Sixty-one years ago today, the New York Yankees returned to the World Series throne, beating the Brooklyn Dodgers, 4-3, in Game 5 of the two teams’ best of seven championship series at the Yankee Stadium.
October 8, 1956, was the day, too, the Dodgers played carrying the Brooklyn colors for the last time before transferring to Los Angeles.
Most significantly, it was the day that saw “Big Boy” Don Larsen rose to baseball’s immortality by pitching the World Series’ first and only perfect no-hit, no-run, no-error game.
The series was tied at 2-win apiece and on that Sunday, Larsen and the Yankees were looking for a go-ahead victory that would turn out to be the first of a three-game run on the way to the Crown Jewel.
In that pivotal fifth game, the Dodgers went to Aging Bal Maglie opposite Larsen, the Yankees’ 27-year-old right-hander, who, in Game 2 surrendered four runs in the first of a two-inning relief job that resulted in New York’s 8-13 loss.
This time though, Larsen was in control, retiring each and every Dodgers that crossed his path in -2-3 orders inning after inning although in the second frame, Yankee third baseman knocked down Jackie Robinson’s shot and shortstop Gil McDougald recovered the ball in time to throw the speedy Dodger runner out.
At the bottom fifth, centerfielder Micky Mantle, who had homered an inning earlier for the first of the Yankees’ two runs, ran down Gil Hodges’ long drive, snaring it with a spectacular backhand catch in left-centerfield.
A couple more challenges, one each in the seventh and eighth, but thanks to teammates MacDougald and Carey’ brilliant defensive support, Larsen survived and returned to the mound three outs away from his rendezvous with destiny.
Three outs to go, always the toughest job to accomplish like what Bill Bevens experienced in 1947 in is bid for a no-hitter in Brooklyn that was ruined by a double with two downs in the ninth.
Larsen’s opportunity was more than a no-hitter. A walk, an error or a hit by pitched would destroy that chance to join baseball’s immortals. He had already faced 24 Dodgers at the plate and none succeeded stepping on the bases.
Carl Furille led-off and flied out. Roy Campanella followed to the shower after bouncing out to short as fans of 64,519 roared in approval. Dale Mitchell, pinch-hitting for Maglie was he 27th Dodger batter Larsen was to face en route to etching his name in history.
The crowd moaned as Larsen’s first pitch went wild. Don came back with a slider and Babe Pinelli, working his last World Series game behind the plate called a strike. Mitchell swung at Don’s fastball and missed, bringing to1-ball, 2-strike the count.
Another fastball fouled off. It was Larsen’s 96th pitch of the game and by then the crowd screamed at every pitch he delivered. Catcher Yogi Berra signalled for another fastball a Larsen mumbled a prayer to himself: “Please get me through this,” then delivered.
It was an outside corner and Mitchell cocked his bat and hesitatingly held up. Pinelli thrust his arm through the air in a strike motion to end the game and the series giving Larsen the victory no one had achieved before and none, perhaps, would duplicate owing to the present stage of the game when very few pitchers last the full nine-inning distance.
Mitchell ran after Pinelli complaining that the call should be ball but the plate umpire was already heading to the dugout, he did not hear him. Neither was Berra who raced toward the mound hurling himself to Larsen’s arms. And certainly not Larsen who had climbed the heights he never dreamt he would achieve.