As July 1927 came to a close, the Philadelphia Phillies and Pittsburgh Pirates were at opposite ends of the National League standings. Philadelphia had lost 35 of 56 games during June and July and was in seventh place, already 18 games back, but only one game above the last-place Boston Braves. Pittsburgh was atop the NL standings, but only a half-game separated the Pirates from the second-place Chicago Cubs. When the Phillies traveled to Pittsburgh for a four-game series, beginning on August 3, the Eastern Pennsylvania Phillies had dropped six of their last seven games.1 However, the Western Pennsylvania Pirates had lost two straight to the Boston Braves, relegating them to the second spot.
Pittsburgh won the first three games of the series, outscoring the Phillies by a combined 24-14, but the Cubs were winning, too, so Pittsburgh gained just a half-game in the standings. Approximately 3,500 fans came to Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field on a Friday afternoon for the series’ final game. Vic Aldridge toed the rubber for the home team, in search of his 11th victory of the season. He had won five of his last six decisions. For the Phillies, Alex Ferguson started. He had lost three straight starts, even though he had pitched at least seven innings in each game. The spectators were in for an action-packed game, with a lot of hitting, some timely defense, and a dash of late-inning tension — highlighted by Phillies right fielder Cy Williams hitting for the cycle.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that “[a] pass to [Heinie] Sand and healthy triples by Williams and [Freddy] Leach gave the Phillies a pair of runs at the start.”2 Normally a pull hitter, the left-handed-batting Williams “socked his first long slam over left midfield for three hassocks.”3 Leach drove his three-bagger into right-center. The Phillies had jumped to a 2-0 lead.
Lloyd Waner opened the bottom of the first with a base on balls, but Kiki Cuyler lined a ball to shortstop Jimmy Cooney, who caught it and fired to first for a double play, catching Waner off the bag.4
Philly struck again in the second. Fresco Thompson singled to left and advanced a base on Cooney’s sacrifice. Ferguson had a productive groundout to second, as Thompson moved to third, now with two down. Dick Spalding walked and Sand’s single to right plated Thompson and moved Spalding to third. Williams lined a double that rolled to the scoreboard in left field, and Spalding and Sand scored. Pittsburgh manager Donie Bush brought in Emil Yde to relieve Aldridge. The visitors’ advantage was 5-0.
In the bottom of the third inning, Pittsburgh’s Yde drove a ball to right field that “scooted under Williams when he tried to make a shoe-string catch.”5 The triple “blossomed into the first Pirate run,”6 as Yde scored on Lloyd Waner’s sacrifice fly to center. An inning later, Pittsburgh scraped another run. Paul Waner, whose .386 batting average led the National League, doubled down the left-field line to begin the frame. After Pie Traynor flied out, Glenn Wright hit an RBI single up the middle. Joe Harris bounced into a 6-4-3 double play to end the rally, but it was now 5-2.
Both pitchers held their respective opponents in check until the seventh. In the top half, Spalding singled to left. Sand sacrificed him to second, bringing up Williams. The Phils slugger, who had walked in the fifth, had led the National League in home runs in three different seasons.7 He entered the game with 226 career home runs — more than anyone else in National League history.8 Facing Yde, Williams launched career home run number 227, landing well beyond the right-field wall. Spalding scored ahead of him, and the Phillies once again had a five-run lead over the Pirates.
According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Ferguson “suffered an attack of wildness in the seventh and the Buccos took instant advantage of a pair of passes [to Wright and Harris] to pound Sir Alexander to the showers.”9 With one out, Johnny Gooch singled to center, driving in Wright. Yde followed with an RBI single of his own, plating Harris. Lloyd Waner doubled down the right-field line, driving in Gooch while Yde held up at third.
That was all for Ferguson. Dutch Ulrich entered in relief. Cuyler grounded a ball to shortstop Cooney, who threw to third baseman Sand to trap Lloyd Waner. Little Poison stopped and raced back to second base. Yde scored while Waner was tagged out by second baseman Thompson.
Cuyler had rounded first and headed to second on the rundown, but he was also tagged out when Thompson threw to Cooney at second base, completing the inning-ending double play. Four Pirates runners had crossed the plate, but Pittsburgh still trailed, 7-6.
In the bottom of the eighth, Paul Waner walked and advanced to second on Traynor’s sacrifice. The tying run was in scoring position for Pittsburgh, but Philadelphia’s defense came through once again. Leach caught Wright’s line drive to center and threw to Cooney to double off Waner at second base, ending the threat.
