Since August 1, the Yankees have never led by more than 2 ½ games. The Yankees and the Rays have been separated by a half-game for nearly 30 days and although both are going to the playoffs, it is an interesting race.
So how did some of the other Yankee pennant races unfold during years they made the playoffs and in years they fell short? Since we’re discussing from August 1 on, that is the criteria for this.
1920 – This was Babe Ruth’s first year in pinstripes and the third straight year he led the league in home runs. Ruth had 37 of his 54 home runs heading into August and the Yankees went into August at 64-37 and three games behind the Indians. After losing four of five, the Yankees won seven of eight from August 6-14. During that stretch, they swept a four-game series in Cleveland as Bob Shawkey threw two complete games while Carl Mays and Jack Quinn also went the distance. That run put the Yankees at 72-42 despite playing five more games than the Indians and one percentage point behind. Then they lost seven of nine, including two of three at home to the Indians, falling four games out of first place following a 16-4 loss in Chicago. Then they won nine of 12 and Ruth missed the first six games.
Ruth hit home runs No. 45 and 46 during that period as the Yankees moved within one-half game back heading into Cleveland on Sept. 8. Ruth hit his 47th home run off Stan Coveleski but Doc Johnston had four hits and drove in four runs in a 10-4 Indians’ win. The Yankees won the next day as Ruth hit No. 48 off Ray Caldwell and Bob Shawkey pitched a six-hitter in a 6-1 victory. The series ended with a 6-2 victory as Ruth doubled twice and Del Pratt drove in four, putting the Yankees one percentage point behind as they had played five more games than Cleveland (138 to 133). The Yankees went 1 ½ games ahead on Sept 14 when Pratt went 4-for-6 in a 13-3 at Detroit. Two days later, they fell percentage points behind with an 8-3 loss at Chicago as Quinn lasted just 1 2/3 innings. By the end of that weekend, two more losses in Chicago and another in St. Louis sent the Yankees to three games back. The losing ended with a 4-3, 11-inning loss in St. Louis but despite winning seven of nine the Indians won 15 of their last 19 to deny the Yankees their first pennant.
1921 – On August 1, the Yankees (59-35) trailed the Indians (62-36) by one game in a two-team race. The Yankees headed into their next series with the Indians 1 ½ games back. Babe Ruth hit two home runs and Bob Meusel went 4-for-5 two Yankee wins that put the lead at 0.5 games. The lead changed hands the following day as Bob Shawkey gave up eight runs in 4 2/3 innings and the Yankees made five errors in a 15-1 loss. The Yankees won 20 of their next 28 games and headed into a four-game series at the Polo Grounds with the Indians two percentage points in front (91-53 to 92-54). In Game One Waite Hoyt pitched a six-hitter and Babe Ruth doubled three times in a 4-2 win. The next day George Uhle pitched a four-hitter in a 9-0 Cleveland win but in Game Three Elmer Miller drove in four, Carl Mays pitched a complete game (seven runs, 13 hits) and the Yankees scored 15 runs through four en route to a 21-7 win. In the finale, the Yankees took a two-game lead as Ruth hit two home runs and drove in five in an 8-7 win. Up by 1 ½ games with four remaining, the Yankees won their final four while the Indians lost three of the four.
1922 – On August 1, the Yankees (57-44) were two games behind the Browns (58-41). They next faced St. Louis August 25 and headed into that series trailing by one-half game. After losing the first game, the Yankees sandwiched a 9-2 win around two one-run wins. In the finale, they won 2-1 in 10-innings and led by 1 ½ games. The Yankees won 12 of the next 17 and entered their Sept. 16 visit to St. Louis with 0.5 game lead. They took two of three by winning a pair of one-run games and left the Midwest up by 1 ½ games after Bullet Joe Bush pitched a five-hitter for his 25th win. The Yankees won their next five and were up by 4 ½ with five to play but then scored once in three straight losses and were up by two. Needing a win to clinch the pennant, Waite Hoyt allowed one run and eight hits in eight innings of a 3-1 win at Fenway Park.
1924 -- A year after easily winning their third straight pennant and first World Series, the Yankees fell short by two games to the Senators. They led by 0.5 games on August 1 and won 12 of 21 before facing Washington on August 28. Entering a four-game set 0.5 games out, the Yankees gave up eight runs in the seventh of an 11-6 loss. Following a 5-1 loss, the Yankees squeezed out a 2-1 victory as Meusel drove in the game-winning run in the ninth. In the finale, Washington pushed across two in the 10th and left the Bronx, 1 ½ games up. The Yankees won 14 of the next 18 and on Sept. 18 both teams were 85-59. After three one-run losses in Detroit, the Senators grabbed a two-game lead. The Yankees won the next four but gained no ground and lost the pennant on their final game with a 4-3 loss in Philadelphia.
1926 – The Yankees returned to the World Series and held a nine-game edge on the Indians on August 1. The lead grew to 11 after taking two of three in Cleveland and while the Yankees lost nine of their next 15, only one game was shaved off the lead. By Sept. 14, the lead was sliced to 5 ½ and the Yankees lost four of six in Cleveland, cutting it to 3 ½ on Sept. 19. A doubleheader loss in Chicago dropped the lead to three but the Yankees scored 34 runs in winning three of the next four and clinched the AL with a doubleheader sweep in St. Louis as Babe Ruth was 5-for-7 with three home runs and eight RBI.
