In a span of about 24 hours, Grover Cleveland Alexander twice held the fate of the 1926 Cardinals in his right hand. With a loss meaning elimination of the Cardinals from the World Series, Alexander delivered a win and a save against the Yankees of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig at New York.
Alexander’s save, one of the top five iconic moments in Cardinals lore, was accomplished on Sunday afternoon, Oct. 10, in Game 7 with 2.1 innings of hitless relief, including the storied strikeout of Tony Lazzeri with two outs and the bases loaded in the seventh inning, in a 3-2 Cardinals victory.
Alexander’s win, accomplished a day earlier on Saturday afternoon, Oct. 9, in Game 6, was just as impressive, but often overshadowed by the Game 7 drama.
Ninety years ago, with the Yankees in position to clinch the championship with a victory, Alexander, 39, got a complete-game win for the Cardinals in Game 6. He remains the oldest player to pitch a complete game in the World Series.
Displaying remarkable command of his pitches, Alexander kept Ruth from hitting a ball out of the infield and limited Gehrig to a single in the 10-2 Cardinals victory.
In a report by the Associated Press, Cardinals player-manager Rogers Hornsby said of Alexander, “(He) has left a mark for the next generation to aim at.”
Wrote The Sporting News: “(Alexander) has been pitching a long, long time, but it is doubtful if he ever rose to the heights he ascended in this Series.”
Duel of veterans
On Oct. 3 at Yankee Stadium, Alexander started and won Game 2 of the 1926 World Series, pitching a complete-game four-hitter and striking out 10 in the Cardinals’ 6-2 triumph. That win evened the best-of-seven Series at 1-1.
The Yankees won two of the next three at St. Louis.
With Game 6 at Yankee Stadium, Alexander was matched against Bob Shawkey, 35, who had pitched primarily in relief during the regular season. Shawkey was making just his third start since Aug. 1. During the regular season, Shawkey was 4-3 with a 2.86 ERA in 19 relief appearances and 4-4 with a 4.30 ERA in 10 starts.
Yankees manager Miller Huggins was confident Shawkey could deliver a strong start against the Cardinals. Shawkey had pitched in relief in Game 2 and Game 3 and hadn’t allowed the Cardinals a baserunner over 3.2 total innings. Huggins also believed Alexander wouldn’t be as sharp in Game 6 as he had been in Game 2.
As Shawkey took the mound for the start of Game 6, “the sun was shining but there was an October chill in the air,” according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
It was no contest.
The Cardinals scored three in the first, led 4-1 through six and secured their grip with a five-run seventh.
“While my pitching helped, it was great hitting that won the game for us,” Alexander said in an article that appeared under his byline in the Sunday Post-Dispatch.
Alexander never gave the Yankees a chance to rally. He threw 104 pitches, including 75 for strikes. In four of the nine innings, Alexander threw only one pitch out of the strike zone.
“It was remarkable to watch the old master put the ball almost where he wanted to,” wrote the Post-Dispatch. “It was the finest exhibition of control seen in many a day.”
Said Alexander: “The day was cold and at times I had trouble in cutting loose with my fastball, but my control was exceptionally good with men on the bases and that was what helped me.”
Besting The Babe
Alexander especially was effective against Ruth, who had hit 47 home runs during the regular season and three against the Cardinals in Game 4 of the World Series at St. Louis.
Ruth was 0-for-3 with a walk against Alexander in Game 6. Twice, Ruth batted with two runners on base. Both times, Alexander got Ruth to ground out.
In the third inning, Ruth batted with runners on first and second, two outs, and grounded out to first baseman Jim Bottomley. In the seventh, with runners on second and third, two outs, Alexander pitched to Ruth and induced him to ground out to shortstop Tommy Thevenow.
“It was my control that kept Ruth from hitting,” Alexander said. “Every ball that Babe hit broke on the inside of the plate, close enough so that the big fellow could do no damage.”
Said Huggins: “Alexander had a better game left in his system than we thought.”
Alexander was supported by the hitting of Les Bell (four RBI, three hits, including a two-run home run), Hornsby (three RBI) and Billy Southworth (double, triple, three runs). Boxscore
“I want to thank the fans of New York for the way they have treated the Cardinals at the Stadium,” Alexander said. “They have been fair and square, ever ready to applaud when a good play was made.”
Previously: How Cardinals got Grover Cleveland Alexander