This day in baseball history

A long-time reader is following the 1961 World Series. He files this dispatch:

On October 6, 1961, the New York Yankees and the Cincinnati Reds prepared for Game 3 of a World Series that was tied at one game apiece. Many observers had expected a cake walk for the Yankees. They had, after all, won more than 67 percent of their regular season games, compared to 60 percent for the Reds. In the process, they had outscored their opponents by 215 runs, while the Reds’ season margin was a mere 57.

Moreover, nearly every Yankee who mattered had World Series experience, some of them lots of it. By contrast, I could find no one on Cincinnati’s World Series roster who had ever played in a Series game, though Joey Jay and Darrell Johnson had been on pennant-winning clubs.

The Yankees also appeared to have the psychological edge.  They were looking to avenge their galling defeat by Pittsburgh in the 1960 Fall Classic, a Series that, to a man, the Yankees thought they should have won.  The Reds, having finished the 1960 season in sixth place, were probably elated just to be in the World Series.

The Yankees had only one apparent problem. Mickey Mantle was still sidelined as a result of his injection by Dr. Jacobson.

The Reds, in any case, had held their own in the first two games, both played at Yankee Stadium. In fact, the vaunted Yankee offense had produced just four runs and ten hits in the two games.

Game 1 pitted Whitey Ford, arguably the best pitcher in baseball, against Cincinnati’s Jim O’Toole, arguably the sport’s best young pitcher. Ford’s regular season record was 25-4; O’Toole’s was 19-9. But O’Toole had a slightly lower ERA – 3.09 compared to 3.21.

Ford pitched magnificently, shutting out the Reds on two hits (by Eddie Kasko and Wally Post). Frank Robinson, who walked, was Cincinnati’s only other base runner. Remarkably, this was Ford’s third consecutive complete game shut-out in World Series play. At 27 innings, his steak of scoreless innings now was only two short of Babe Ruth’s record.

O’Toole was done in by a pair of solo home runs. Elston Howard’s broke a scoreless tie in the fourth inning. Moose Skowron’s provided an insurance run in the sixth.

Game 2 featured Ralph Terry and Joey Jay, the Reds 21-game winner. Terry had given up Bill Mazeroski’s historic home run that ended the 1960 World Series. But he came back strong in 1961, winning 16 games and losing only 3.

Both starters pitched well, but the Yankees fielded poorly behind Terry. First, Clete Boyer (who had made two great defensive plays in Game 1) erred on Gordy Coleman’s fourth inning grounder. Thus, when Frank Robinson followed with a home run, the Reds led 2-0 instead of 1-0.

Second, after the Yankees had tied the score on a fourth inning homer by Yogi Berra, a passed ball by Elston Howard enabled the Reds to regain the lead, 3-2, in the fifth inning. Third, after the Reds had added a run in the sixth, errors by relief pitcher Luis Arroyo (throwing) and Yogi Berra (misplayed fly ball) contributed to two more runs in the eighth, only one of which was “earned.”

The breakdown of the Yankees’ defense was at least as shocking as the team’s lack of offensive fire power in the first two games. Defense was the great hidden strength of the 1961 Yankees and the key to their ability to outlast the Detroit Tigers in the American League the pennant race.

Meanwhile, Jay held the Yankees scoreless after Berra’s home run. The resulting 6-2 Cincinnati victory ended a five-game World Series losing streak to the Yankees that dated back to 1939. Having broken even in New York, the Reds had reason to be optimistic as Cincinnati prepared to host its first World Series game in 21 years.

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