A crowd of 39,552, the largest of the three games at Sportsman’s Park in the 1926 World Series, saw the road team win for the third time in the Series as the New York Yankees defeated St. Louis, 3-2, in 10 innings to move to within one win of a world championship.
The pitching matchup was a rematch of Game One, the Yankees’ Herb Pennock versus the Cardinals’ Bill Sherdel. This game was as well pitched as the opener, which New York won 2-1. The Yankees went down in order in the top of the first. After Babe Ruth made the last out of the inning, grounding out to first, he had a surprise waiting for him when he returned to the dugout. Pere Marquette Council 271, Knights of Columbus, of Boston, which counted Ruth as a member, presented him with a basket of flowers.
With one out in the bottom of the first, the Cardinals’ Billy Southworth reached base on an error by shortstop Mark Koenig. Southworth stole second but didn’t score as Rogers Hornsby grounded out to the pitcher and Jim Bottomleygrounded out to second base.
After Bob Meusel grounded out to third to start the second inning, the Yankees got back-to-back singles by Lou Gehrig and Tony Lazzeri, putting runners on the corners. The threat ended when Joe Dugan ground into a second-to-first double play. Bob O’Farrell singled with two out in the bottom of the inning, but Tommy Thevenow made the third out, flying out to center. The third inning was three up, three down for both teams.
The Yankees’ Ruth was stranded at first base after a one-out walk in the top of the fourth. In the home half, the Cardinals took the lead. With one out Bottomley hit a shot to left that a charging Ruth misplayed for a double. Bottomley scored when Les Bell singled to right. Chick Hafey fouled out to Ruth, who made a spectacular catch, leaning into the left-field box seats. The St. Louis fans who had jeered Ruth when he took the field in the bottom of the inning acknowledged his effort with applause. The inning ended when Bell was thrown out attempting to steal second base.
Speaking after the game about Ruth’s difficult play, Yankees manager Miller Huggins said, “That catch by Ruth in the fourth on Hafey’s foul fly was a great catch and showed that the Babe is a leader in his fighting spirit when he is ready to risk his neck for an almost impossible catch.”1
The pitchers’ duel continued in the fifth inning. The Yankees went down in order. O’Farrell singled leading off the Cardinals’ half of the inning, but he was stranded after Thevenow grounded out, Sherdel struck out, and Wattie Holm made the third out on a grounder to short.
The Yankees tied the game in a bizarre top of the sixth. Pitcher Pennock led off the inning with a double that left fielder Hafey lost in the sun. The Cardinals had Pennock picked off second on a perfect throw by O’Farrell, but Thevenow dropped the ball for an error as he tried to make the tag. Earle Combs walked, then Koenig singled to left, scoring Pennock with the tying run and advancing Combs to second.
After Ruth struck out for the first out of the inning, a bizarre play occurred after Sherdel’s first pitch to Meusel. Sherdel caught the return throw from O’Farrell awkwardly and hurt his left index finger. He had to leave the field for treatment as Jesse Haines warmed up hastily in the bullpen. But Sherdel returned to the mound. He retired Meusel on a fly to right, Combs moving to third. After Gehrig walked, loading the bases, Lazzeri drove a fly ball to deep right. On most days Lazzeri would have had a grand slam, but a strong wind blew the ball back into play, and Southworth made the catch.
Ruth had ruined the Cardinals in Game Four, blasting three home runs. Player-manager Hornsby tried something different in Game Five. “We gave Ruth nothing but slow balls on the inside to hit during the game,” he told sportswriters after the game. “That’s what I have instructed my pitchers to use every time the Yankee slugger comes to the plate. Sherdel worked the trick effectively.”2 (In that era, sportswriters were wont to “clean up” players’ quotes and rephrase them in the King’s English.)
Pennock retired the Cardinals in order in the bottom of the sixth, and Sherdel did likewise to the Yankees in the top of the seventh. After the seventh-inning stretch, the Cardinals regained the lead. Bell stroked a leadoff double to left and after Hafey flied out to left, Bob O’Farrell got his third hit, a single to left, scoring Bell and making it 2-1.
