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Yesterday in baseball history

For baseball fans of a certain age, 1959 is remembered as the year the Yankees lost the pennant — the only such year from 1955 through 1964. More shocking than the Yankees’ failure to win the 1959 pennant was their inability even to make a race out of it. This was the result of a terrible start. On May 30, when they arrived in Washington for a double-header with the Senators, they were in last place with a record of 16-23 and trailed the Senators by 2.5 games.

Nonetheless, I had no great optimism as I prepared to head to Griffith Stadium with a friend, who was celebrating his tenth birthday and his father. As far as I was concerned, the Yankees were still the Yankees and the Senators were still the Senators. Furthermore, our starting pitchers would be Hal Griggs and Russ Kemmerer, not Camilo Pascual or even Pedro Ramos. Early in May, Griggs had shut-out New York at Yankee Stadium on two hits. But Griggs was still Griggs and the Yankees would be out for revenge.

The Yankees were sending out a pair of quality starters, Art Ditmar and Don Larsen. All things considered, though, I thought we might win one of the two.

This proved to be wishful thinking.

The first game was, I’m pretty sure, the worst rout I have ever witnessed in a big league ball park. The first six Yanks to face Griggs (Siebern, Kubek, Mantle, Skowron, Lopez, and Howard) all scored. Griggs did not retire a batter. By the top of the third, the Yankees led 10-0. They added another run in the fourth inning and cruised to an 11-2 victory. On the plus side, Harmon Killebrew hit a home run in the 7th. It was his 18th homer of the year in 45 games, a pace that would have broken Babe Ruth’s record of 60 in a season.

The nightcap lacked even that consolation. The Yankees started a little more slowly; they led only 2-0 after one inning and 4-0 after three. Kemmerer actually made it to the fourth inning. But the Yankees, taking out two months of frustration, kept scoring. The final damage was 11-0. Larsen pitched a four hitter and Griggs, in relief, gave up two more runs (though neither was earned).

To some extent, this doubleheader signaled a resumption of regular, 1950s style, service. The Senators who had been flirting with .500 baseball, went 42-66 the rest of the way to finish last in the American League. Griggs ended the year 2-8; Kemmerer 8-17.

The Yankees went 61-52 after May 30, an improvement but still way below their standard. They finished the season in third place, 15 games behind the “go-go” White Sox. At the end of the season they would trade Siebern and Larsen for Roger Maris (others were also involved in the deal on both sides) and re-ignite their dynasty.

It would be a long time before I again fancied the Senators’ chances of avoiding a sweep in a doubleheader against the Yankees.

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