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Yesterday in baseball history

A longtime reader sends this dispatch from the 1961 baseball season — shades of the most dramatic game ever played, which Paul Mirengoff wrote about for us last year in a five-part series that is accessible at the link:

On August 6, 1961, the New York Yankees continued to set a hot pace in the American League by sweeping a double header from the Minnesota Twins at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees won 7-6 and 3-2, both times in their final at-bats of the game.

In the first game, that set of at-bats came in the bottom of the 15th inning. The Yankees loaded the bases with one out on singles by Richardson and Boyer (a bunt), and a Mantle walk. Yogi Berra then hit a grounder to Harmon Killebrew, who attempted a second-to-first double play. Berra beat the return throw enabling Richardson to score the winning run.

A few Power Line readers might have noticed the similarity between this play and the one in the ninth inning of Game 7 of the 1960 World Series. In that instance, Berra was up with one out. Mantle was on first and McDougald on third.

When Berra stroked a sharply grounder to first, Rocky Nelson stepped on first and then tried to tag Mantle, who was darting back to the bag. Mantle evaded the tag allowing McDougald to score the tying run.

Nelson eschewed two other options: (1) trying for the second-to-first double play and (2) throwing home. In this instance, Killebrew threw to second instead of throwing home initially or stepping on first and then throwing home, an option that might well have been reasonably foreclosed by where he fielded the ball.

The key difference between the two situations is that here the bases were loaded. With the winning run on third, the standard play with the bases loaded is to throw home. But without knowing where Killebrew fielded the ball, and what his angle was in relation to second base and home, it’s impossible to second-guess his decision. In any event, Berra was the ultimate gamer, and it’s easy to imagine the 36 year-old catcher/left fielder getting to first base more quickly than Killebrew expected.

In the second game both starters, Roland Sheldon for New York and Al Schroll for Minnesota, pitched complete games. For Schroll, who ended his career with a 5.34 ERA, it was one of only three times he finished a game he started.

It was an unfortunate finish, though: a Mantle walk, a Howard single, and a two out RBI hit by Boyer. Indeed, the situation had cried out for a right-handed reliever to face Howard, Skowron, and Boyer. But Ray Moore, the Twins top righty reliever, had pitched almost six innings in the marathon opener, and Don Lee, their only other decent option, was scheduled to start the next day.

On the day, Mantle hit three home runs, to go with two other hits and three walks. His season home run total now stood at 43, one more than Maris who went homerless.

With the sweep, the Yankees extended their AL lead to two and half games over the Tigers, who managed only a split at home against Cleveland.

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