December 10, 2013
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Sunday, May 12, 2013
Sixty years ago, one of the most famous and successful pitchers of his generation threw the game of his life. On May 12, 1953, Whitey Ford dang near hurled a no-hitter. He didn’t quite pull it off, falling short the most frustrating way possible. The sole hit tallied against him came from the bat of the opposing pitcher. Oh, and it wasn’t just any hit; it was an infield single.
Sixty years ago, Ford was still a young arm looking to establish himself. He’d broken in with the 1950 Yankees, posting an impressive 9-1 record, but he then lost the next two years. The government called Ford into military service during the Korean War, and Ford didn’t pitch at all in 1951 or '52. Now it was 1953, time for Ford to prove he was more than a flash in the pan.
May 12 would be Ford’s fourth start of the year and so far, so good. He had a record of 2-0 with a 1.29 ERA. But today would be a much bigger test. Facing off against Ford was New York’s top rival, the Cleveland Indians. The Tribe had finished in second place each of the last two years and would do so again this year, coming in as runner-up to the Yankees each time. While the Indians had a notable pitching staff featuring Hall of Famers Bob Lemon, Early Wynn, and Bob Feller, they also had a solid core of hitters.
Only the Yankees would score more runs in the 1953 AL than the Indians. And all of Cleveland’s top bats—Larry Doby, Al Rosen, and Dale Mitchell—were in the lineup that game, so this would be a true challenge for Ford.
Ford started off on the wrong foot with a leadoff walk to Ray Boone, but then Boone was out trying to steal, and Ford retired the next two batters without a problem.
Ford walked Doby in the second frame but then nearly picked him off. But thanks to an error, Doby ended up on second base with one out. However, Ford forced a couple ground outs to strand Doby.
Ford walked another batter in the fourth and still another in the fifth, but since he was only letting one baserunner on an inning, nothing came of it. Meanwhile, the Yankee hitters had given Ford a commanding 5-0 lead. Heading into the sixth, the drama wasn’t if the Indians would come back, but if they would get a hit. They still hadn’t done so as the sixth began.
Leading off the sixth was Wynn, the veteran Indians pitcher. Sure he’d allowed five runs so far, but it was the 1950s. You let pitchers bat late in the game when down 5-0. Besides, he was one of the best-hitting pitchers in baseball. He would hit .275 on the year.
Sure, Wynn was a terrific hitter for a pitcher, but note that qualifier—for a pitcher. Yes, he’d hit. 275 in 91 at-bats in 1953, but that came in between seasons hitting .222 and .183. For his career, Wynn hit .214. That .275 number was a big of a fluke caused by the relatively small number of at-bats.
Regardless, Wynn hit one to the third baseman and managed to churn his 33-year-old legs fast enough to make it to first before the throw. Ford’s no-hitter was no more.
Ford didn’t surrender another hit, though. He retired 12 of the last 13, giving up just another base on balls. Most notably, in the eighth inning Ford faced three different pinch-hitters and fanned all three of them, recording the complete game for a 7-0 win.
But there was no no-hitter. And, though he’d star on the Yankees for another 14 seasons, Ford would never get to the promised land of a no-hitter. He’d throw two more one-hitters, which interestingly enough came in back-to-back starts in 1955, but this was as close as Ford would come to a no-hitter. You’d figure that if all that stood between a man and a no-hitter was preventing the opposing pitcher from getting an infield single, he’d get it 99 times out of 100. Well, this was time No. 100. And it was 60 years ago today.
Aside from that, many other baseball events celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is something that happened X-thousand days ago) today. Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d rather just skim.
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