The Yankees had the top of the order due in the eighth. Leadoff batter Combs singled but the Yankees were unable to advance him. Koenig flied out to left field, Ruth grounded to Sherdel, who threw to short to force Combs, and Meusel grounded to third base for the third out.
The Cardinals leadoff batter, Wattie Holm, was up first in the eighth and he walked. He was forced out at second on Southworth’s grounder to shortstop. Hornsby ended the inning by grounding into a double play, second to short to first.
New York tied the game in the top of the ninth. Gehrig reached second on a blooper to left and moved to third as Lazzeri beat out a bunt. As Joe Dugan walked to the plate, manager Huggins pulled him for pinch-hitter Ben Paschal. Dugan reacted childishly, throwing his bat in the air and storming back to the clubhouse. Unfazed, Paschal hit a bloop single to shallow center field to score Gehrig with the tying run and advance Lazzeri to second. A bunt had worked earlier in the inning, so why not try it again? Hank Severeid laid down a weak bunt, which Cardinals catcher O’Farrell played perfectly, throwing to third to force Lazzeri.
Sherdel avoided further damage when Thevenow made a brilliant stop of Pennock’s grounder and flipped to Hornsby to force Severeid, and then Combs grounded out to second. The Cardinals went down in order in the bottom of the ninth. Bottomley popped out to second, Bell grounded out to third, and Hafey popped out to short. Game Five was headed to extra innings.
Koenig led off the top of the 10th with a single to left and advanced to second on Sherdel’s wild pitch. Ruth walked and Meusel moved the runners into scoring position with a bunt to the pitcher. Gehrig was walked intentionally, loading the bases. Lazzeri then lofted a fly to left, scoring Koenig with the go-ahead run. The Yankees loaded the bases when Mike Gazella, who replaced Dugan at third in the bottom of the ninth, was hit by a pitch. But Severeid’s pop fly to second ended the inning with the Yankees leading 3-2.
The Cardinals went quietly in the bottom of the 10th. O’Farrell lifted a foul pop to third, Thevenow singled to right. Jake Flowers pinch-hit for Sherdel and popped out to Gehrig, and the game ended on Holm’s grounder to third.
Huggins was very pleased with his team’s play. “The fighting spirit won for us in a tough pitchers’ battle,” he said. “That was the thing that most impressed me out there on the field today. It was fight, fight, fight with my men from the time the first ball was thrown, and their demonstration of the true fighting spirit was crowned with success. You can’t beat a fighting spirit like that. It is not to be denied. The boys were never licked, despite great pitching by Sherdel. We had great pitching on our side. We had the day’s best pitching. Pennock was at his best. He pitched in masterly fashion. But the fighting spirit was the big thing.”3
Hornsby tried to be optimistic, even though his club was now on the brink of elimination. “Had it not been for a whole carload of bad breaks we would have won,” he said. “… The breaks can’t go that way all the time, and we’ll fight and make our own breaks tomorrow and Sunday.” 4
Pennock was happy to pick up the win. “[Sherdel] pitched a better game than I did, but all the breaks were against him,” the future Hall of Famer said. “You will have to go a long way to see a better pitched ball game.”5 One can’t disagree; both pitchers went the distance, pitching 10 innings.
This article appears in “Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis: Home of the Browns and Cardinals at Grand and Dodier” (SABR, 2017), edited by Gregory H. Wolf. Click here to read more articles from this book online.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted BaseballReference.com, retrosheet.org, and SABR.org.
1 “Yankees’ Courage Won, Says Huggins,” New York Times, October 8, 1926: 17.
2 “World Series Sidelights,” St. Louis Post Dispatch, October 8, 1926: 44.
3 New York Times, October 8, 1926.
4 J. Roy Stockton, “Two Pop Flies That Escaped Cardinals Fielders Caused Sherdel’s Defeat,” St. Louis Post Dispatch, October 8, 1926: 44.