The 1964 baseball season is best remembered for the collapse of the Philadelphia Phillies — the result of an 10 game losing streak to close out September. But it should also be remembered for three remarkable surges: (1) the Cincinnati Reds’ nine game winning streak during the same period, which pushed them into first place, (2) the St. Louis Cardinals’ eight game winning streak, also in the same period, which saw them catch Cincinnati, and (3) the New York Yankees surge throughout the month of September, during which they went 22-6.
As a result of their surge, the Yankees went from third place, three games behind, at the end of August to first place, three and a half games ahead, at the end of September.
Heading into October, the Yankees’ magic number was 2 in relation to the Chicago White Sox and 1 in relation to the Baltimore Orioles. New York had five games left to play; Chicago and Baltimore had four and three, respectively.
On October 1, the Yankees played a double-header against Detroit at Yankee Stadium. A sweep would bring them their fifth consecutive pennant and their ninth in ten seasons. As hot as the Yankees were — they had taken a double-header from Detroit the day before — this didn’t seem like a tall order.
The Yankees looked in good shape in the opener. They took a 2-1 lead into the ninth inning behind their sensational late season call-up, Mel Stottlemyre.
But Bill Bruton and Jerry Lumpe led off the inning with singles. The great Al Kaline was next up.
With two good left-handed batters — Gates Brown and Norm Cash — due up next, and no southpaw ace in the Yankees’ bullpen, Tigers’ manager Charlie Dressen had Kaline sacrifice. When Stottlemyre failed to handle the bunt, the bases were loaded with no outs.
Brown, best remembered as a great pinch-hitter, was having a fine year in his only season as a regular. He drove home Bruton and pinch-runner George Smith with a single to centerfield.
New York manager Ralph Houk then pulled Stottlemyre in favor of Pete Ramos, another great late season acquisition. Ramos retired the Tigers, but not before Kaline scored on a sacrifice fly by Don Wert.
The Yankees threatened in the bottom of the ninth against Tiger reliever Mickey Lolich, who had been shelled as a starter the previous day. But Tom Tresh and Clete Boyer were left stranded when Lolich fanned pinch-hitter Pedro Gonzales and Phil Linz to end the game.
The second game featured Detroit’s young gun Denny McLain, completing his first full major league season, against Roland Sheldon. The Tigers jumped to a 3-0 led in the fourth inning thanks mostly to a triple by Wert and a double by Bill Freehan (who had been Detroit’s catcher for every inning of every game since August 8). However, New York reached McLain for a run in the bottom of the inning and another in the bottom of the fifth.
After that, McLain was nearly unhittable. The Tigers put the game away in the top of the ninth against Bill Stafford. McLain helped his cause with a single in the middle of that inning.
Meanwhile in Baltimore, another young gun, Dave McNally, shut out the Washington Senators. Baltimore thus surged from 4 games behind New York to two and a half. The White Sox, idle on the day, were also two and half back, but with two more games remaining than Baltimore.
The Yankees’ magic number was still 2 in relation to Chicago and 1 in relation to Baltimore. But now they had only three games left to play, all at home against the Cleveland Indians, a perennially .500 team in this era.