There was more excitement in the ninth. Spalding drew his second walk of the game. Sand’s second sacrifice of the contest moved Spalding to second. In his fifth and final plate appearance, Williams “produced a timely single to left which knocked in the deciding marker.”10 Williams advanced to second on the throw to the plate (which Spalding beat) and scored on Leach’s double to center. The Phillies had added two insurance runs for a 9-6 lead.
Down by three in their final at-bat, the Pirates did not give up. Harris singled, and an out later, so did Gooch. Fred Brickell ran for Gooch. Yde, who had collected two hits in his previous three at-bats, grounded a ball to second, but Thompson could not make a play, and the bases were loaded. (The play was ruled a fielder’s choice.)
Lloyd Waner represented the winning run as he settled into the batter’s box. He hit a grounder to Thompson, who tossed the ball to Cooney, forcing Yde at second, but Harris scored. Now, with two down and runners at the corners, Cuyler came up. He had a five-game hitting streak on the line and was batting .313 coming into the game. But Ulrich struck out the future Hall of Famer to preserve the 9-7 victory for the Phillies.
In breaking the Pirates’ winning streak, the Philadelphia hurlers were aided by the pitcher’s best friend — a double play — four times! The Phillies turned one DP in the first game of the series, but in the next three, they “got their bearings and came through with 10 two-ply deaths.”11 This definitely “served as a dampener for the aspirations of the local batsmen.”12
Despite the setback, the Pirates continued to apply pressure to the Cubs. A rough stretch that included seven straight losses (and 10 of 11 defeats) in late August/early September ended Chicago’s hopes for the pennant, as they slid from first to fourth place in the standings. Over much of that same stretch, the Pirates won six consecutive games, taking the top position in the standings on September 1 and keeping it through the end of the season as they won 23 of their final 33 games to secure the pennant.
In hitting for the cycle, Williams hit his 23rd home run of the season. Williams “crossed up the Corsair strategy by placing every one of his wallops in vacant territory.”13 He was responsible for almost all of the Phillies’ tallies, driving in six runs and scoring three himself.14 He raised his batting average 10 points, to .300. With his 4-for-4 performance (plus a walk), Williams became the second player to hit for the cycle in 1927, joining St. Louis Cardinals slugger Jim Bottomley, who had accomplished the rare feat on July 15, against the Phillies.
Williams was also just the third player in Phillies franchise history (and the first in more than 30 years) to hit for the cycle, after Lave Cross (April 24, 1894, against the Brooklyn Bridegrooms) and Sam Thompson (August 17, 1894, against the Louisville Colonels).15
Meanwhile, in the American League, Babe Ruth banged his 35th home run of the season in a Yankees win over the Detroit Tigers. Ruth’s teammate Lou Gehrig led all sluggers in the majors with 37 round-trippers to this point in the season. In 1927 Williams’s 30 homers topped the senior circuit.
In addition to the sources mentioned in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball-Reference.com, MLB.com, Retrosheet.org and SABR.org.
1 At the close of play on August 2, the Phillies were in last place in the league, 19½ games behind the league-leading Cubs.
2 “Cy Gets Four Kinds of Hits as Bucs Drop,” Philadelphia Inquirer, August 6, 1927: 12.
3 Edward F. Balinger, “Phillies Down Pirates in Final Game of Series, 9-7,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, August 6, 1927: 10.
4 Cooney began the season with the Chicago Cubs and was traded on June 7 with Tony Kaufmann to the Phillies in exchange for Hal Carlson. It was with the Cubs (on May 30) that Cooney turned an unassisted triple play at Forbes Field against the Pirates. It was only the sixth unassisted triple play in history. See mlb.com/news/unassisted-triple-plays-c266225068 (accessed October 2020).
5 Lou Wollen, “Slugging Alone Keeps Pirates From Losing Flag Caste,” Pittsburgh Press, August 6, 1927: 11.
7 In 1915, playing for the Chicago Cubs, Williams hit 12 home runs, to lead the National League. In 1920 and 1923, playing for the Phillies, he smacked 15 and 41 homers, respectively, to again lead the league. The 1927 was the fourth in which he led the league in homers.
8 Williams had 204 career homers by the end of the 1926 season, the most by a National Leaguer. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Major_League_Baseball_progressive_career_home_runs_leaders (accessed October 2020). However, by 1926, Williams was more than 150 behind Ruth.
14 Williams either drove in a run or scored a run with every one of his hits. However, Sand’s RBI-single in the second inning plated Thompson before Williams’s double brought home Spalding and Sand.
15 See mlb.com/news/players-who-hit-for-the-cycle-c265552018 (accessed October 2020).