On Sept. 30, 1972, Roberto Clemente passed Honus Wagner for most games ever played by a Pittsburgh Pirate, but the fans in Three Rivers Stadium witnessed a much more important milestone that day. Pitching for Yogi Berra’s New York Mets was Jon Matlack, a lefthander that won 15 games that year and would be awarded the National League Rookie of the Year. He struck out Clemente in the first inning, but Clemente smoked a double off the leftfield wall in the fourth for hit number 3,000.
At that point, Clemente was just the 11th player to reach the 3,000-hit milestone. He is pulled from the game afterwards for a pinch hitter, fellow future Hall-of-Famer Bill Mazeroski. It will be Clemente’s last regular season at-bat of his career; he is killed in a plane crash while delivering aid to victims of an earthquake in Nicaragua after the Cincinnati Reds eliminate the Pirates from the playoffs.
On this same date in 1927, the New York Yankees were about to close out what many argue is the best season in Major League Baseball history. Fans packed “The House that Ruth Built” to see the Bambino break baseball’s homerun record — which he set in 1921. Ruth was absolutely on fire, having hit 16 home runs just in the month of September, hitting numbers 58 and 59 the day before.
To put in perspective how impressive Ruth’s 1927 season was: the Babe hit more home runs by himself than 12 out of 16 teams did. He finished the year hitting .356, drove in 165 runs, and led the league in walks with 137.
Washington Senator pitcher Tom Zachary walked Ruth in the first inning on four pitches. He then singled to right in both the fourth and the sixth. Ruth walked up to the plate in the bottom of the eight inning, with the score knotted at 2-2. Mark Koenig sat on third base after a one-out triple. Ruth takes a called strike. Zachary’s second offering is a ball. Ruth then takes the third pitch deep over the right field wall — fair by just inches.
Ruth’s game-winning homer put the Yankees 19 games over the second-place Philadelphia Athletics (Washington was in third, a whopping 24.5 games back). He went 0-3 with a walk the next day, which was the last game of the regular season. Ruth’s season total would stand until 1961 when Roger Maris hit 61 (eclipsed by Mark McGwire’s 70 in 1998, and Barry Bonds’ current record of 73 set in 2001. His mark of 17 home runs in September still stands — although it was tied by the Cleveland Indians’ Albert Belle in 1995.
Featured image: Private George H. “Babe” Ruth salutes Gen. John J. Pershing after enlisting in the New York National Guard in 1924. (Library of Congress photo)