Cooperstown Confidential: The 1960 World Series (Part Three)

Facing elimination in Game Six, Casey Stengel mulled his pitching plans. He had originally leaned toward Bob Turley to pitch the sixth game. But that was before the Yankees had fallen behind in the Series. So, at 11 in the morning on the day of Game Six, Stengel informed another pitcher that he would be starting.

Stengel was handing the ball to Whitey Ford,not only his most experienced pitcher, but the most experienced starter in postseason history. If Ford were to win the game, he would become the all-time Series leader in victories, surpassing Allie Reynolds and Red Ruffing.

Ford also seemed the most capable of shutting down the Pirates, given his most recent mastery of the Bucs’ offense in Game Three. Yet, there were some risks in pitching Ford in the sixth game. In spite of all his postseason triumphs, he had never won a Series game away from Yankee Stadium. He would also have to pitch the potential elimination game on only three days rest, rather than the preferred off cycle of four days.

Ford seemed affected by the short rest in the first inning. He allowed a leadoff single to Bill Virdon, but eliminated him on Dick Groat’s ground ball double play. After Ford permitted an opposite-field single to Roberto Clemente, Stengel ordered Turley to begin warming up. Perhaps noticing the sudden activity in the bullpen, Ford struck out Dick Stuart to end a shaky inning.

Settling down, Ford pitched without incident the next three innings. In the fifth, Stengel paid Ford a visit. Whitey had developed a blister on his pitching hand, the kind of ailment that could seriously impair a “touch and feel” pitcher of Ford’s ilk. Stengel asked Ford if he could continue. Ford insisted on remaining in the game.

In spite of the discomfort caused by the blister, Ford allowed only seven singles on the day, all harmless. Meanwhile, five Pirates pitchers gave up 17 hits. Much as he had in Game Two, Bobby Richardson emerged as the premier nemesis of the Pirates. Richardson legged out a two-run triple during a five-run outburst early in the game, and then drove home an additional run on another triple in the seventh, giving him a World Series record of 12 RBIs. In a contest strikingly similar to the blowouts of Games Two and Three, the Yankees won, 12-0. It was the most lopsided shutout in World Series history.

Thanks to their three one-sided shellackings, the Yankees had outscored the Pirates by a margin of 46 to 17. Yet, the Pirates were still in position to win the Series, despite the pre-Series forecasts of the media, and the in-Series gloom-and-doom posed by the statistics. The Pirates would have Bob Skinner, out since Game One with an injured thumb, back in the lineup for the seventh game. Meanwhile, the Yankees would have to play without Elston Howard, who had suffered a broken finger in Game Six.

The Pirates also had their best starter, Vern Law, available to start Game Seven. Law started the game impressively, retiring Richardson, Tony Kubek and Roger Maris in order. In contrast, Stengel didn’t seem confident that Turley could match Law’s first-inning performance. Before Turley’s first pitch of the game, Stengel had Bill Stafford and Bobby Shantz warming up in the bullpen.

Unaffected by his manager’s lack of trust, Turley disposed of the first two Pirate batters routinely. Virdon’s fly-out to Yogi Berra and Groat’s pop-up to Kubek brought up Skinner, who drew a walk, forcing Turley to face cleanup hitter Rocky Nelson. A journeyman first baseman who had spent part or all of 13 seasons in the minor leagues, the left-handed-hitting Nelson had started only one other Series game. That was Game Two, in which Nelson had collected two hits in five at-bats—also against Turley.

Nelson lofted a high fly ball toward right field, a seemingly routine play for Maris. The Yankees right fielder backed up, stationing himself in front of the 32-foot screen that separated the right field stands from the playing field. Appearing ready to make the catch, Maris looked up, impatiently waiting for the ball to come down in his glove. But the ball didn’t cooperate. It cleared the tall screen in right field. What had appeared to be a routine fly ball had become a two-run home run, giving the Pirates an early 2-0 lead.

The Pirates added to Yankee frustrations in the bottom of the second. After Smoky Burgess led off by singling down the right field line, an exasperated Stengel walked to the mound. Rather than counsel Turley on how to pitch to Don Hoak, Stengel lifted his veteran right hander and replaced him with Stafford.

