29 years before Bucky Dent would become famous for his home run to beat the Red Sox in Game #163 to eliminate Boston, the Yankees and BoSox battled in Game #154 to decide the pennant.
The ’49 season was a tale of two halves. In the first, the Yankees dominated the American League behind the bats of Yogi Berra and Tommy Henrich and the arms of Vic Raschi and Allie Reynolds. Even without star Joe DiMaggio, who due to injury didn’t play his first game until late June, the Yankees built a huge lead. On July 4, they led the Red Sox, who were in 4th place, by 12 games.
But the Red Sox got white hot starting on July 5, going 60-19 in their next 79 games. Amazingly, starters Ellis Kinder and Mel Parnell won 16 and 14 games during that stretch. Ted Williams was having one of his best seasons, and six of the eight Boston regulars hit over .300 from July to the end of the season. On September 26, after beating the Yankees at Fenway Park in a game where Kinder came on in relief to preserve the 7-6 victory, Boston was in first place. They entered the final two games of the schedule with a one-game advantage over the Yankees, who were still playing great ball, having won 10 of 11 in mid-September. It wasn’t a case of New York having blown a lead, it was that the Red Sox were winning at an unbelievable clip. Boston needed to win just one game at Yankee Stadium, either on Saturday or Sunday, to take the pennant.
On Saturday the Yankees rallied from a 4-0 deficit against Parnell, who was obviously tired. Joe Page went 6 2/3 innings for Casey Stengel, allowing just one hit and no runs. The Yankees eked out a 5-4 win and vaulted into a tie with Boston atop the American League standings. The regular season finale would be a winner-take-all game for the pennant.
With almost 70,000 fans packed into Yankee Stadium in The Bronx, Raschi started the game for the Yankees against Kinder, who was pitching in his fourth game in seven days. In the eighth inning, Boston manager Joe McCarthy lifted Kinder for a pinch hitter who did not come through. Then he brought in Parnell, who had started and pitched four innings the previous day. An exhausted Parnell yielded a homer to Tommy Henrich and a single to Yogi Berra, before being replaced by Hughson, who had been on the disabled list and said his arm still hurt. Highson hadn’t pitched since he appeared in both ends of a doubleheader for McCarthy on September 11. With the bases loaded, Jerry Coleman hit a soft liner that Al Zarilla in right field tried to make a shoestring catch on, but missed and it went for a triple and three runs. The Yanks built a 5-1 lead before Hughson got out of the frame. In the ninth inning the Red Sox finally got to Raschi, plating three runs but still fell short and lost, 5-4. The game was the first shot in the Yankees/Red Sox rivalry. Boston fans were livid at their manager.
“Why had McCarthy pinch hit for Kinder?” his critics asked. Hughson later claimed his manager ruined his career by making him pitch with a sore arm. The game was the last time Hughson pitched in the big leagues. His career was over at the age of 33.
It was the second year in a row that McCarthy’s late-season managing was called into question. In 1948, McCarthy had chosen journeyman pitcher Denny Galehouse to start the tie breaker that decided who went to the 1948 World Series, which the Red Sox lost to the Cleveland Indians.
The Yankees had lost their lead in the pennant chase, fought steadily, and came back to hop past Boston in the final game of the season. It was a bitter pill to swallow for Red Sox fans. They would part of a three-way race for the pennant in 1950 (again losing out to the Yankees), but after that they wouldn’t taste a chase for 17 seasons. McCarthy was fired in June of 1950 with his team wallowing at 31-28, and he wouldn’t manage again.