Blanking the Bombers....a truly rare feat
In the first 110 seasons of the American League, there have only been two pitchers who have ever shut out the New York Yankees four times in a single season. Here are the details of their exploits.
In 1908, Washington Senators pitcher Walter Johnson was in his first full season in the American League. Still only 20 years old, Johnson had made 14 starts for Washington in 1907 and posted an unimpressive 5-9 record. But he was quickly gaining a reputation around the league for his speed and durability. By September 1, his record for 1908 was 7-9. But over the final five weeks of the season, Johnson would do the best work of his young career.
On September 4, Washington faced the New York Highlanders, as the future Yankees were then known, at Hilltop Park in New York. Johnson went the distance, allowing New York just six hits, to win 3-0. Surprisingly, he took the mound the following day and shut out New York 5-0. When rains washed out the game of September 6, Johnson felt strong enough to return to the mound on September 7 and he again beat New York 4-0 on a two-hitter. Over the course of four days, Johnson threw 27 scoreless innings and gave up a total of 12 hits.
Over the next three weeks, Johnson made six starts and complied a 3-3 record, while not registering a single shutout. But when the calendar turned to October, Johnson found himself facing the Highlanders in New York once again. On October 1, Johnson lost 2-1 and two days later New York beat him for the second straight time 3-2. Washington returned home to face Philadelphia for a short two-game series before New York came calling for a three game season-ending series at Griffith Stadium.
On October 7, Johnson quickly found himself locked in a pitchers duel as the game remained scoreless into the 11th inning. Washington finally pushed across a single run and Johnson allowed just five hits to win 1-0. It was his fourth shutout of New York that season, but little attention was paid to Johnson's feat at the time. After all, Washington had just completed a dismal season with a record of 67-85 and a seventh-place finish.
By 1953, Boston Red Sox pitcher Mel Parnell was already a veteran of five-plus seasons in the big leagues. In 1949, Parnell had won 25 games and led the American League in ERA, innings pitched and complete games. Parnell didn't face the Yankees for the first time in 1953 until July 1. But he got off to a good start by blanking New York on four hits to win 4-0. Eight days later at Yankee Stadium, Parnell outpitched the Yankees' 18-game winner Whitey Ford and beat New York again by the identical score of 4-0.
By September 1, Parnell's record stood at 17-8. On September 7, he took the mound at Fenway Park and lasted six innings before leaving with a 6-2 lead in a game Boston eventually won 7-4. Twelve days later, Parnell limited Yankee batters to five hits and won 3-0 at Fenway. On September 25, Parnell got ready to make his final start of the season at Yankee Stadium. He twirled a four-hit masterpiece and won 5-0 to give him 21 wins for the year and his fourth shutout of the Yankees for 1953.
While it is certainly hard to find fault with anything about Johnson's performance, especially in light of his three shutouts in a four day time period, he was facing a Highlanders ballclub that would go 51-103 and finish dead last in the American League that season. To this day, it remains the single worst season in Yankee franchise history.
By comparison, Parnell shut out a 1953 Yankees team that won 99 games and their fifth straight American League pennant. His combined statistics against New York that season were:
5 starts; 42 innings; 28 hits; 29 strikeouts; 3 earned runs and an ERA of 0.64
It's worth noting that Walter Johnson posted a league-best 11 shutouts in 1913 and three of them were against New York. In 1917, Cleveland's Stan Coveleski also shut out the Yankees three times. In 1968, Cleveland's Luis Tiant faced New York four times and recorded three shutouts. However, in the ensuing 57 years since Parnell equalled Johnson's mark in 1953, no other A.L. pitcher has matched it. Given today's lack of complete games by most starting ptichers, it pretty doubtful any ever will.