Looking shaky, Stafford walked Hoak, putting runners on first and second with no one out. With Bill Mazeroski now up, and the pitcher’s spot on deck, the Yankees played their corner men at normal depth, figuring the Pirates would swing away. Maz crossed up their positioning by dropping a bunt down the third base line. Since third baseman Clete Boyer was playing deep, Stafford made a play for the ball. Not nearly as gifted with the glove as Boyer, Stafford methodically picked up the ball and threw to first, too late to retire Maz. With the bases loaded and no one out, the Pirates seemed on the verge of breaking the game open.

Fortunately for the Yankees, Law was now the scheduled batter. He gave the Yankees exactly what they wanted—a tapper back to the mound. Stafford started the timeliest of double plays for New York.

Stafford’s next assignment was leadoff man Virdon, a mediocre .264 hitter during the regular season. With the outcome of the inning on his shoulders, Virdon delivered a monumental salvo: a two-run single to right-center field. The two-out base hit gave the Bucs a 4-0 advantage.

New York failed to do any early-game damage against Law, who retired the first eight batters he faced. The Yankees finally showed some signs of life in the fifth, when href=”http://www.fangraphs.com/statss.aspx?playerid=1012043&position=1B” target=”_blank” class=”player”>Bill Skowron drove a ball down the right field line. Barely staying to the left of the foul pole, the ball landed in the right field seats. The opposite-field home run narrowed New York’s deficit to three runs.

The Yankees tried to move closer in the sixth. Richardson led off by singling to center and moved to second on a walk to Kubek. Although concerned that the Yankees had brought the tying run to the plate—with the middle of the order coming to bat, no less—Pirates manager Danny Murtaugh was more worried about the condition of his starting pitcher. Law’s ailing ankle was now troubling him on most every pitch. Unable to push off his foot with the proper force, Law ended up hurting his rotater cuff.

Murtaugh had no choice but to pull his ace from the game. He replaced Law with his next best alternative, Roy Face, who induced a foul pop to third from Maris. With the Pirates needing a double play to escape the inning, Mantle seemingly obliged by hitting a ground ball up the middle. But the ball eluded Face, picked up some steam past the mound, and slithered into center field. Richardson scored easily, bringing the Yankees within two runs.

With runners on first and third, Berra stepped in against Face, the same pitcher he had heavily praised earlier in the Series. This time around Face’s repertoire failed to impress Berra, who launched a soaring drive down the right field line. The ball had home run distance; it was just a question of whether it would stay fair, or hook foul. After a pause of several seconds, Berra’s long drive landed in the upper deck, passing just inside the foul pole. Without warning, the Yankees had taken a 5-4 lead.

Pirate hopes of a monumental upset appeared to have disappeared, especially when the Yankees strung together a walk by Berra, back-to-back singles by Skowron and Johnny Blanchard, and a double by Boyer in the eighth inning. The rally produced two more scores against an ineffective Face. Now down by three runs, the Pirates had only two more chances to penetrate the Yankee bullpen.

Shantz, pitching shutout relief after Stafford’s departure for a pinch-hitter, took the mound in the bottom of the eighth. Face was scheduled to lead off, but gave way to a pinch-hitting Gino Cimoli. The backup outfielder lined a single to right-center field, giving the Pirates a promising start to the inning. The outlook soon turned pessimistic, as Virdon hit a hard, hopping ground ball right at shortstop Kubek—a routine double play ball.

But as Kubek prepared to field the ball, it ricocheted unpredictably off either a spike mark or a small stone (both have been contended by various sources) in the Forbes Field infield, which the Yankees had earlier criticized, saying it had a consistency like sheet rock. Instead of bouncing into Kubek’s glove, the ball leapt up, striking him in the neck. With his Adam’s apple suffering the blow, Kubek gasped for air as he fell backward. The ball dropped several feet away from Kubek, allowing Cimoli to touch up at second and Virdon to reach first with a gift single.

