On This Date in Sports August 27, 1977: Back to Back the Hard Way

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

It was an inning of misfortune for Ken Clay of the New York Yankees. On back-to-back pitches, Clay gave up two home runs to the Texas Rangers, blowing open a game in the Bronx. None of the balls left ballpark as Toby Harrah, and Bump Wills became the first players to have back-to-back inside the park home runs in the American League, leading the Rangers to an 8-2 win.

Only once before in baseball’s modern era had players had back-to-back inside the park home runs. That occurred on June 23, 1946, when Marvin Rickert and Eddie Waitkus of the Chicago Cubs did it at the Polo Grounds against the New York Giants. The Giants would rally to win that game 15-10.

In the early days of baseball, Inside the park home runs were more common due to large outfields. However, once the home run became popular, the dimensions of ballparks became more compact, turning the inside the park home run into a rare event. Under most circumstances, and outfielder has to misplay a ball for an inside the park home run to be possible, and that misplay can not be called an error for it to count as a home run.

After a slow start, the Texas Rangers played themselves back into contention after changing managers in 1977. The hiring of Bill Hunter lit a spark under the team as they were threading water near .500 for Frank Lucchesi. After sitting 34-35 on June 27th, the Rangers two months later were 71-56 heading into a Saturday afternoon in the Bronx. The Yankees meanwhile were atop the American League East with a record of 76-51 for manager Billy Martin.

Mike Torrez made the start for the Yankees, while Bert Blyleven was on the mound for Texas. Mike Hargrove started the game with a bang, as he led off the first inning with a home run to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead. In the top of the second, Bump Wills drove home a run with a single to make it 2-0. In the fourth inning, Wills hit the second home run of his career to build 3-0 lead for Texas. The Yankees finally got on the board in the bottom of the fourth, as Chris Chambliss scored on a sacrifice fly by Bucky Dent. Each team also scored in the fifth, as Bert Campaneris homered for Texas and Craig Nettles homered for New York.

In the seventh inning with the Rangers lead 4-2, Ken Clay was on the mound for the Yankees looking to prevent any more damage. With two runners on and one out, Toby Harrah hit a ball the opposite way to right field. Lou Piniella leaped and crashed into the wall as the ball hit the top of the wall and rolled away. Piniella was shaken up and lay on the ground as Harrah ran around the bases to give the Rangers a 7-2 lead. Lou Piniella would stay in the game, as Bump Wills came to the plate. On the first pitch he saw from Clay, Wills drove the ball to the deepest part of the park in centerfield. Mickey Rivers jumped, but the ball hit off his glove and rolled away, leading to another inside the park home run.

Ken Clay would leave the game shell shocked, as the Rangers went on to win the game 8-2, as Bert Blyleven went the distance for the win.