Nevertheless, the Cubs felt giddy about pulling out the win. Anthony Rizzo described it as a season-defining moment. (source)

This line sounds strange, even jarring, to me. To pull out of something means to withdraw from it. This line doesn't make much sense. Obviously the Cubs won the game. My guess is the author misused "pull out" in place of "pull off", but a quick Google search shows that this usage (mis-usage?) appears in quite some writing online by many people. A popular mistake? What does it mean if not?

2 Answers 2


As a sports fan, I have heard this expression used many times for as long as I can remember. Instinctively, I know what it means:

pull out (phrasal verb) to win a contest, particularly as a surprising upset or as a result of a surprising comeback

That's why this phrase is commonly found in news stories such as:

The Patriots overcame a 25-point deficit midway through the third quarter to pull out the 34-28 win in overtime (CBS Sports, 2017)

Everyone would also have considered the 18-year-old as the underdog in her quarterfinal match against living legend Venus Williams. But once again, Andreescu pulled out an upset. (Baseline, 2019)

Yet you have astutely observed that other writers seem to use "pull off" to mean the same thing.

Patriots pull off stunner to win Super Bowl LI (Baltimore Sun, 2017)

How to pull off the upset in tennis against a favored opponent (The Buffalo News, 2019)

However, when I scoured the dictionaries for a definition corroborating this definition, I can't seem to find one.

I did find this on a language forum:

To pull off means to accomplish something unlikely.

I pulled off an A on the exam despite not studying.
We pulled off a win despite playing poor defense.

Also, this Ngram shows that both expressions are used. I also wonder if this is an Americanism, as I didn't see any hits on the Ngram when I changed the corpus to British English. Lastly, these expressions seem relatively new (very few hits prior to 1970), so maybe the dictionaries simply have some catching up to do.

One possible origin might be the aviation phrase "pull out of a nosedive", which might explain why the expression seems to get used a lot when the ultimate victor was trailing early in the contest.


You can pull a rabbit out of your hat in a traditional magic trick.

If someone makes up facts (or lies, or guesses) as they speak we say they pull them out of their ass (or hat, if we're avoiding vulgarity).

The writer might have been alluding to either of these phrases when they say a sports team "pulled out" a win.

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