A long-time reader continues his account of the 1961 Labor Day Weekend showdown between the New York Yankees and the Detroit Tigers.
With a 1-0 win on Friday night, the Yankees had increased their lead over Detroit to two-and-half games. Fortunately for the Tigers, Frank Lary would pitch the Saturday game.
Lary entered the game with a record of 19-7, and a career mark of 26-9 against the Yankees. His status as a “Yankee killer” was discussed in an earlier post about his remarkable win at Yankee Stadium on May 12, 1961.
Lary’s opponent in the September 2 game was Ralph Terry. He had bounced back from yielding Bill Mazeroski’s World Series ending home run in 1960 to post an 11-2 record for the 1961 campaign, so far.
Detroit manager Bob Scheffing was no doubt expecting Lary to pitch deep into the game. His workhorse had completed approximately three out of every four starts (Terry’s ratio was more like one of three). But Lary was pitching on only three days rest (as was Terry).
The Tigers jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning when Rocky Colavito followed Al Kaline’s two-out single with a home run. Terry settled down after that, allowing only two more hits and no more runs through six innings.
Lary was pitching his customary strong game against the Yankees. Heading into the bottom of the sixth, he had yielded only two hits, a pair of doubles. But the Yankees had converted both into runs. In the second inning, Moose Skowron’s double drove in Mickey Mantle, who had walked. In the fourth inning Roger Maris led off with a double and took third on a wild pitch. Mantle then laid down a trademark drag bunt. The Tigers retired him, but Maris scored the tying run.
The Yankees’ third hit of the game – a sixth inning home run by Maris – produced their third run and broke the tie.
Neither team scored in the seventh. Terry retired the first two Tigers in the top of the eighth. Lary was next up. He was a decent hitter (he had earned his May 12 win at Yankee Stadium as much with his bat as with his pitching arm), and he had still allowed just three hits. Scheffing allowed him to bat. Lary singled and Dick McAuliffe followed with a walk.
Yankee manager Ralph Houk brought in his left-handed relief ace Luis Arroyo, winner of the Friday night game. This created a mismatch, as the Tigers’ next batter, left-handed hitting Bill Bruton, was less than a .200 hitter on the season against left-handers and American League left-handers collectively hit less than .200 against Arroyo (right-handers did only slightly better).
The percentages called for a pinch hitter, and Scheffing played them by sending up George Alusik. The rookie outfield had been called up in August and was 2 for 6 on the year. Scheffing passed over his normal top choice off the bench against lefties, Bubba Morton who was batting .264. He also passed over Dick Brown and Steve Boros, who had been good-hitting regulars for much of the season, but were just coming off of the disabled list.
Arroyo struck Alusik out to end the threat and preserve the Yankees’ 3-2 lead.
Arroyo continued his heroics in the bottom of the eighth, leading off with a single. If more evidence were needed that Lary was (in the words of Detroit sportswriter Joe Falls) “obviously tiring,” then Bobby Richardson’s follow-up single should have provided. That hit sent Arroyo to third. Richardson took second when Al Kaline’s throw to third was a little late.
Instead of calling on top reliever Terry Fox to face Tony Kubek, Scheffing persisted with his talisman. With the infield drawn in, Kubek punched a single up the middle to bring home both baserunners. New York now led 5-2.
Maris was due up next, so Scheffing brought in lefty Hank Aguirre. Maris greeted him with a two-run homer to clinch the victory. It was Maris’ second of the game to go with a double) and his 53rd of the season. Maris now needed only eight more home runs in the remaining 27 games to break Babe Ruth’s record. If he wished to avoid an asterisk, though, he needed to slug the eight in only 19 games.
As for the Yankees, they now led by three-and-half games. Houk had clearly outmanaged Scheffing on the weekend. He had put Arroyo, his top reliever, in charge of two tight games, whereas Fox, Scheffing’s bullpen ace, had yet to take the mound in this crucial series.