Down two games to none in the 1958 World Series, the Yankees handed the ball to Don Larsen. Two years earlier, of course, Larsen had pitched a perfect World Series game. However, his World Series record was actually quite mixed. In addition to the perfect game, he had lost his only game in the 1955 Series (five runs in four innings), lost Game 2 of the 1956 Series (four runs in less than two innings, but none of them earned), won Game 3 of the 1957 Series (seven plus innings of excellent relief), and lost Game 7 (three runs, two of them earned, in less than three innings). With the 1958 Series now on the line, the Yankees had no idea what to expect from Larsen.
The Braves normally would have turned to Bob Buhl, the best third starter in baseball. In 1956-57, Buhl had a combined record of 36-15 and an ERA of right around 3.00. But in 1958, injuries limited him to 73 innings and a 5-2 record. After missing June, July, and August, Buhl attempted to come back in September, pitching in four games. But he was unavailable for the Series.
The Braves had a quality fourth starter, however, in Bob Rush, the long-time ace of the Chicago Cubs. Rush had been poor in 1957, but the 33 year-old responded well to his move to Milwaukee, where he posted a 10-6 3.48 record in 1958.
On this day, both starters were sharp. Going into the bottom of the fifth, the score was 0-0 and Rush had faced only one batter over the minimum. But that’s when the veteran’s control deserted him. Walks to Siebern, McDougald (intentional), and Larsen loaded the bases with two outs. Bauer then singled home two runs.
The Braves threatened in the top of the sixth. But Schoendiest was thrown out at the plate trying to score from second on an infield hit by Covington, and that killed the rally.
The Braves pinch-hit for Rush in the top of the seventh but didn’t score. With Rush out of the game, the Braves turned to their best reliever (but no star), Don McMahon. With one out, Enos Slaughter (yet another future Hall of Famer who played in this Series) pinch hit for Larsen. This was may not have been the obvious move for Stengel to make in this era of baseball. Larsen, after all, had a shut-out going and the Yankees had a lead. But Larsen had also given up six hits and three walks (to go with eight strikeouts) and Stengel had ace reliever Ryne Duren ready.
Stengel’s move paid off. Slaugther walked and Bauer delivered a two-run homer. This meant that the ex-marine, winner of two Bronze Stars in World War II, had all four RBIs so far in this “must win” game.
Duren came on in the eighth. He had given up more walks than hits during the regular season, and sure enough his wildness promptly offered the Braves a lifeline. Duren walked Mathews and Covington and with two out wild pitched them to third and second base. However, he was then able to retire Crandall on a ground ball. The ninth was smoother sailing; Duren walked Logan to start the inning but closed out the game with a double play ball from Bruton. The final score was 4-0.
The Braves now led the series two games to one. Spahn and Ford were set for a rematch in what was looking like a pivotal Game 4.
JOHN adds: The ’57-’58 Braves are one of my all-time favorite teams. If someone offered me a million dollars to name either 1) the starting lineup of those Braves teams or 2) the last three winners of the Super Bowl, I’d win the first bet and lose the second. Which demonstrates either that 1) baseball is more memorable than football, or 2) sports events that occur when you’re 8 years old are more memorable than those that occur 45 to 50 years later. Or both.
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