Wednesday, October 13, 2010

October 13, 1960: Mazeroski

PITTSBURGH - If anybody sat down on October 13, 1960, and examined the cumulative stats for that year's World Series, everything they saw would point to a blowout. The Yankees had outscored the Pirates 42-17, had outhomered them 8-1, and had outhit them 78-49. The Pirates had three pitchers with ERAs over 10.00, and the Yankees were batting over .300 as a team.

Yet the series was still going on. Somehow, the Pirates had split the first six games with the Yankees, and the two met for a most improbable game 7 that October 13. The Yankees three wins had been by scores of 16-3, 10-0, and 12-0, while the Pirates had won their three games by a combined six runs. Fortunately for Pittsburgh, a win is a win, regardless of how it looks, so they were alive and ready for a home game 7. And with how wild the series had been so far, there was no doubt game 7 would be a crazy one.

The Pirates got on the board first, scoring twice in each of the first two innings and knocking Yankee starter Bob Turley out of the game in the second inning. The four quick runs weren't too surprising, but what happened next was: several innings of relative calm. Pirates starter Vern Law didn't give up a run until a solo home run in the fifth, and Bobby Shantz, the Yankees' third pitcher, closed the door on the Pirates offensive attack. Entering the sixth inning, the Pirates were up 4-1. All seemed calm and relatively straightforward.

Then the sixth inning started.

The first two batters reached for the Yankees, knocking Law out of the box. After an out, a single by Mickey Mantle drove in one run, and a three-run home run by Yogi Berra gave the Yankees the lead. It had taken the Yankees only five batters to turn a 4-1 deficit into a 5-4 lead.

For a while, it seemed like that lead would hold up. Shantz faced the minimum 12 batters in his first four innings of work, with the walk and single he allowed both erased by double play balls. Meanwhile, the Yankees had tacked on two more runs in the eighth to push the lead to 7-4.

In the bottom of the eighth, the Pirates finally got to Shantz. The first three batters in the inning got hits, scoring a run and ending Shantz's day. After two outs, Roberto Clemente came up with runners on second and third. Since Clemente was the go-ahead run, the Yankees had Jim Coates pitch to him rather than walk him to set up the force, and Clemente responded with an infield single that brought home the run that made it 7-6. Next up was Hal Smith, the Pirates' backup catcher who had just entered the game the previous inning. Known mostly for his power, the Yankees couldn't have been too surprised when Smith put the Pirates ahead with a three-run home run. Pittsburgh entered the ninth with a 9-7 lead.

Normally, a two-run lead in the ninth inning of game 7 is safe, but if the baseball world had learned anything from the previous decade or so, it's that the Yankees were never dead, never defeated until you chopped off their head. They would be fighting until the final out, especially in a series this wild, where the Yankees had so often scored at will. These last three outs would be the tougher than the Pirates could ever imagine.

Bob Friend came in to start the inning for Pittsburgh and turned out to be a true friend to the Yankees, giving up two straight hits. Exit Friend, enter Harvey Haddix, who got Roger Maris to pop out. One out, tying run on base, Mickey Mantle batting. This was World Series baseball at its finest. Mantle rose to the occasion, singling to right to cut the lead to 9-8. Still one out, with a runner at first. A double play ball would end it. A hit would tie it.

Then, Haddix got Berra to hit a sharp grounder right to first base. Holding Mantle on, Pittsburgh first baseman Rocky Nelson was in perfect position to field the ball and step on first for the force. Two out. As Nelson turned to fire to second for the World Series-ending out, Mantle made the heads-up decision to try to get back to first. He knew he wouldn't beat a throw to second, so he dove back, avoiding Nelson's tag. Meanwhile, the tying run came across the plate. 9-9.

Enter the bottom of the ninth, with the bottom of the order coming up for Pittsburgh. Who knew what was going to happen next? Whatever scenarios were discussed, the idea that Pittsburgh's number 8 hitter would end the series with a home run was probably not high on the list of possibilities. But that's exactly what Bill Mazeroski, blasting a 1-0 pitch to deep left. Berra swore years later that the ball grazed the Forbes Field ivy as it went over the wall. Whether it did or not, Mazeroski had hit the first World Series-ending home run in history, and the Pirates had won one of the most improbable championships in baseball history.

The home run is here.

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