Friday, July 27, 2012

1958 World Series: The Edge of Dynasty

The Teams
American League: New York Yankees (92-62) - 23rd World Series (won 16 previous times)
National League: Milwaukee Braves (92-62) - Second World Series (won in 1957)

What Happened
People might have been having a flashback as the 1958 World Series started, as the Braves and the Yankees met for the second straight year. It's possible the Yankees overlooked the Braves as country bumpkins the year before, they knew better than to do that again this year. And the Braves had a different viewpoint, too; in 1957, they were happy to have finally made the World Series. After beating the Yankees in seven games that year, now they were champions, the ones possessing the killer instinct. Instead of hoping they could beat the Yankees, they knew they could.

Despite Lew Burdette's three wins in the 1957 series, the Braves again picked Warren Spahn to start Game 1 in the rematch. The Yankees again went with Whitey Ford, and it was the second straight year that the two future Hall-of-Famers faced each other in Game 1 of the series. The Yankees gave Ford a 3-2 lead in the fifth on home runs by Hank Bauer and Bill Skowron, but the Braves knocked Ford out in the 8th, then tied the game on a sacrifice fly by Wes Covington. Two innings later, Bill Bruton's line drive single scored Joe Adcock, and the Braves had the series lead.

Game 2 was a joke. The Braves scored seven runs in the first, and Lew Burdette took it from there, pitching a complete game for some reason despite entering the ninth with a 13-2 lead. After the Yankees took Game 3 - paced by Bauer's four runs batted in - Spahn threw his second complete game of the series, needing only nine innings in a Game 4 win.

One win from a second straight World Series title, the Braves were on top of the world. All three of the games would be started by either Burdette or Spahn, and the last two would be at Milwaukee County Stadium. They had opened the door and were about to enter the halls of the dynasties.

Then they tripped over the threshold.

The Yankees only led 1-0 entering the sixth Bob Turley matching Burdette pitch-for-pitch. Then it all fell apart for Burdette. Yogi Berra started the damage with a run-scoring double, and after an intentional walk, Skowron drove in another one with a single. Burdette was gone, but the bases were still loaded. By the time the inning was done, all three had scored, and the Yankees were on their way to a 7-0 win.

Back in Milwaukee, the games got tight. Berra hit a sacrifice fly to tie Game 6 in the 6th inning, and the game stayed that way until Gil McDougald led off the 10th with a home run off Spahn, who still had not been relieved in the series. He was, though, when Skowron drove in the Yankees' second run of the 10th; that run ended up being huge, as the Braves got one run back in the bottom of the frame but couldn't find a second.

That set the stage for Game 7. It started out as a battle between Burdette and Don Larsen, but Larsen was pulled after getting into trouble in the third inning. Turley got out of that jam, then the pitchers settled down, and the game was tied 2-2 entering the eighth inning. Burdette got McDougald and Mickey Mantle for the first two outs of the inning, but Berra started another rally with another double. After Elston Howard drove in Berra to give the Yankees the lead, Andy Carey beat out an infield single. Skowron then put the series out of reach with a three-run blast. Suddenly, the Yankees were up 6-2, and the fight was out of the Braves. Turley finished off the game and the series, and the Yankees were back on top. The Braves, meanwhile, wouldn't get back to the World Series until 1991, when they were playing in Atlanta.

Defining Game
The biggest question about Game 6 might have been why on earth Fred Haney refused to take Warren Spahn out of the game. It's not like the Braves' bullpen was that bad. Sure, the 37-year-old Spahn had proven to be virtually ageless the last two season, but there was no reason for him to be batting with two outs in the bottom of the ninth of a tie game, in a situation where one run wins you the World Series. But there he was, striking out meekly to send the game into extra innings, then giving up a home run to lead off the 10th. The second run of that inning was charged to him, too - another big hit for Skowron - and that was the big one, because Henry Aaron drilled a two-out single to left in the bottom of the 10th to cut the deficit to 4-3. Joe Adcock was next, getting another single to send Aaron to third. Frank Torre came up next, pinch-hitting, and he hit the ball solidly, but right at McDougald at second, forcing another Game 7.

Turley won the MVP, and deservedly so - he got two wins and a save and pitched the Yankees out of several tight spots. It could have easily been Bauer, though; he had a team-high four home runs and eight runs batted in, and it probably would have been him if he hadn't submitted an 0-fer in Game 7. Another logical choice would have been Skowron. His stats weren't great, but how many times does his name appear above because of a key hit?

(Home team shaded; winners in Bold)

New York 3540 74 (10)6
Milwaukee 4 (10)1303 032

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

42. 1958 - New York (A) def. Milwaukee (N) 4-3
43. 1959 - Los Angeles (N) def. Chicago (A) 4-2
44. 2008 - Philadelphia (N) def. Tampa Bay (A) 4-1
45. 1933 - New York (N) def. Washington (A) 4-1
46. 1929 - Philadelphia (A) def. Chicago (N) 4-1
47. 1982 - St. Louis (N) def. Milwaukee (A) 4-3
48. 1923 - New York (A) def. New York (N) 4-2
49. 1944 - St. Louis (N) def. St. Louis (A) 4-2
Numbers 50-59
Numbers 60-69
Numbers 70-79
Numbers 80-89
Numbers 90-99
Numbers 100-107

Game 7s
Simultaneously, I'll rank all the Game 7s. The ones that have appeared in my countdown so far:

12. 1979: Pittsburgh 4, Baltimore 1
13. 1955: Brooklyn 2, New York (A) 0
16. 1940: Cincinnati 2, Detroit 1
18. 1987: Minnesota 4, St. Louis 2
19. 1958: New York 6, Milwaukee 2
21. 1968: Detroit 4, St. Louis 1
22. 1931: St. Louis (N) 4, Philadelphia (A) 2
26. 1982: St. Louis 6, Milwaukee 3
28. 1965: Los Angeles 2, Minnesota 0 
31. 1967: St. Louis 7, Boston 2
32. 1945: Detroit 9, Chicago (N) 3
33. 1909: Pittsburgh 8, Detroit 0

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