This day in baseball history — Mantle’s walk-off homer gives Yanks series lead

The St. Louis Cardinals and the New York Yankees both entered the 1964 World Series in red-hot form. The Yankees had gone 24-9 since the end of August; the Cards had gone 22-10.

New York looked like the better team, though. They had won six more games than St. Louis (99 compared to 93). Their run differential was +153; St. Louis’ was only +63. That’s a large disparity, even taking the strength of the National League into account.

On paper, the Yankees main edge was pitching. Their team ERA was 3.15, compared to 3.43 for the Cardinals. The Yankees’ mark presumably would have been ever lower if rookie sensation Mel Sotttlemyre, called up from the Minors in August, had been with them all year. He would be available for the World Series. However, Pete Ramos, who had pitched brilliantly in relief after coming over from Cleveland in September, would not be available.

In the first two games, good hitting beat good pitching (to turn a cliche on its head). The Cardinals shelled Whitey Ford (making the last of his 22 World Series starts) in Game 1, on the way to a 9-5 victory. The teams banged out 12 hits apiece.

In Game 2, the Yankees took a 4-2 lead into the ninth inning behind Stottlemyre. Bob Gibson had been on the mound for St. Louis, but was removed for a pinch hitter in the bottom of the eighth.

In the top of the ninth, Phil Linz jumped on reliever Barney Schultz for lead-off home run. The Yanks added three more runs. St. Louis scored once in the bottom of the inning to produce the final score of 8-3.

On October 10, the Series resumed in New York. Curt Simmons, age 35, was on the mound for St. Louis; Jim Bouton, age 25, for New York. Bouton had pitched effectively in his one World Series outing against the Dodgers the previous year.

Simmons had never pitched in a World Series, having missed out in 1950 as a young ace for the Philadelphia Phillies. That Series too was against the Yankees, for whom Whitey Ford made his Fall Classic debut.

As for Simmons, his National Guard unit had been activated in September due to the Korean War. Although he received a 10-day pass, baseball commissioner Happy Chandler ruled him ineligible for the Series (probably to avoid the criticism that baseball players were getting special treatment from the military).

Fourteen years later, Simmons pitched a brilliant game, allowing just one run and four hits through eight innings. He had also knocked in the Cardinals only run. His two-out single in the fifth inning brought home Tim McCarver, who had reached scoring position thanks to an error by right fielder Mickey Mantle. (The great center fielder played right field in 1964 due to leg ailments that severely limited his mobility). Mantle later admitted that he “nonchalanted it,” allowing the ball to go through his legs.

Bouton, if anything, was pitching even better than Simmons. The only run St. Louis had produced against him was unearned (because of Mantle’s error).

In the top of the ninth, McCarver led off the inning by reaching first on an error by Phil Linz. Mike Shannon then bunted McCarver over to second.

St. Louis manager Johnny Keane sent veteran Bob Skinner up to pinch hit for Simmons. Bouton retired Skinner on a well-hit fly ball to center field on which McCarver advanced to third. Curt Flood lined out to right field to end the inning. The tiring Bouton had survived, barely.

Barney Schultz, a 38 year-old knuckleballer, took over on the mound for St. Louis. He was coming off of a brilliant season (1.64 ERA). As noted, however, Phil Linz had greeted him with a home run in Game 2, in which Schultz gave up two runs in just an inning-and-a-third.

This time, Schultz’s first batter would be Mickey Mantle.

One story is that Mantle told the exhausted Bouton, “I’m gonna hit one outta here.” Mantle himself says he told Elston Howard in the on-deck circle that he “might as well go back in” to the dugout because he was going to end the game.

Unlike most of his contemporaries, Mantle wasn’t intimidated by the knuckler. In fact, he threw the pitch himself, and once broke the nose of a rookie catcher while throwing it in practice. Mantle also believed, based on the Yankees scouting report, that Schultz would make a special effort to get his first pitch over the plate.

Schultz’s knuckler had been knuckling fine in the bullpen. “Probably the best stuff I had all Series,” he would later say.

But his first pitch to Mantle didn’t dance at all. As McCarver, to whom it was thrown, described the pitch:

It wasn’t thrown, it was dangled like bait to a big fish. Plus it lingered in that area that was down, and Mickey was a lethal low-ball hitter left-handed. The pitch was so slow that it allowed him to turn on it and pull it.

Mantle pulled it all the way to the third tier of the right field stands to give the Yankees a 2-1 victory and a 2-1 Series lead.

Note in the picture accompanying the post on the main page, how McCarver lingers at the plate to make sure Mantle touches home. Schultz did not linger. He started walking slowly off the field when the ball was hit. You can see his legs as he nears the dugout.

Below, Mantle describes the home run, calling it the one World Series home run he remembers more than any other.”

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