(An excerpt from FIVE O'CLOCK LIGHTNING: BABE RUTH, LOU GEHRIG AND THE GREATEST TEAM IN BASEBALL HISTORY, THE 1927 NEW YORK YANKEES to be published fall 2007).
The 1927 Yankees were an august presence throughout Major League Baseball as they began the eighth month of the year with a record of 73 wins just 23 losses and a gaudy .730 winning percentage.
Departing New York City on August 8th, Murderer's Row embarked on its most grueling stretch of the 1927 schedule: Philadelphia, Washington, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, St. Louis. Back in New York on the 31st for one game against the Red Sox. Then they would take leave of the Big Apple again for seven more games in Philadelphia and Boston. Talk about living out of suitcases.
Hod Lisenbee, a 28-year-old rookie Washington pitcher from Clarksville, Tennessee, was having a season against the vaunted Yanks. On August 11, the submariner pitched a beauty, defeating the team from the Bronx, 3-2 in 11 innings. It was his fifth consecutive triumph over New York. That 1927 season 22 different pitchers won games against the Yankees, but no one had the success Horace Milton Lisenbee had who finished in 1927 with an 18-9 record including four shutouts for the 3rd-place Senators. He never, however, had another winning season.
Wilcy Moore pushed his record to 12-5 on August 13 in Washington nipping the home team 6-3. A wonder of wonders on the Yankee pitching staff he was almost untouchable away from Yankee Stadium where he would post a 1.77 ERA limiting the opposition to a .217 batting average. With the magnificent Moore on the mound as starter/reliever, the Yankees had a 36-13-1 record in 1927.
He was called a lot of names including the "Ambulance Man" for all the emergency work he performed out of the Yankee bullpen. Dubbed "Doc" by sportswriters, one scribe said: "He specializes in treating ailing ball games and putting them back in a healthy condition."
The best rookie in the league, the best relief pitcher in baseball, Moore's strong suit was his coolness under pressure. And, of course, that deadly sinkerball. Inducing mostly ground balls, Moore would be touched up for just two home runs in 212 innings pitched in 1927, lowest in the majors. Overall, he would wind up 19-7, the third best winning percentage (.731) in the league. He also would have a 2.28 earned run average, while holding opponents to a league-low .234 batting average. He won 13 games in relief, leading the league, and saved another 13, tying for the league lead.
On August l5, Gehrig was ahead of the Babe, 38-36, in the home run derby. There were more and more claiming that he would out-homer George Herman in 1927.
But the Buster would manage just nine more home runs the rest of the season. His beloved mother was ill and in the hospital. Anguish over her health had him fretting during games, at the hospital after each home game. The reckless abandon he once had that allowed him to sometimes play baseball until darkness in the streets of his neighborhood with a bunch of kids was no longer something he could do. His non-baseball playing moments were totally reserved for thinking about and being with his mom.
Gehrig faltered. The Babe forged on.