January 22, 2019

60 Years Ago (1955): Indians in Weak Command

September 13, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

When the Indians swept the Senators in a doubleheader on September 13, 1955, they took a two-game lead in the American League over the Yankees. With their record now at 90-55, they had played 145 games and had just 9 to go. The Yankees had 11 games remaining. The two teams would face off no more in the 1955 season, meaning Stengel’s boys were going to have to play very well for their part and count on the Senators (who the Indians would play once more), the Tigers (six games remaining against the Indians), and White Sox (two left against the Indians) to derail Cleveland.
The two-game advantage Cleveland held after defeating the Senators 3-1 and 8-2 in the Sept. 13 doubleheader at Griffith Stadium was their biggest lead of the season since they were three up way back on May 11, their 26th game of the season. For most of the summer, the Indians ran third. They were as far back as 8 games on July 2, hardly looking like the team that set the American League record for wins with 111 the previous year. By the end of July, Cleveland was back in the thick of things.
They began their stretch drive by taking two of three from the Yankees in late August and three of four from the White Sox at the beginning of September, all of those games played in Cleveland. Their three wins against Chicago, one each by their trio of aces—Early Wynn, Bob Lemon, and Mike Garcia—knocked the White Sox out of first place into third, and put Cleveland at the top of the standings, by half-a-game over the Yankees on September 4. Including their doubleheader sweep, the Indians since then had won 8 of 10, including splitting a vital two-game set against the Yankee played as a Sunday doubleheader in New York on September 11.
Chicago, meanwhile, had gone into a bit of a tailspin beginning when they lost the last three of their four-game series in Cleveland from September 2 to 4. That was the start of 8 losses in 13 games that now had the White Sox 4½ games out of first. Although not officially done, they had realistically faded from contention. Like the nearby Milwaukee Braves in the other league, the White Sox were an up-and-coming club that had been expected to contend but who were not quite ready for prime time.
The Yankees had not been in first place since August 28, but refused to go away. This had been a remarkable characteristic of the pinstripers ever since Stengel took over as their manager in 1949, testifying to both their resilience and relentlessness. With the exception of 1953, when the Yankees won the pennant by a blowout margin, and 1954, when the Indians returned the favor, the Yankees were in a dogfight for the pennant in every September since 1949, and their record in each of those Septembers was better than their winning percentage for the season. The same would be true in 1955.
As the season was now headed into its final 12 days, the Indians with a two-game lead controlled their own destiny. Although they had just one game remaining against a losing team—the Senators, whose record now stood at 50-91, the second-worst record in the big leagues—and the Yankees had three left against Washington, it was arguable which contender faced the more formidable opposition the rest of the way.
The Indians would return home for three against the fifth-place Tigers, who were 72-72 as of the 13th, followed by two in Chicago and their final three games in Detroit. The White Sox, of course, had been a true contender for most of the summer and had a formidable 85-59 record, and while faded from contention, they were still a dangerous team. In their series so far in 1955, Cleveland had done well against both teams, winning 10 of 16 against Detroit and 11 of 20 against Chicago.
The Yankees had one remaining with Detroit before taking on the Red Sox for three at Yankee Stadium, going to Washington for three, and finishing the season with four games at Fenway Park in Boston. With an 82-61 record as of September 13, the Red Sox had played much better than expected for a team that won just 69 games in 1954. In their series so far in 1955, the Yankees had beaten the Red Sox in 9 of 15 games and the Senators in 13 of 19.
Trailing by two, with 143 games down and only 11 to go, the Yankees were surely regretting that they had lost 13 of the 22 times they had played Cleveland. It was the first time in the Stengel era, beginning in 1949, that the Yankees had lost a season-series to a pennant-race rival. Coming into the season, they had faced off against 9 teams in six years that won at least 90 games in the American League, winning six of those series and splitting three—including against Cleveland in both ’53 and ’54.

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