August 26, 2019

“They broke all the records, but we won the game.”

September 16, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

mazSo said Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Gino Cimoli in the frantic aftermath of one of the most exciting games of ball ever played. The 1960 World Series has long been considered one of the most memorable Fall Classics. However, while it is of course most remembered for Bill Mazeroski’s sayonara home run in the last of the ninth inning of the seventh game, the Series, and Game 7 in particular, still hold many fascinations for the aficionado of the national pastime.

Not the least reason for this ongoing fascination are the numerous twists and turns, clutch moments, and puzzling decisions which came hard and fast after the middle innings. But let’s start at the beginning, shall we? It’s well known that in the first six games, the three New York victories were quite lopsided (how lopsided? Only 10-0, 16-3, and 12-0.) These drubbings have been cited for over five decades as proof of overwhelming Yankee superiority, and to a man the members of the team felt that they were in fact better than the Pittsburghs.

But the three Pirate wins headed into Game 7 were 5-2, 3-2, and 5-2. So we can draw the obvious conclusion: The Bronx Bombers could drive in runs when ahead 7-0 or 12-3, but not when down 3-2. Any team can win the blowouts, but the championship teams win the close ones. And in the seventh game, Pittsburgh jumped out to a 4-0 lead. Although it didn’t hold, that wouldn’t seem to be the reaction of an overmatched squad.

There was, however, an element of controversy before the Series even started. Yanks’ ace Whitey Ford was rested and ready, but was passed over for Game 1 in favor of Art Ditmar, who didn’t get out of the first inning and took the loss. Ford did not make an appearance until Game 3 at Yankee Stadium, which he won. Why did manager Stengel choose to wait until the Series returned to New York to start his ace, thus depriving him of the chance to start three times? Evidently Stengel thought the unique dimensions of the original Yankee Stadium were better suited to Ford’s style than those at Forbes Field.

But Forbes Field was huge, in fact the batting cage was stored in deepest center field in its earliest years (it opened in1909 as one of the first concrete-and-steel parks which replaced the old fire prone wooden grandstands.) While eventually the dimensions were altered, there was never a no-hitter pitched in Forbes Field in over 60 years of play.

So why Ditmar and not Ford? Stengel never really gave a straight answer to the question—some would argue that he never gave a straight answer to ANYTHING, but to this day it is considered a major error by the Ol’ Perfessor, one of two that he made in that Series, as we shall see.

In viewing the film of Game 7, we see a few startling anomalies. Roberto Clemente, justly regarded as one of the finest right fielders ever, bobbled several balls hit on the ground to the outfield, allowing a runner or runners to advance. For the Series, New York outhit Pittsburgh by nearly 80 points but of course still lost. And the Pirates’ pitching staff had no fewer than FOUR hurlers with a Series ERA of over ten, with another, Joe Gibbon, at nine even.

Whitey Ford went 2-0 with two shutouts in the 1960 World Series but didn't start until Game 3.

Whitey Ford went 2-0 with two shutouts in the 1960 World Series but didn’t start until Game 3 at Yankee Stadium.

Starters Vinegar Bend Mizell and Bob Friend were at 15.43 and 13.50 respectively, and former beloved Brooklyn Bum Clem Labine weighed in at an unsightly 22.50! Not that the New Yorkers were immune to shoddy pitching—Ditmar (21.60) and relief ace Luis Arroyo at 13.50 come to mind—but Whitey Ford allowed zero earned runs in two complete game stints. Two shutouts with 11 hits allowed total—all these years later, we still may wonder about the ill-advised decision to bypass the Chairman of the Board.

In the all-important Game Seven, the Pirates, far from brooding about the way they got hammered in Game Six, jumped out to a quick 4-0 lead behind Vernon Law, pitching on a bad ankle, and with two runs in each of the first two innings, it looked as if the mighty Bombers had met their match. But wait! New York got a couple back and then they rose up and bit reliever Elroy Face with Yogi Berra hitting a clutch three-run homer that put the Yankees up 5-4.

