The pitcher who nearly tossed a Series no-no

Bill Bevens was one out away from immortality

October 3rd, 2022
Art by Tom Forget

There have only been two postseason no-hitters in baseball's long and glorious history: Roy Halladay -- who shut down the Reds in Game 1 of the 2010 NLDS -- and Don Larsen, who hurled a perfect game against the Dodgers in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series.

“Sometimes a week might go by when I don’t think about that game,” Larsen said in 2005, “but I don’t remember when it happened last.”

Despite the hundreds of postseason games and the all-time greats who have taken the hill, no one else has ever pulled off the feat.

But one pitcher came tantalizingly close, pitching 8 2/3 no-hit innings ... before it all fell apart. This is the story of Bill Bevens' brush with greatness.

Signed by the Yankees in 1937, Bevens' career nearly sputtered and stalled in the Minor Leagues. He was transferred to the Pacific Coast League during World War II to be closer to home in case he was drafted, which ended up not happening since he was 26 years old and married. Brought back to Newark in 1944, Bevens sparkled and later made his big league debut, going 4-1 with a 2.68 ERA. He may not have been blessed with great stuff, but he put together some phenomenal seasons over the next two years, going 29-22 with a 2.84 ERA. He was the Yankees' second-best pitcher behind Spud Chandler.

Then came 1947. Bevens' numbers took a bit of a dip -- his ERA rose to a career-worst 3.82 and he walked as many batters as he struck out -- while the Yankees added Allie Reynolds and rookie Spec Shea, strengthening the rotation on their way to the World Series. It all came down to Bevens starting Game 4 of the World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers, with the Yankees up 2 games to 1.

Never known for having the best command, few fans would have expected greatness from how his start began. Bevens walked two batters in the first, another in the second and walked another and threw a wild pitch in the third. He pitched his lone 1-2-3 inning in the fourth before two walks and a fielder's choice gave the Dodgers a run in the fifth to cut the lead to 2-1. Still, whenever the Dodgers were able to put the ball in play, the Yankees easily converted them to outs.

Bevens then walked a batter each in the sixth, seventh and eighth -- and still the hits column for Brooklyn was a sparkling goose egg. If the game was being played today, there's not a chance he would still be out there. Even Edwin Jackson's eight-walk no-hitter in the regular season had fans sweating -- and that wasn't a World Series.

With the Yankees still clinging to that 2-1 lead, Bevens came out to finish off the bottom of the ninth and secure his place in history. With just three more outs, he would be the first pitcher to throw a World Series no-no.

Catcher Bruce Edwards, who had struck out in his previous three appearances, hit a deep fly out to left for the first out.

Carl Furillo, naturally, walked.

Spider Jorgensen then popped out to first base for the second out, bringing up the pitcher's spot in the lineup.

Bevens on the mound

Pete Reiser, a former batting champ who had hit .309 during the year, stepped to the plate as a pinch-hitter. After Al Gionfriddo, pinch-running for Furillo, stole second, the Yankees chose the safe move: They gave Reiser an intentional pass – Bevens’ 10th walk of the day. (While it's perhaps the least talked about part of this game, Bevens does still hold the record for most walks in a postseason game.)

With runners on first and second now, the Dodgers made another move. In place of Eddie Stanky, they called upon 34-year-old Cookie Lavagetto to pinch-hit. Nearing the end of his big league career, Lavagetto had appeared in 41 games that year and racked up only 82 plate appearances. Little did he know he was about to become a hero.

Bevens got a swing and a miss on the first pitch. Two more strikes and the game was over, a World Series victory and a no-hitter -- no matter how sloppy -- in hand.

"High and away" -- that's where Bevens threw the pitch. "That's what my instructions were -- high and away. He couldn't hit away," Bevens said.

But on this day, Lavagetto could reach it. He smacked a fly ball out to right field and it dropped in for a double as Gionfriddo and Eddie Miksis, pinch-running for Reiser, raced around the bases to score.

When the ball dropped, Bevens' mood went with it. "[I] felt like a guy who had dropped ten stories in an elevator. My heart and my brains and everything was right down by my spikes."

The game was over, but certainly not how Bevens imagined it. The Yankees had lost, 3-2.

“Those bases on balls," Bevens said in the clubhouse afterward, "sure kill you,"

Teammates and fans swarm Lavagetto

It was a somber walk back to the clubhouse. The Series was now tied and anyone could take it. Joe DiMaggio tried to soften the blow with some kind words.

"Tough luck, stud," DiMaggio said. "I let you down, but we'll get them tomorrow."

Bevens stayed in the locker room until dark, wanting to avoid any remaining fans or newspaper reporters. When he finally fled the stadium, he grabbed friend and sportswriter Al Lightner and, along with their wives, headed to a bar the Yankees often frequented.

"The owner, he kicked everybody out, pulled the shades down, and we sat there and drank booze until 5 in the morning," Lightner remembered.

Years later, Bevens would look back on his brush with history.

"I guess that's as close as you can get. I was just happy to be there in the World Series," Bevens said.

Bevens and Lavagetto would remain connected by this one moment and big league careers that didn't last much longer. That game-winning double was Lavagetto's final Major League hit before retiring and taking up coaching and, after he pitched 2 2/3 innings in Game 6, Bevens would never step on a Major League mound again. (Fortunately for Bevens, the Yankees won the Series in seven games.)

He had shoulder issues in camp the next season (some believe it bothered him during the near no-no) and wouldn't try to pitch again until heading back to the Pacific Coast League in 1950. While trying to make a comeback with Cincinnati during Spring Training in 1952, Bevens and Lavagetto got together for a photoshoot -- Bevens pretending to choke the former Dodger with his bat.

For as sad as Bevens was to miss his chance at history, he didn't look back on his career with sadness.

"I wanted three things," Bevens said in 1990, one year before he passed away from lymphoma at the age of 75. "To be a Yankee, meet Babe Ruth and pitch in the World Series. All my dreams were answered."