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The game keeps you humble, even if you win three out of every four games you play. The ’27 Yankees lost 44 games. The ’98 Yankees lost 48 games. The 2022 Yankees lost their 18th game Tuesday night to the Rays, 5-4, and, as Aaron Boone surmised: “We’ll probably lose a few more.”
The game even finds a way to humble the game’s best stories, like Nestor Cortes. Cortes allowed three solo home runs in 4 ²/₃ innings, and that was enough to earn him his third loss of the season and nudge his ERA over 2.
“I didn’t make enough good pitches to get them out,” Cortes said. “It just didn’t work out today.”
Boone said, “He wasn’t quite as crisp. Guys hit some balls pretty hard off him. Just not quite as sharp as we’re accustomed to. Not quite his night.”
Mostly these nights have gone the Yankees’ way because, mostly, their five-man starting staff has been on an epic run. In the 67 games (and 50 wins) before Tuesday that rotation — Gerrit Cole, Cortes, Jameson Taillon, Jordan Montgomery, Luis Severino — has demanded the sport’s attention.
And it stands apart in the Yankees’ long history. Entering Tuesday they were a combined 28-6. Their combined ERA was 2.77. Their combined WHIP was 1.008. Every time this quintet takes the mound this is their average outing: 5 ²/₃ innings, four hits, six strikeouts, one walk.
The Yankees — despite their eternal reputation as an offensive wrecking crew — have had some fine rotations through the years. If they keep this up, they have a genuine chance to become the best Yankees rotation of all — though if they keep this up, at this pace, they may actually aspire to the best rotation any team ever had.
(For the last 51 years, it has long been assumed that the ’71 Orioles hold that distinction, thanks to four 20-game winners — Jim Palmer, Dave McNally, Mike Cuellar, Pat Dobson — all of whom had ERAs between 2.68 and 3.08. They started all but 16 of the 101-win Orioles’ 158 games.)
The best Yankees staffs? Here’s five to ponder.
Though the legend of the ’27 Yankees is almost entirely built around the hitting prowess of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri, Bob Meusel and Earle Combs, the original Murderers’ Row also featured what stands, all these years later, as the gold standard of Yankees starting staffs.
Topped by a pair of Hall of Famers at the top of the rotation — Waite Hoyt (22-7. 2.63) and Herb Pennock (19-8, 3.00) — the 110-win ’27 team actually was well ahead of its time in that it featured a genuine five-man lineup, which also included Urban Shocker (18-6, 2.84), Dutch Reuther (13-6, 3.38) and George Pipgras (10-3, 4.11).
Six years later, the 107-win ’32 Yankees actually featured three Hall of Famers. Red Ruffing (18-7, 3.08) was the ace, backed by Lefty Gomez (24-7, 4.21) and Pennock (9-5, 4.60) with some able assistance from Johnny Allen (17-4, 3.70) and Pipgras (16-9, 4.19). If the ERAs seem elevated, well — the Yankees scored 1,002 runs that year — 6 ½ per game. They almost never needed to be perfect.
Among recent Yankees teams, this was probably the best of the bunch with four pitchers — Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina and David Wells — amassing 200 innings and combining to go 70-32. The fifth man in that rotation, though, was Jeff Weaver (7-9, 5.99) a legit weak link in the chain.
Like 1927, the ’61 team is generally defined by the fact that not only did Roger Maris (61) and Mickey Mantle (54) combine for 115 homers but four others — Elston Howard, Yogi Berra, Moose Skowron and Johnny Blanchard — hit 20 or more. Still, the Yanks got great pitching almost every game thanks to Whitey Ford (25-4, 3.21), Ralph Terry (16-3, 3.15), Bill Stafford (14-9, 2.68), Rollie Sheldon (11-5, 3.60) and Bud Daley (8-9, 3.96).
It’s impossible to have a list like this and not include this staff, even though it relied heavily on the Big Three of Ron Guidry (25-3, 1.74), Ed Figueroa (20-9, 2.99) and Catfish Hunter, who finished 12-6 but went 10-3 with a 2.71 in the second half as the Yankees made up a 14-game deficit behind the Red Sox, the last great hurrah of Hunter’s Hall of Fame career.