the seventh with a home run of his own. Later in the frame, with a runner on second and two out, Yankees’ manager Casey Stengel curiously allowed Raschi to hit rather than lifting him for a pinch hitter. Raschi rewarded Stengel with an RBI single that hit Loes and deflected into right field, putting the Yankees ahead 2-1.

The Yankees expanded their lead in the top of the eighth, when Mickey Mantle did this:

Mantle’s first career postseason homer was an important insurance run, because Snider answered with his second tater of the game in the bottom of the inning, inching the Bums back to a one run deficit. Brooklyn knocked out Raschi later in the inning after George Shuba doubled with two outs to bring up Hall of Famer Roy Campanella. In came Allie Reynolds, and down went Campanella. Reynolds would go on to pitch a scoreless ninth to force a seventh and deciding game.

Game Seven (Yankees win 4-2, full broadcast on YouTube):

The Yankees opened the scoring in the fourth inning when Johnny Mize plated Phil Rizzuto with a single to left. That lead was short lived, as the Dodgers forced Yankees’ starter Eddie Lopat out of the game after loading the bases with no one out in the bottom half of the inning. Reynolds, who closed out game six, entered. He allowed a game tying sacrifice fly off the bat of Gil Hodges, but nothing more.

The Yankees retook the lead in the top half of the fifth when Gene Woodling lead off with a solo shot against Dodgers’ starter Joe Black. Reynolds would squander that lead in the bottom of the frame when Pee Wee Reese scored Bobby Cox with a single. That was the last time the Dodgers would score.

After a clutch home run the previous day, Mantle put the Bombers ahead with another long ball in the sixth inning:

He wasn’t done there, though. The Mick came to the plate again in the seventh and delivered an RBI single, increasing the lead to 4-2.

The Dodgers put one final scare in the Yankees, conjuring a rally in the seventh. Raschi, who started game six for the Yankees, took over for Reynolds and struggled. He loaded the bases while retiring just one batter, and gave way to Bob Kuvaza with Snider and Jackie Robinson coming to the plate. Miraculously, Kuvaza induced two pop ups to get out of the jam. Robinson’s almost fell in, which would have been disastrous if not for Billy Martin‘s famous running grab:

From there, Kuvaza finished off six of the last seven Brooklyn hitters to complete the Yankees’ comeback. It was the franchise’s fourth straight championship and fifteenth in its history.

Aside from Mantle’s heroics with the bat, Reynolds was remarkable on the mound. He pitched games one, four, six, and seven. He recorded wins in games four and seven, the former as a starter and the latter out of the bullpen, while notching the save in game six. In total, Reynolds threw 20.1 innings and posted a 1.77 ERA in the series. Reynolds was essentially what Madison Bumgarner was to the Giants in the 2014 World Series.

1958 World Series

The Yankees were in far more trouble in 1958 than 1952, down three games to one, just like the Cubs were prior to yesterday’s win. After dropping the first two of the ’58 World Series, the Yankees snatched game three thanks to a combined shutout from Don Larsen and Ryne Duren. Braves’ legend Warren Spahn returned the favor in game four, twirling a two-hit shutout, leaving the Milwaukee one win away from victory. The Yankees would have to sweep the next three, including games six and seven on the road, to take the title. Sounds an awful lot like this year’s World Series.

Game Five (Yankees win 7-0):

More than 65,000 packed Yankee Stadium to see if the Yankees could stay alive for another day, and stay alive they did. Gil McDougald‘s solo home run gave the Bombers a lead in the third that the team wouldn’t relinquish. The game remained close until the sixth, when the Yankees broke out for six more runs. Starter Bob Turley went the distance, shutting out the Braves and forcing the series back to Milwaukee.

Game Six (Yankees win 4-3 in 10 innings):

After trading off easily won shutouts in games three through five, game six was a nail biter. The legendary Warren Spahn, who shut down the Yankees in game four, was back on the hill to seal the deal for Milwaukee. Spahn would throw another excellent game, but didn’t top his previous outing.

Hank Bauer‘s first inning home run off Spahn gave the Yankees an early 1-0 lead, but it didn’t last long. Hank Aaron tied it with a single in the bottom of the first, and in the next inning, Milwaukee knocked out American League ERA champion and Hall of Famer Whitey Ford. The Braves had scored only two runs to that point, but it was apparent that Ford was off his game that day. He left the second with the bases full and one out with the score 2-1 Braves, but Art Ditmar escaped trouble with no further damage.

With a lead, Spahn cruised for the next few turns through the Yankees order. The Yankees finally got to him in the sixth, when Mantle and Elston Howard singled to open the frame. Yogi Berra followed with a sacrifice fly, leveling the game at two-all. The score would remain in tact until extra innings, as Spahn and the Yankees’ combination of relievers (Ditmar and Ryne Duren) made easy work of the opposing lineup.

Even after completing nine strong innings, Spahn wasn’t ready to hand the ball to the bullpen. Nonetheless, Gil McDougald greeted Spahn’s tenth inning of work with a solo shot to open the inning, putting the Bombers up 3-2. Spahn recovered to retire Hank Bauer and Mantle, but Howard and Berra followed with singles to finally knock Spahn out of the game. Don McMahon came in relief, but surrendered another run on a Moose Skowron single. The Yankees appeared on their way to improbably force a seventh game, with a 4-2 lead heading to the bottom of the tenth.

Duren, who had been in the game since the seventh for the Yankees, was left in to finish off game six. Of course, it wasn’t easy. A groundout, walk, defensive indifference, and a strikeout brought up Hammerin’ Hank as the tying run. Aaron cut the Yankees’ lead to 4-3 with a single, and Joe Adcock followed with a single of his own to put runners on the corners for Frank TorreCasey Stengel had seen enough of Duren, and brought in Turley to obtain the final out. Turley, the game five victor, obliged. Torre lined out to end the game.

Game Seven (Yankees win 6-2):

For the second straight game, the Yankees went to the bullpen early. The starter, Don Larsen, wasn’t necessarily pitching poorly, but was pulled in the middle of the third for Turley. Clinging to an early 2-1 lead, Turley inherited two runners with one out in the third, but stranded both.

The Yankees’ 2-1 lead would stand until the sixth inning, when Del Crandall evened the game with a home run off Turley.

Fast forward to the eighth when the Yankees broke the game open against Milwaukee starter Lew Burdette. Elston Howard‘s RBI single gave the Bombers a 3-2 lead, and Skowron’s three-run blast was the knockout punch. Turley, still in the game after entering in the third, saw the rest of the game through as the Yankees finished off a third straight win to complete the comeback. It was the franchise’s 18th title, and payback for losing the 1957 series to the Braves in seven games.

Turley deservedly won the World Series MVP (first introduced in 1955). Turley’s World Series was a comeback in itself, after he was pulled with only one out in the first inning of game one due to ineffectiveness. His complete game shutout in game five, save in game six, and long-relief victory in the deciding affair earned him the award.

If you’ve made it this far, you’ve probably noticed that I didn’t include any footage from this series against the Braves. That’s because there’s far less available than the ’52 Fall Classic. Why? I don’t know. Here’s something from, though.


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