It was an instant classic, later immortalized on film and still among the greatest World Series stories ever told.
Eighty-six years ago this week, 39-year-old Grover Cleveland Alexander came out of the bullpen to tame the powerful Yankees lineup and give the St. Louis Cardinals their first World Series title.
Few observers thought Alexander would get anywhere near the mound on the afternoon of Oct 10, 1926 at Yankee Stadium. The day before in Game 6, Alexander tossed a complete game eight-hitter, holding the Yankees to just two runs in St. Louis’ 10-2 win, tying the Series at three games apiece.
It appeared to be the culmination of a dominant career that bridged the Dead Ball and Live Ball eras. Alexander had won at least 20 games in a season eight times at that point and three times had eclipsed the 30-win plateau. He owned four earned-run average titles, and had led the National League in wins six times.
“Alexander is the one player in our league who could win the pennant for any of the seven teams that were not in first place,” said umpire Bill Klem, himself a future Hall of Famer.
But in the seventh inning of Game 7, Cardinals manager Rogers Hornsby summoned Alexander from the bullpen with the bases loaded, two outs and future Hall of Famer Tony Lazzeri at the plate – and St. Louis clinging to a 3-2 lead.
Lazzeri missed a grand slam by the slimmest of margins with a blast down the left-field line, then struck out to end the inning.
“Less than a foot made the difference between a hero and a bum,” Alexander later said.
But Lazzeri’s at-bat was just the start of the day for Alexander, who retired the Yankees in order in the eighth, then set down Earle Combs and Mark Koenig to start the ninth. Following Koenig, however, was Babe Ruth – who drew a walk on a 3-2 pitch.
Bob Meusel came to the plate, with Lou Gehrig on deck. But Ruth took off for second base on the very first pitch to Meusel – and Cardinals catcher Bob O’Farrell gunned Ruth out, ending the World Series. It is still the only time in history that the World Series has ended on a caught stealing.
The epic ending marked a rejuvenation of Alexander’s career, as he went 21-10 for the Cardinals in 1927 at the age of 40, then posted a 16-9 record a year later. He retired after the 1930 season with a record of 373-208, tied with Christy Mathewson for third place all-time (behind Cy Young and Walter Johnson) on the wins list.
Alexander was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1938 and passed away on Nov. 4, 1950. Two years later, Alexander’s story was made into the movie “The Winning Team” starring Ronald Reagan and Doris Day.
Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum
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