1927 – The Yankees were 110-44 and up by 12 ½ over Washington on August 1. After taking three four in Washington the following week, the lead grew to 13. After losing four straight, the Yankees closed it out with 28 wins in their last 35 games as Ruth hit 20 of his 60 home runs and Lou Gehrig drove in 39 of his 175 runs.
1928 – Another World Series team and on Aug. 1 the Yankees were 71-31 and up by 5 ½ over the Athletics. By the time, they hosted the A’s on Sept 9; the Yankees had won 18 of 34 and trailed by one-half game. They took the first three games as George Pipgras opened with a complete game, followed by Meusel’s eighth-inning grand slam off Eddie Rommel. After scoring four in the eighth off Lefty Grove, the Yankees dropped the finale 4-3 when Max Bishop hit a two-out solo home run off Hoyt and cut the lead to 1 ½. The Yankees held a two-game lead with six to play and clinched the pennant on the last weekend.
1932 – After three distant finishes to the Athletics, the Yankees won the pennant by 13 over Philadelphia as they scored 1,002 runs. The lead was 7 ½ games on August 1 and 10 ½ on Sept. 4 following a 25-7 stretch. After sweeping a doubleheader at home from the A’s, the Yankees coasted to a 14-7 finish and concluded 39-14.
1933 – The Yankees trailed Washington by just one game on August 1 and when they swept a doubleheader on Aug. 7, they remained one out. Consecutive gems by Earl Whitehill and Monte Weaver gave Washington a three-game lead. After losing 12 of 22, the Yankees won 15-4 but it was too late because the Senators used that sweep to win 14 straight and go from one up to 8 ½ up.
1934 – The Yankees went into August two percentage points ahead of Detroit (.621 to .619). They actually lost a game in the standings despite opening the month with five wins in six games. Then they lost four of six, falling 4 ½ out as Lou Gehrig went 5-for-27. While this going on, the Tigers opened August with a 14-game winning streak. The last two games of that streak were a 9-5 victory and 7-3 victory in a doubleheader on August 14. In the first game, the Tigers overcame a 5-0 deficit as Charlie Gehringer hit a solo shot off Lefty Gomez and Ray Hayworth drove in three. In the nightcap, Gehringer hit another home run and drove in four runs while Schoolboy Rowe pitched a complete game. Trailing by 6 ½ games, the Yankees won the next two behind complete games from Johnny Broaca and Gomez. The series ended with the Tigers leaving the Bronx with a 5 ½ game lead as Rowe struck out 11 and pitched a three-hitter. The Yankees ended the month with 11 wins in 15 games and were 4 ½ games out. They played a little over .500 the next 15 games and went into Detroit 5 ½ out. Needing a four-game sweep, the Yankees were shut out by General Crowder and Rowe, who was 5-0 over the Yankees that year. That dropped the Yankees 7 ½ out and essentially finished them.
1935 – With Ruth finishing his career as a Boston Brave, George Selkirk took over in right field. Heading into August, Selkirk was batting .304 and the Yankees were three games behind the Tigers. The teams did not meet until August 17 but in that span, the Yankees went 9-7 while the Tigers were 10-2 and opened a six-game lead. The series opened in Detroit and the Tigers edged the Yankees, 3-2, in 10 innings. The next day, Rowe pitched a three-hitter and also hit a home run off Red Ruffing. The Yankees evened the series with 7-5 and 6-5 victories as Selkirk went 6-for-10 with seven RBI. In the finale, the Yankees beat Rowe, who pitched on one day rest and lasted two innings. The Yankees then fell eight games back and a stretch of 12 wins in 14 games still was not enough as it kept them 7 ½ games out on Sept. 10. Losing three of five at home to the Tigers also did not help as Hank Greenberg was 7-for-18 with six RBI and Rowe won his ninth game in the last two years over the Yankees. The Yankees finished 89-60 and three games out as they won nine of their last 12 games while Detroit dropped 10 of their final 14 but it was too late.
1936-1939 – During Joe DiMaggio’s first four seasons, the Yankees won 102, 102, 99 and 106. They won the AL pennant by a combined 32 ½ games over the Tigers in 1936 and 1937 and 26 ½ games over the Red Sox in 1938 and 1939. In 1936, the lead heading into August was 8 ½. In 1937, the lead was 5 ½ over the White Sox. August 1937 began with a nine-game winning streak that built the lead to 11 games over the Red Sox. Along the way, the Yankees, swept a four-game series with the White and won two from the Red Sox. During that nine-game streak, DiMaggio was 13-for-32 (.406) with three home runs and 14 RBI and the Yankees cruised the rest of the way. In 1938, the Yankees were two games ahead of the Indians going into August and were in the opening stages of winning 22 of 26 games as DiMaggio batted .333 (37-for-111) with six home runs and 29 RBI and the lead expanded to 11 games. In 1939, the Yankees entered August with a nine-game lead over the Red Sox. The Yankees dropped six of 10 and the Red Sox were 5 ½ back on Aug. 10 but then they won 17 of 19, scoring 191 runs while DiMaggio batted .462 (37-for-80) with eight home runs and 34 RBI. That tear brought the lead to 13 games and that was the end.
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