Golden Baseball Magazine

Post-Season Surprises

This feature discusses players who unexpectedly played key roles in the World Series or other post-season play .

Bob Kuzava

Bob Kuzava and Casey Stengel

Johnny Sain

Hank Bauer makes the final out.

Jackie Robinson watches his pop up over the mound.

Billy Martin catches Robinson's pop up.

Berra jumps on Kuzava's back after the last out.

Bob Kuzava

Southpaw Bob Kuzava from Wyandotte MI was at best a journeyman P during his MLB career, which spanned 12 seasons with eight different teams. But in back-to-back World Series, he provided clutch relief work that helped the Yankees add two more World Series titles to their trophy case.
  • Kuzava's final MLB line: W 49, L 44, 4.05 ERA, 34 complete games in 99 starts, 13 saves
  • But he provides yet another example of manager Casey Stengel's ability to add a player to his roster that fills a specific role.
  • Bob came to the Yankees in a June 15, 1951, trade with the Washington Senators, who received three pitchers - Tom Ferrick, Bob Porterfield, and Fred Sanford.
  • Kuzava appeared in 23 games for Stengel the rest of that season, finishing 13. He compiled five saves - a stat, of course, that has been retroactively calculated. His ERA for the Bronx Bombers was 2.40. He won eight games in relief during the stretch run to NY's third straight pennant, allowing only three runs in his last 26 innings.

The Yanks' opponent in the Fall Classic was the New York Giants, fresh off their electrifying victory over the Dodgers in the three-game NL playoff on Bobby Thomson's "Shot Heard 'Round the World."

  • Kuzava saw no action in the series until Game Six. Ahead three games to two, the Yankees led 4-1 going into the 9th at Yankee Stadium.
  • Another late-season acquisition, Johnny Sain, had shut out the Giants in the 7th and 8th but faltered in the 9th. Three straight singles loaded the bases with no outs.
  • Despite the fact that two righthanded batters, Monte Irvin and Thomson, were due up, Stengel signaled for Kuzava because he knew that Bob would not walk anyone.
  • Needing one more hit to tie the all-time Series record of 12, Irvin socked a high fly to LCF. Gene Woodling hauled it in 400' from home plate. Eddie Stanky, the runner on 3rd, scored easily. Al Dark on 2nd and Whitey Lockman on 1st tagged and scooted to 3rd and 2nd.
  • With 1st base open, Stengel decided not to walk Thomson. Bobby also swung at the first delivery and sent it soaring to LF. Again Woodling caught it against the fence. Dark trotted home while Lockman held second.
  • With the lead whittled down to 4-3, Giants manager Leo Durocher sent up another righthanded hitter, Sal Yvars, batting in place of lefthanded RF Hank Thompson. The backup C had appeared in only 25 games all season but hit .317.
  • Stengel went to the mound and asked Kuzava, "You know this guy?" "Yeah," said Bob. "I know him from the minors." That was all Casey needed to hear. So he returned to the dugout. Meanwhile, the southpaw turned and motioned his outfielders to play Yvars straightaway.
  • Kuzava threw an outside fast ball that Yvars liked. Sal slashed a liner toward RF as Lockman started running from 2nd with two outs. Playing shallow and in a direct line with the path of the ball, RF Hank Bauer took off with the crack of the bat as the ball faded slightly away from him toward the foul line. He lost it in the shadows for a moment before relocating the horsehide. He lunged forward, falling to his knees, and speared the ball to save the Series. Afterwards, the former Marine sergeant explained, "I thought for a while I wouldn't make it. ... I knew I couldn't let that one get past me and it didn't."
  • The three pitches that Kuzava had thrown for outs resulted in drives that traveled over 1200' but were caught.
  • "I felt nervous at first because it was my first World Series," admitted Bob. "But after I threw a few I knew I was okay. I threw one curve and the rest fast balls."
  • Yankee pitching coach Jim Turner added, "We had a lot of confidence in Bob. You know, he only gave up two earned runs in relief throughout the season."

Kuzava had another solid year for the Yankees in 1952.