After a few moments, Kubek recovered his breath somewhat, and pleaded with the Yankees’ medical staff to allow him to stay in the game. Stengel, having none of Kubek’s argument, ordered him to leave the playing field, and replaced him with backup infielder Joe DeMaestri. Kubek was sent to Pittsburgh’s Eye and Ear Hospital for further examination of a bruised larynx.

With two runners aboard, the Pirates now had the potential game-tying run at the plate. Groat stepped in to battle Shantz. Setting a postseason slump aside, Groat lined sharply past Boyer at third base. As Cimoli scored to draw the Pirates within two runs, Virdon stopped at second. With the left-handed hitting Skinner scheduled to bat, it appeared that Shantz would be allowed to face one more batter. But Stengel curiously removed the southpaw Shantz, who had pitched five innings while surrendering one tainted run, and replaced him with right-hander Jim Coates.

As Shantz left the game, Murtaugh countered with his own debatable move. Although the Pirates had their No. 3 hitter facing Coates, Murtaugh opted to play for the tie. He instructed Skinner, one of his best all-around batters, to lay down a sacrifice.

Skinner skillfully pushed a bunt in the direction of Boyer, whose only option was to throw to first base. One out. Coates now faced another left-handed batter in Nelson, the author of the first-inning home run. As he did early in the game against Turley, Nelson pulled a fly ball toward right field. Unlike its predecessor, this one didn’t travel far enough to reach the seats—or to score Virdon from third. Maris made the catch in medium right field, with both runners holding. Two out.

Up came Clemente, who had been held hitless in three previous at-bats. Swinging so hard that he fell off stride, Clemente topped a ground ball between the pitcher’s mound and first base. Instead of conceding what seemed like a routine out, Clemente ran hard from the start. Moving in and to his right from his deep position at first base, Skowron fielded the ball wide of the bag. Coates ran to first base to receive the toss from Skowron. The Yankees first baseman waited for Coates to approach the bag before making an accurate throw to his pitcher.

Yet, Coates could not match the stride of Clemente, who arrived at first base a full beat ahead of the throw. Most observers criticized Coates for making a late break from the pitching mound, but examination of the film shows otherwise. Coates actually broke for first base at virtually the same moment Clemente hit the ball, but lost precious time because he failed to run a direct path toward first base. Instead of maintaining a straight line, Coates veered slightly toward the second base side of first base, apparently because he feared colliding with Skowron. In fact, Coates came so close to running into his teammate that Skowron could have handed him the ball and let him run to first.

Clemente’s hustling single allowed Virdon to score from third, cutting the Yankees lead to one, 7-6, while Groat advanced to third. The next scheduled batter was platoon catcher Hal Smith, a former Yankees farmhand who had entered the game after Burgess’ removal for a pinch-runner.

Having played mostly against left-handed pitching during the regular season, Smith would now have to face the right-handed Coates. Smith was also not as feared a hitter as Burgess. On the plus side, Smith did have a little bit of power; for the season, he had clubbed 11 home runs in 258 at-bats.

Coates and Smith battled, working the count to 2-and-2. Not wanting to go to a full count, Coates left his next pitch in the center of the strike zone, just below the belt. Coates’ fastball was a room service delivery for Smith, who pulled the pitch hard and high into the afternoon sky. Some 406 feet later, the high fly ball landed beyond the Forbes Field wall and in the outfield bleachers, as a forlorn Berra watched hopelessly from his post in left field. Coates disgustedly heaved his glove into the air. A two-out, three-run homer by a part-time player—against his former team—had vaulted Pittsburgh into the lead. Pirates 9, Yankees 7.

With Face already in and out of the game, Murtaugh had to look elsewhere for a ninth-inning savior. Rather than summon one of his struggling second-line relievers, Murtaugh decided to call upon one of his best starting pitchers, Bob Friend. Friend had struggled in his World Series starts against New York and had pitched only once in relief all season long.

Friend faced a perilous task: the top of the Yankees order. Richardson, the Yankees’ best hitter throughout the Series, started the ninth by blooping a single to left-center field. With the light-hitting DeMaestri scheduled to bat next, Stengel sent up former Pirate Dale Long as a pinch-hitter. Long reminded his former mates of his pinch-hitting talents by singling to right, putting runners at first and second with no one out.

