"Five Infielders: how often this millennium?"
That's the title of one of my posts yesterday. I received a private message from a friend, which dealt, not with the main topic, but with a brief aside that contained this: "the most notorious blown save in baseball history: Rivera blowing both the save and game seven, 2001 WS."
He suggested Ralph Branca 1951. (No time to explain in detail. Maybe a future post on how neither Brooklyn Dodger fans nor the Dodger rivalry with the New York Giants were all that they were cracked up to be.)
I responded: "not even a post season game ... not even close".
However, upon reflection my choice of the word notorious was probably ill advised. Biggest was what I was groping for.
There is a larger issue. What is bigger and more important: blowing the regular season pennant, especially under the old do or die format with no tournament, or blowing game seven of the World Series (MLB finals now)?
In 1951 was a save awarded as we now know it and, if so, what was the definition? Just curious.
There is also a difference in circumstance. Branca entered with a two run lead, runners on second and third, one out, Bobby Thomson coming up (struggling rookie Willie Mays on deck). Rivera had already pitched a scoreless eighth and had a 2-1 lead. Part of what makes Branca's blown save look worse is that the Dodgers were up 4-1 entering the bottom of the ninth and one run was already in when Branca made his ill fated entrance.
Bobby Thomson homered off Branca to win the pennant. Click Thomson's name to see his home run log. Thomson hit 32 homers in 1951, the final two off Branca two days apart (both in a best of three game play-in series) and another one month earlier. August 8, 1951 Thomson had also homered off starter Don Newcombe who was being relieved and
Thomson hit two of his first three homers off the other Dodger starter warming up, Carl Erskine, who supposedly had just bounced a curve when Dodger manager Chuck Dressen asked the bullpen coach how Branca and Erskine looked.
Dressen certainly knew about that homer two days before. What was he thinking? Did he consider walking Thomson putting the winning run on base? Thomson only needed a single to tie the game.
We could apply some linear weights thing to it but it's almost philosophical. Of these two, which is the bigger blown save? What do you think?