October 6, 1926--Babe Ruth become the first player to hit three homers in one World Series game by sending a trifecta of roundtrippers into the St. Louis seats at Sportsman's Park 86 years ago today.
Reggie Jackson's three-homer game in the 1977 World Series clincher has entered baseball lore and stands as the definitive postseason performance that earned him the nickname "Mr. October." The three-homer game from Albert Pujols in Game 3 of the World Series last year earned him comparisons to Jackson's efforts, but it was not as though Jackson was the first to do it. Once again, home run history goes back to Babe Ruth. Ruth did Jackson and Pujols one better and actually had two three-homer games in World Series play--in Game 4 of the 1926 World Series and in the clinching Game 4 of the 1928 World Series. Both of these games were against the St. Louis Cardinals at old Sportsman's Park, and they remain among the greatest of the Bambino's spectacular feats.
Today is the 86th anniversary of Ruth's first three-homer World Series game, and it was actually also the first time that Ruth did so at all. In fact, Ruth had as many postseason three-homer games as he did regular season three-homer games. The Yankees were trailing the series two games to one at the time. They captured the American League pennant mostly on the strength of a great start to the season, which included a 16-game winning streak from May 10-26. By August 6th, they were 70-36, a .660 winning percentage that outpaced the second-place Cleveland Indians by 11 games. They did not fare well at all from that day on though, playing under-.500 ball at 21-27 while the Indians caught up to within two games of them on September 22nd with four games to go. Thankfully, they swept a doubleheader from the St. Louis Browns on September 25th to clinch a World Series berth against St. Louis's National League club, the Cardinals. After chasing the Cincinnati Reds and the defending World Series champion Pittsburgh Pirates for most of the season, the Cardinals caught them in late August, then emerged victorious in a fight with the Reds down the finish line for the NL flag.
The Yankees took Game 1 of the series at Yankee Stadium by a score of 2-1 on the strength of starter Herb Pennock's three-hitter and young first baseman Lou Gehrig's RBI single to score Ruth with the go-ahead run in the sixth inning. Veteran Grover Cleveland "Pete" Alexander countered with a four-hit 6-2 victory in Game 2 to help St. Louis tie it up with the help of a seventh-inning three-run blast from right fielder Billy Southworth to break a 2-2 tie. Upon their return to St. Louis for Game 3, Jesse Haines shut the Yankees out on five hits to put the Yankees in a heap of trouble--another loss would put the Yankees a game away from a World Series defeat. Although the Pirates had completed a successful comeback from a 3-1 series deficit the year before, it was the first time it had happened in World Series history. The Yankees certainly did not want to chance fate like the Buccos did.
The Cardinals had held Ruth to two singles and two walks thus far in the Fall Classic, which was an accomplishment considering his home run exploits. After an off-year battling stomach ailments in '25, Ruth rebounded in '26 to capture the AL home run crown for the seventh time, belting 47 out of the park while maintaining a high average at .372/.516/.737 with a 225 OPS+. Ruth got off to a quick start in Game 4 against durable St. Louis starter Flint Rhem, who pitched to a 3.21 ERA and 122 ERA+ in '26 while leading the Cardinals staff in starts (34) and innings (258). Rhem struck out the first two hitters he faced, but now, he faced Ruth. The day before, acclaimed writer Damon Runyon talked with Ruth about the series thus far, in which the Yankees had only scored four runs. Ruth said, "The boys ain't hittin', and that's a fact. And if we don't look out, we'll lose all the dough. I know what I'll do. I'll do the hittin' myself."
On the first pitch he saw from Rhem, Ruth slugged the ball deep to right field that barely stayed fair and "fell into an adjoining street." Runyon reported that while their home team now trailed 1-0, the St. Louis crowd "laughed it off with score." Their dismissive tone toward the clout was justified when Rhem got out of the inning and the Cardinal lineup immediately tied the game with three straight singles against Yankee starter Waite Hoyt, capped off player/manager Rogers Hornsby's RBI single to right. There were now runners on first and second with no one out, but Hoyt also retired the side without any further runners crossing the plate. Two innings later, Ruth was at it again with Rhem on the mound and the score still tied at one. Rhem took a different approach from the first at bat and threw Ruth a slow pitch, a strategy previously utilized to success by John McGraw's New York Giants in the '21 and '22 World Series. It did not work; Ruth again sent the first pitch flying toward the right field pavillion into the street. While some fans now loudly applauded, others "continued to laugh--not too heartily, however." The Yankees expanded the lead to 3-1 when second baseman Tony Lazzeri walked in the fourth and "Jumping Joe" Dugan's double to left, which scored Lazzeri once left fielder Chick Hafey and center fielder Taylor Douthit collided. Although the game was halted for a few minutes while the two were dazed, they stayed in the game.
The Cardinals responded with a three-run bottom of the fourth that featured two doubles, two singles, a sacrifice fly, and an embarrassing error by shortstop Mark Koenig on a fumbled double play ball that could have ended the inning without any runs scoring. Instead, it was 4-3, St. Louis. Not to be outdone, the Yankees rallied for four runs in the top of the fifth, mostly against new pitcher Art Reinhart (now in for Rhem, who left for a pinch-hitter in the fourth inning). Reinhart was unusually wild, walking four men (including Ruth) and surrendering a double to the atoning Koenig without recording an out. He departed after a bases-loaded walk to Gehrig that brought home the go-ahead run at 5-4. Reliever Herman "Hi" Bell replaced Reinhart, but while he recorded two quick outs, they both put runs on the board as well. By the end of the one-hit rally, the Yankees held a 7-4 lead that they would not relinquish.
To put a cap on the Yankees' offensive attack in Game 4, Ruth came up again in the sixth inning with a runner on first. The "Sultan of Swat" crushed a Bell pitch to deep center field, further than anyone could remember a ball traveling at Sportsman's Park. It came to rest high up in the bleachers, way beyond where the 425-foot sign was on the wall. Some estimates had it at 530 feet, but it was unknown how far it went exactly. Regardless, the booming shot silenced the doubters and gave the Yankees two more runs to work with. They went on to win the game 10-5 and tie the series at two. They unfortunately would lose the series in seven games, but Ruth's home run performance in Game 4 will always be one of the greatest shows in the grand history of the Fall Classic.