With MVP Maris set to bat against a faltering Friend, Murtaugh called on another of his starting pitchers. He chose left-hander Harvey Haddix, the winner of Game Five, who was now being asked to pitch on two days’ rest.

Haddix handled his first assignment with surprising ease. Maris lofted a foul pop behind home plate. Smith corralled it for the first out. Haddix hoped that Mickey Mantle would fall just as quietly. Not quite. Continuing his heavy hitting from the right side of the plate. Mantle lined a Haddix delivery into left-center field, between Skinner and Virdon. The single scored Richardson from second, with Long chugging into third.

With Long representing the game-tying run and a sacrifice fly a real possibility, Stengel opted for more speed on the basepaths. He replaced Long with Gil McDougald. The Pirates played their infield back, hopeful that Berra would comply with a hard ground ball—and a game-ending double play.

Berra obliged by rapping a sharp grounder down the first base line. But since the ball was hit to his backhand side, Nelson felt a 3-6-3 double play was out of the question. After making a nifty back-hand stop, Nelson stepped on the bag to retire Berra. Meanwhile, McDougald scampered in the direction of home plate. Nelson cocked his right arm back, not with an eye toward throwing home, but with the thought of throwing to second for a tag play on Mantle. As he raised his right arm, Nelson suddenly realized that Mantle had not run to second base at all; he was now trying to return to first base. It was a strange baserunning decision, to say the least, but a heady one.

As Mantle slid headfirst into the bag, McDougald neared home plate. Nelson attempted a desperate swipe tag on Mantle—which would have completed an unconventional double play—but he missed his target. Within moments, McDougald touched home, deadlocking the game at 9-9. If Nelson had tagged Mantle, the game would have been over, since McDougald had not yet reached the plate.

No tag. No double play. No end of game. The highly unusual play left the Pirates stunned, but Haddix still had work to do. He finally ended the inning by retiring Skowron on a ground ball to Groat. Yet, significant damage had been done. A Pirates victory, which had seemed inevitable only a few moments earlier, had given way to another dose of game-lengthening suspense.

Stengel now had to choose a pitcher for the bottom of the ninth. He decided to stay with Ralph Terry, who had replaced Coates after Smith’s home run in the eighth.

Terry’s first batter was Mazeroski, the Pirates’ eighth-place hitter. Terry threw his first pitch—a high fastball that rode inside. It was ball one, and resulted in a conference on the mound. “Johnny Blanchard, the Yankee catcher, immediately went out to talk with Terry,” Mazeroski noted in an interview with the New York Post. “I figured he’s telling him to get the ball down a little.” Blanchard knew that Mazeroski liked pitches up in the strike zone.

Since Terry wanted no part of walking Mazeroski, he threw another fastball. And as Mazeroski had predicted, it was a bit lower than the previous pitch, right about waist level. But not low enough for Blanchard’s liking. Mazeroski swung and lofted Terry’s pitch high toward left-center field. As Mazeroski conducted an all-out dash toward first base, Berra braced himself against the left field wall. Berra hoped to have a chance to leap for the ball, but soon realized it would result in futility. Moments later, at 3:36 PM Eastern Time, the Terry-to-Mazeroski delivery cleared the 406-foot mark in left-center field, landing in a grove of maple trees. PIRATES 10, YANKEES 9.

Having already rounded first and begun his sprint toward second, Mazeroski still didn’t know that the ball had left the park and continued to run with his head down. “I heard the crowd yelling like crazy,” Maz said in the Post interview, “so I looked up and I saw the umpire making the circle in the air with his hand and I realized I had just hit the home run.”

Mazeroski removed his helmet with his right hand and started windmilling his arm and his hat repeatedly. Some of the 36,683 fans at Forbes Field began celebrating the Pirates’ first world championship since 1925 by streaming onto the playing field. Mazeroski’s teammates ran from the dugout to home plate, where they anxiously awaited their newly determined hero, who had become the first player in major league history to end the World Series with a home run. In Game Seven, no less. In what some observers were calling the most exciting game in major league history.

