Thursday, February 16, 2012

1961 World Series: One for the role players

The Teams
American League: New York Yankees (109-53) - 26th World Series (won 18 previous times)
National League: Cincinnati Reds (93-61) - Fourth World Series (won in 1919, 1940)

What Happened
The 1961 regular season was all about the M&M boys. Two Yankees outfielders chased Babe Ruth's record of 60 home runs, with Roger Maris catching and passing Ruth and Mickey Mantle falling just short.

Once the regular season was over, though, those two stopped being the focus of the Yankees. Mantle was injured and could only play in two games in the '61 World Series, and while Maris played the whole series, he was a non-factor with only two hits. Instead, the Yankees had to rely on their role players. Luckily for them, they had plenty of good ones, as would be expected for a 109-win team. Even without a healthy Mantle or an effective Maris, the Yankees were still better than the Reds.

A big reason for that was Whitey Ford. The 1961 season was the best of Ford's career, as he went a sublime 25-4, and he carried that momentum into the World Series with a two-hit shutout in Game 1. The Yankees gave away Game 2 with three errors that led to three unearned runs for Cincinnati. Game 3 featured Maris' only significant contribution to the narrative of the series, as his go-ahead home run in the ninth inning gave New York a 2-1 series lead.

Entering Game 4, Cincinnati had every reason to be optimistic. Sure, they were losing the series, but they had held the Yankees to just seven runs in the first three games; in fact, they had outscored them. They had every reason to believe they could hang with New York. But then they ran into Ford in Game 4. Though Ford only threw five innings, they were five more shutout innings. Reliever Jim Coates finished the shutout, and the Yankees bats came alive for 7 runs.

With the Yankees a win away from the championship, Game 5 turned early. With two outs in the first, Bobby Richardson was picked off first base, only to be safe when Gordy Coleman dropped the ball. Given a reprieve, the Yankees exploded for five runs in the first. Another five run inning in the third put the World Series to bed. A year after dominating the World Series but losing, the Yankees again dominated the World Series, but this time finished the job.

Defining Game
Game 3 was by far the best game of the series. The Reds took a 2-1 lead in the seventh inning, only to see that lead disappear on a two-out pinch-hit home run by Yankees backup catcher Johnny Blanchard. Maris then led off the ninth with his only extra-base hit of the series, a blast to deep right that gave the Yankees the lead. The Reds got a one-out double from Leo Cardenas in the bottom of the ninth but couldn't bring him home.

Ford was named MVP for his 14 shutout innings, but it just as easily could have been Richardson - who had nine hits, though all but one were singles - or Blanchard - who batted .400 with three extra-base hits.

(Home team shaded; winners in Bold)

Cincinnati 0 6 2 0 5
New York 2 2 3 7 13

The List
I'm ranking all the World Series, from worst to best. Here are the ones I've done so far:

89. 1961 - New York (A) def. Cincinnati (N) 4-1
Numbers 90-99
Numbers 100-107

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