We haven’t posted a Game Rewind article in a few months, but today seems like a good day for it, since April 27th is a quiet date in Pittsburgh Pirates history. To help fill out future This Date in Pittsburgh Pirates History articles for April 27th, we take a look back at a game that included a big hit from the most underrated player in Pittsburgh Pirates history, who might just be the most underrated player of all-time.
On April 27, 1938, the Pirates were at Forbes Field to take on the Chicago Cubs. It was very early in the season and the Pirates started off with a 7-1 record going into this day. The Cubs were off to a good start with a 5-3 record. Veteran Larry French was on the mound for Chicago, taking on his former team. His career started with six seasons (1929-34) for the Pirates. His mound opponent that day was Cy Blanton, who won 45 games over the 1935-37 seasons for the Pirates.
The lineups for this game included a total of four Hall of Famers. The Cubs had Billy Herman at second base and batting second. He would finish his career with the 1947 Pirates. They also had shortstop Tony Lazzeri batting seventh. He was nearing the end of his Hall of Fame career, which was mostly spent with the New York Yankees. The Pirates had two of their all-time greats in the lineup, with Paul Waner in right field batting second and Arky Vaughan at shortstop batting fourth. Lloyd Waner was out with a leg injury.
This game started with Blanton allowing two singles in the first, including one by Herman. However, he kept the Cubs off of the board. The Pirates got nothing going in the bottom of the inning, with a fly ball by Woody Jensen and another fly out by Waner. Then rookie Johnny Rizzo, who would set the Pirates record for homers in 1938, grounded out to shortstop.
In the second inning, the Cubs went down in order, as Blanton picked up two strikeouts, including getting Lazzeri to whiff. In the bottom of the frame, Vaughan started the inning with a single to right field. Gus Suhr sacrificed him to second base, then catcher Al Todd and third baseman Bill Brubaker each grounded out to end the inning.
In the third, the Cubs went down in order again, with Herman making the last out on a fly ball to left field. The Pirates got a single by Pep Young to begin their inning. They still sent the minimum to the plate, as Blanton popped up a bunt, then Jensen grounded into a double play. Through three innings, the game was scoreless.
In the fourth, Blanton retired the first two batters quickly, then things went south in a hurry. Outfielder Joe Marty homered to give the Cubs a 1-0 lead. Augie Galan then singled, stole second, moved to third on an errant pick-off and scored on a single by Ken O’Dea. In between Galan’s running the bases and scoring, Lazzeri drew a walk. Blanton got French on a ground out to keep it 2-0.
In the bottom of the fourth, Waner grounded out and Rizzo lined out to center. The Pirates tried for a little fourth inning two-out magic of their own, as Vaughan and Suhr drew walks, but Todd grounded back to the pitcher to end the inning.
In the fifth, Chicago got a triple from Stan Hack to start the inning. Herman flew out to right field, but it wasn’t deep enough to get the run home. Hack would score one batter later on a Ripper Collins single. Collins would join the Pirates in 1941 for his last big league season. After making it 3-0, Frank Demaree grounded into a double play to end the frame.
The Pirates got a single from Brubaker to open the fifth, then Pep Young reached on an error. With no outs, they decided to go to the bench, replacing Blanton at the plate with Jim Tobin, who was a pitcher, but also a very strong hitter. The move didn’t work out though, as Tobin struck out, then Jensen grounded out, followed by a Waner fly out to center field.
Mace Brown took the mound for the Pirates in the sixth and got two quick fly balls for two outs. Lazzeri drew a walk, then the Cubs made it 4-0 after back-to-back singles from O’Dea and French. Hack couldn’t extend the lead, as he flew out to center to end the inning. The Pirates got a single from Vaughan in the bottom of the sixth, but two fly balls and a strikeout ended another scoreless inning for the home team.
In the seventh, the Cubs got a single by Herman to start the inning. Collins came up and hit a high pop up that started off behind the plate, then the wind took it into fair territory, where it landed between catcher Todd and first baseman Suhr. Todd made a quick play on it after it landed, grabbing the ball and throwing to second base for the force out. After that crazy out, Demaree singled. Marty grounded out, putting two runners in scoring position with two outs. Galan grounded out to second base to end the inning.
Things were bleak for the Pirates through 6 1/2 innings, but they turned around in the seventh. Brubaker walked and Young singled to put runners on the corners. Pittsburgh went to the bench again, bringing up Johnny Dickshot to bat for Mace Brown. Dickshot hit a sacrifice fly to make it 4-1. Jensen singled, then Waner failed to come through in a big spot again, grounding out to first base for the second out. A walk to Rizzo brought up Arky Vaughan with the bases loaded. French was still in the game and he went 3-0 on Vaughan before getting two called strikes. Vaughan then swung at an outside pitch and pulled it over the right field wall for a grand slam and a 5-4 lead.
French was removed after the homer and reliever Jack Russell got Gus Suhr to pop out to end the inning. In the top of the eighth, Bob Klinger took over and retired the side in order, including a strikeout of Lazzeri.
The Pirates faced Charlie Root in the bottom of the eighth and he got Todd to fly out to left field. Brubaker walked and stole second. Young struck out, then Klinger helped his own cause with a single off of the glove of Lazzeri that scored Brubaker. Jensen grounded out to send it to the ninth with a 6-4 score.
The Cubs immediately got to work in the ninth, as Hack reached on a smoked ball to shortstop that hit off of Vaughan’s glove. He was charged with an error on the play, but Hack made it to third after center fielder Woody Jensen kicked the ball while going after it. Herman doubled to score the run and now the game was 6-5 with a man on second and no outs. The Cubs tried to bunt Herman over, but it backfired and he was thrown out going to third base on what was described as a great play by catcher Al Todd. Demaree came up and hit a hard grounder to Vaughan, who scooped it up and completed the 6-4-3 double play to end the game.
Vaughan went 3-for-3 in the game with two singles, a walk and the grand slam that was game-changing. Before the seventh, it looked like the Cubs were going to walk away easily with a victory. Vaughan’s heroics gave the Pirates an 8-1 record. The local papers made a bold prediction that Vaughan was going to have a big season based on a small sample size to start the season. He ended up putting up 8.8 WAR that year, though that number was helped by one of the best defensive seasons (2.9 dWAR) in team history.