Once removed from the bedlam on the field, the Pirates carried their celebration to the relative privacy of the cramped Forbes Field clubhouse, where Mazeroski quickly became the center of attention. In the other clubhouse, Stengel felt that his pitching had let him down by allowing two home runs in the late innings; he made no effort to point the blame in another direction.

“You can’t pitch high when you’re trying to get them to hit ground balls, and them two—(hit by Hal) Smith and the other fella (Mazeroski)—were no low balls,” Casey told legendary sportswriter Dan Daniel of the New York World-Telegram. “My pitching caused it all.”

Stengel may have wanted to blame his pitching for another unfortunate circumstance—one that would take place just a few days later. On Oct, 18, the Yankees announced the retirement of Stengel as their manager. Only it wasn’t really a retirement, or a resignation at all. When reporters at a Yankee Stadium press conference asked Stengel about his “retirement,” he angrily refuted the notion that he had quit. Stengel explained that he had been fired—plain and simple. The 69-year-old Stengel said that the Yankees considered him too old to continue managing.

Stengel certainly couldn’t blame his departure on Mantle, who had enjoyed his best Series ever, with three home runs, 11 RBIs and a .400 batting average. Just moments after the Game Seven loss, Mantle wept openly in the Yankees clubhouse.

Nor could any blame be placed in the direction of Richardson, who became the first member of a losing World Series team to win the Series’ MVP Award. Normally overshadowed by the likes of Mantle and Ford, Richardson hit .367 with 12 RBIs to earn Sport magazine’s choice as Series MVP.

In the process of deciding the game’s world championship, the Pirates and Yankees had combined to establish 65 World Series records, with New York setting the majority of the new marks. The Yankees had scored 55 runs, stroked 91 hits, and batted .338—all Series records. In contrast, the Pirates had batted only .256, collected 60 hits, and scored a measly 27 runs. A perusal of the statistical summaries would have led to only one logical conclusion: a Yankees victory. Yet the Pirates had somehow managed to win the close games—and the Series.

Given the lopsided statistical totals, the Pirates’ improbable seven-game grapple with the Yankees stunned much of the baseball world. Few members of the national press had foreseen the possibility of a Pirates victory—with at least one notable exception: In a Yankees-Pirates preview in Sports Illustrated just a few days before the start of the World Series, the words of editor Roy Terrell proved accurate. “Anyone who has followed the adventures of the Pirates knows the miracles they can brew late in the game,” Terrell wrote in the Oct. 3, 1960 issue. “They are fighters—Hoak, Skinner, Groat, all of them. They have balance, a happy blend of hitting, pitching, and fielding, and this is important. Even more important is the Pirates’ spirit, the confidence the players have in one another. It helped them win the pennant and it should help them beat the Yankees.”

Indeed.

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Comments

  1. Phil Meneely said...

    I was 7 years old, and this was the first year I followed the Pirates.  School ended at 3:15, and I ran home to try to catch the end of the game.  My mother had the game on, and I got there as the bottom of the ninth began.  Being a kid, I thought that every season would end this way.  I have been a baseball fan ever since.  Thanks, Bruce.  This has been a great series.

  2. Jim C said...

    I was 9, and also saw the end of the game when I got home from school. I was raised in Washington DC, and had quickly learned to hate the Yankees, so seeing them lose this way was very enjoyable.

  3. Jim G. said...

    You have to think that this crushing loss must inspired the Yankees’ monster season of ‘61. Ford, Maris and Mantle in particular.

  4. dm said...

    Hal Smith’s homerun went over the fence but Forbes Field had only seating beyond the foul pole in left field.  Only right field had fair territory seating;  left and center the biggest outfield in the majors at the time had no seats.

  5. Gus Skeadas said...

    I was in the 7th grade and able to watch part of the game in study hall when Berra hit his HR to give the Yankees a 5-4 lead.  Then, after my next class was over, I was standing in line at the drinking fountain when I overheard someone say that the Pirates had won.  Originally a Dodger fan, my parents had taken me to Pittsburgh on vacation to visit my aunt where I got caught up in the hoopla over the Pirates and so I returned home a Pirate fan forever.

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