Bill Bevens was one step away from a World Series draw
There have only been two playoff draws in baseball’s long and glorious history: Roy Halladay – who knocked out the Reds in Game 1 of the 2010 NLDS – and Don Larsen, who pitched a perfect match against the Dodgers in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series.
“Sometimes a week can go by when I don’t think about this game,” Larsen said in 2005, “but I don’t remember when it last happened.”
Despite the hundreds of playoff games and all-time greats that have taken the hill, no one else has ever pulled it off.
But a pitcher approached enticingly, pitching 8 2/3 innings without a hitting… before it all fell apart. This is the story of Bill Bevens’ brush with greatness.
Signed by the Yankees in 1937, Bevens’ career almost failed and stagnated in the minor leagues. He was transferred to the Pacific Coast League during WWII to be closer to home in case he was enlisted, which ultimately did not happen since he was 26 and married. Brought back to Newark in 1944, Bevens shone and went on to make his big-league debut, going 4-1 with a 2.68 ERA. He might not have been blessed with good stuff, but he had phenomenal seasons over the next two years, going 29-22 with a 2.84 ERA. He was the second best pitcher for the Yankees behind Spud Chandler.
Then came 1947. Bevens’ numbers dipped slightly – his career-worst ERA of 3.82 and he walked as many hitters as he pulled out strikes – while the Yankees added Allie Reynolds and the rookie. Spec Shea, increasing the rotation. on their way to the World Series. It all came down to when Bevens started Game 4 of the World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers, with the Yankees up to 2-1.
Never known to have the best command, few fans would have expected the greatness of how his debut began. Bevens walked two hitters in the first, another in the second and walked another and threw a wild pitch in the third. He pitched his lone inning 1-2-3 in the fourth before two walks and the choice of a defensive player gave the Dodgers a run in the fifth to reduce the lead to 2-1. Still, whenever the Dodgers got a chance to put the ball into play, the Yankees easily converted them to strikeouts.
Bevens then walked a batsman each in the sixth, seventh and eighth — and always the column of success for Brooklyn was a sparkling goose egg. If the match was played today, there would be no chance that it would still be there. Even Edwin Jackson’s regular-season hitting scorer made fans sweat – and it wasn’t a World Series.
While the Yankees still clung to that 2-1 lead, Bevens came out to finish bottom of ninth and secure his place in history. With just three more strikeouts, he would be the first pitcher to throw a no-no at the World Series.
Receiver Bruce Edwards, who had strikeouts in his three previous appearances, hit a deep volley to the left for the first out.
Carl Furillo, of course, was walking.
Spider Jorgensen then jumped to first base for the second out, elevating the pitcher’s place in the lineup.
Pete Reiser, a former batting champion who had hit .309 during the year, came to home plate as a pinched hitter. After Al Gionfriddo, who was running for Furillo, stole second place, the Yankees chose the safest decision: they gave Reiser an intentional pass – Bevens’ 10th goal of the day. (Although this is perhaps the least discussed part of this game, Bevens Is still holds the record for most walks in a playoff game.)
With runners in the first and second row now, the Dodgers have made another move. Instead of Eddie Stanky, they called on Cookie Lavagetto, 34. Towards the end of his major league career, Lavagetto had played 41 games that year and had only accumulated 82 home plate appearances. He didn’t know he was about to be a hero.
Bevens had a swing and a miss on the first pitch. Two more strikes and the game was over, a World Series win and a hit – no matter how sloppy it was – in hand.
“High and far” – that’s where Bevens pitched the pitch. “That’s what my instructions were – up and away. He couldn’t hit far,” Bevens said.
But that day, Lavagetto could reach it. He sent a ball to right field and it fell for a brace as Gionfriddo and Eddie Miksis, who were running for Reiser, ran around the bases to score.
When the ball fell, Bevens’ mood went with it. “[I] felt like a guy who had dropped ten floors in an elevator. My heart and my brain and everything was right next to my spikes. “
The game was over, but certainly not as Bevens imagined. The Yankees lost 3-2.
“Those bases on bullets,” Bevens said in the clubhouse afterwards, “sure kill you”,
It was a dark walk back to the clubhouse. The series was now tied and anyone could take it. Joe DiMaggio tried to soften the blow with a few kind words.
“Bad luck, mate,” DiMaggio said. “I let you down, but we’ll get them tomorrow.”
Bevens remained in the locker room until dark, wanting to avoid any remaining fans or reporters. When he finally fled the stadium, he grabbed his friend and sports reporter Al Lightner and, with their wives, headed for a bar the Yankees frequented.
“The owner, he kicked everyone out, rolled the blinds down, and we sat there and drank alcohol until 5 in the morning,” Lightner remembers.
Years later, Bevens will return to his contact with history.
“I guess it’s as close as it gets. I was just happy to be there in the World Series,” Bevens said.
Bevens and Lavagetto would stay connected through this moment and big league careers that didn’t last much longer. That winning brace was Lavagetto’s last Major League hit before retiring and becoming a coach and, having pitched 2 2/3 innings in Game 6, Bevens will never walk on a Major League mound again. (Luckily for Bevens, the Yankees won the series in seven games.)
He had shoulder problems at camp the following season (some think it bothered him during the near-no-no) and wouldn’t try to pitch again until he returned to the Pacific Coast League in 1950. While trying to make a comeback with Cincinnati during spring training in 1952, Bevens and Lavagetto got together for a photoshoot – Bevens pretending to smother the old Dodger with his bat.
Because as sad as Bevens is to miss his chance to make history, he hasn’t looked at his career with sadness.
“I wanted three things” Bevens said in 1990, a year before he died of lymphoma at the age of 75. “To be a Yankee, meet Babe Ruth and compete in the World Series. All my dreams have come true.”