According to Yankee infielder Joe De Maestri, Berra ‘called his shot’ before the game, telling his teammate that manager Danny Murtaugh of the Pirates would do this, and that, and bring in Face, who would throw this, and that, and then Berra would hit it out, and that’s just what happened. But this would not be the last instance of clutch hitting on either side in this game, not by a long shot.

The New Yorkers got two more in the top of the eighth, and going into the bottom of the frame down 7-4, it wasn’t looking too good for Pittsburgh. But there were clutch hitters in the NL too, for Gino Cimoli pinch-hit to lead off the last of the eighth and singled, whereupon center fielder (and future manager of both clubs) Bill Virdon hit a tailor-made double play ball to short, which took a deadly bounce and struck shortstop Kubek in the throat, knocking him out of the game and providing the Pirates with a golden opportunity.

Dick Groat singled to bring his club a run closer, then Clemente stepped to the plate. In his storied career, Roberto Clemente played in 14 World Series games, and got at least one hit in each of them. But perhaps none of them was as important in securing a championship than the routine grounder he hit here. Bobby Shantz had pitched very well in relief from the third to the eighth, but here Stengel saw fit to remove him and bring in Jim Coates.

Some of the Yankees’ players, to say nothing of their fans, were puzzled by this move just as they were by the Ford-Ditmar situation, as they couldn’t understand why the best fielding pitcher in the game was removed while still pitching effectively. But Coates was in, and he would forever after shoulder a significant amount of blame for what happened.

Clemente hit a sharp grounder down the first base line and beat it out for an infield hit. Coates was roundly criticized for not covering first quickly enough, but in reviewing the play in the video of the game, he does appear to have broken on contact. It looked to this writer as if the pitcher took a slightly roundabout route to the first base bag, but all in all Clemente just plain beat it out.

I’ve got to give Coates a pass on this one—he did the best he could, but could anyone have caught Clemente? Could Shantz?

Hal Smith (right) is greeted at home plate by Roberto Clemente (left) and Dick Groat.

Hal Smith (right) is greeted at home plate by Roberto Clemente (left) and Dick Groat.

So the inning continued. Bucs catcher Smoky Burgess (also one of the great pinch-hitters in the game’s history) had been removed for a pinch-runner and burly Hal Smith was up to bat. What did he do? Talk about clutch. He drilled a pitch from Coates right over the left field wall for a quick 9-7 Pirates lead. Bedlam at Forbes Field!

But the New York Yankees were not beginning a five year run of AL pennants by giving up; Bob Friend, in to pitch the ninth, allowed the first two runners to reach on base hits, and just like that, the tying runs were on base. Friend was out, 12-perfect-inning hero Harvey Haddix was in.

At bat? Only Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle! Maris fouled out, but Mantle showed his mettle yet again with an RBI single. One down, runners on first and third. Yogi Berra up.

Could lightning strike twice? One out, a double play ends the game and the Series, but the tying run is at third! Here’s some real country hardball for you, eh? Berra did not hit another home run. He grounded to Rocky Nelson, who stepped on the bag to retire Berra and then moved to tag Mantle for what would have been the final out of the game and Series, as mentioned.

But Mantle didn’t just use his head as a hat rack—instead of taking off for second like most runners would, he dove back to first, avoiding Nelson’s tag and prolonging the inning, as the tying run scored. Now, how is THAT for clutch play?

But Haddix retired the next batter and to the bottom of the ninth we go. Hall of Fame second sacker Bill Mazeroski took a fastball right down Broadway for strike one. In the Pittsburgh dugout, his teammates couldn’t believe he had taken such a fat pitch. What was he thinking?

Well, that Yank hurler Ralph Terry would throw another one and Maz promptly deposited it over the left field fence, near where Smith’s blast landed, and that’s your ball game. Series to the Pirates.

And Hal Smith? After the game, he semi-laughingly said, ‘Sure I was upset. I was supposed to be the hero!’ But it was left to Gino Cimoli, whose timely pinch hit in the eighth set the stage for the Pirates’ comeback, to have the last word: ‘They broke all the records, but we won the game!’

Indeed.

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