  • He started 12 games and appeared in 16 others in relief. He finished nine contests, recording three saves. His ERA rose to 3.45 as he won 8 and lost 8.
  • Once again, Bob didn't appear in the World Series until the final game, Game 7 at Ebbets Field. This time, Casey didn't wait until the 9th to call on his lefty.
  • Kuzava's big moment came in the bottom of the 7th. The Yankees led 4-2 thanks to two circuit clouts by 20-year-old Mickey Mantle, who had replaced the immortal Joe DiMaggio in CF when Joltin' Joe retired after the '51 World Series.
  • Despite having worked 7 2/3 innings the day before, Vic Raschi took the mound to hold the lead but, similar to Sain the year before, ran into trouble right away. Carl Furillo walked. After Rocky Nelson popped out, Billy Cox singled to short RF, Furillo taking 2nd. When Raschi handed Pee Wee Reese a free pass to load the bases, Stengel brought in Kuzava in exactly the same situation Bob had faced against the Giants the year before - bases loaded and one out. The lefty later admitted that he said to himself, "This guy (Stengel) has got to be crazy to bring me in here."
  • This time, Bob faced a lefthanded hitter, Duke Snider, Brooklyn's leading hitter in the Series. However, Kuzava felt confident because he had handled Snider in the International League. The Dodger CF worked the count full before weakly popping up a rising fastball to Gil McDougald at 3B.
  • Up came Jackie Robinson. Kuzava assumed his manager would replace him with Sain, a righthander who had battled Jackie many times in the NL. Casey took a few steps toward the mound, then sat back down. His gut told him to stick with Kuzava
    Even C Yogi Berra was testy, arguing the call that made the count 2-1. Jackie hit two straight fouls, ratcheting up the suspense even more. Then Robinson reached out for a curve and hit a little popup over the mound that the wind blew back toward the plate. Kuzava could have made the catch with ease, but this was the major leagues. Pitchers don't go after pop flies. Instead, he called "JoeJoe" to get 1B Joe Collins to take it. But the 1B had lost the ball in the glare pouring through the openings behind the 3B stands. With the runner on 3B already across the plate and the one from 2B on his way home, it looked for a moment that the ball would drop and give the Dodgers the lead and perhaps the Series. That's when 2B Billy Martin, seeing what was going on, charged in from 2B, his cap flying off, to grab the ball at knee level just behind the mound.
    Showing the best stuff of any Yankee hurler of the afternoon with his fastball really hopping as Berra said after the game, Kuzava had wiggled out of the jam to keep the score 4-2.
  • With his mates unable to extend the lead, Bob faced the Dodgers in the bottom of the 8th. Roy Campanella struck out swinging. That brought up 1B Gil Hodges, who had failed to get a hit in 20 ABs in the Series. His ignominious performance continued with a grounder to McDougald, whose throw to 1B pulled Collins off the bag. Unfazed by the error, Kuzava fanned Andy Pafko, who tipped the 3-2 delivery into Berra's mitt. Furillo brought a roar from the crowd with a line drive to LF, but Woodling caught it right in front of the warning track.
  • Stengel let Kuzava hit for himself in the top of the 9th. He bounced out. McDougald singled but was stranded. So Bob took the hill with the two-run lead. Bob Morgan, the first of three straight righty batters, flew to Woodling. Bobby Cox stepped in looking for his third hit of the day. Instead, he hit an 0-2 curve to Martin, who threw to 1B for the easy out. Reese came up looking to prolong the inning and bring Snider to the plate. Stengel yelled to his boys to watch out for the bunt. Kuzava gave the Brooklyn fans some hope with two straight balls before popping a fast one down the middle. Reese stepped out to slow down the big lefty. A curve caught the inside corner to even the count. A foul back kept Pee Wee alive. Another foul as the ball hit the handle of the bat. Finally, Reese flied to LF to clinch the Yankees' fourth straight championship.

So journeyman Bob Kuzava had recorded the final outs of two straight World Series, working out of bases loaded jams in both cases.

  • Stengel summarized his closer's performance like this. That fella (Kuzava) came in there and really took me out of a jam. That boy hadn't been pitching hardly any all season, but he really went in there and threw hard. 
  • Casey found Kuzava with his shirt off, tossed his arms around the P, and gave forth a typical Stengel grin as the flash bulbs popped. Bob said he was lucky that Snider popped out with the bases loaded in the 7th. I fed him a fast one straight down the middle on the 3 and 2 pitch. I was lucky that he got just a piece of the ball.
  • Dodger manager Charlie Dressen: That Kuzava was burning his fast ball in there. He was very quick.

Kuzava also made one appearance in the 1953 World Series but without the drama of his previous two showings. He hurled 2/3 of an inning against Brooklyn, giving up two hits and one run.