A long-time reader provides this report on the third and final game of the 1961 Labor Day Weekend series between the Detroit Tigers and the New York Yankees.
The Cincinnati Reds didn’t play on Sunday September 3, 1961, so their manager, Fred Hutchinson, took the train from Philadelphia to New York to scout his two potential World Series opponents. If the Detroit Tigers didn’t salvage the final game of their series with New York, Hutch could count on facing the Yankees, assuming his Reds held on to win the National League crown.
The Tigers were counting on Jim Bunning (15-10) to stop the bleeding. Bill Stafford (12-7) would be the Yankees starter. Both were on three days rest.
The Tigers scored a run in the top of the first inning. The Yankees countered with three in the bottom when, with two outs, Roger Maris singled and Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra followed with home runs.
The Yankess added a run in the fifth on a single by Clete Boyer, a sacrifice bunt by Stafford, and an RBI single by Bobby Richardson. But the Tigers got that run back in the top of the sixth on a home run by Norm Cash.
The Yankees threatened to expand on their 4-2 lead in the bottom of the seventh inning, after the Tigers had removed Bunning for a pinch hitter. With Phil Regan pitching, Berra led off the inning with a single and the next batter, Johnny Blanchard, drew a walk.
The Tigers season must have been flashing before manager Bob Scheffing’s eyes because he finally called on his ace reliever, Terry Fox. As discussed in earlier posts, Scheffing had failed to utilize Fox in the first two games of the series even though situations in both cried out for it.
Fox retired the next three Yankees and all three he faced in the bottom of the eighth. Six up, six down. Meanwhile, in the top of the eighth, the Tigers finally broke through against Luis Arroyo who had stymied them in the previous two games. Singles by Bill Bruton (for whom Scheffing, following the percentages, had pinch hit in a key situation the day before) and Al Kaline put runners on first and third with no outs. A double play grounder by Rocky Colavito closed the gap to 4-3, but killed the rally.
Dick McAuliffe led off the top of the ninth with a walk. Arroyo then struck out Chico Fernandez. But when Moose Skowron failed to handle Arroyo’s throw to first on a grounder by Dick Brown, the Tigers suddenly had the tying run on third and the go-ahead run on second, with only one out.
Bubba Morton batted for Fox. The Yankees walked him intentionally to set up the double play and the force at home. Jake Wood frustrated that strategy with a single to left. McAuliffe and pinch runner Reno Bertoia both scored to give the Tigers a 5-4 lead. Arroyo retired Bruton and Kaline to keep the deficit at one run.
Unfortunately for Detroit, Fox was out of the game. Scheffing called on Gerry Staley to close out the Yankees. Staley had been the star of an excellent Chicago White Sox bullpen the previous five years and, even at age 41, still had a little left.
A little wasn’t enough to deal with Mantle, though. The Mick led off with a game tying home run, his second of the day and 50th of the season. Berra followed with a single, his third hit of the game. Scheffing replaced Staley with Ron Kline a starting pitching for Detroit who later would have good success as a reliever for the Washington Senators.
Arroyo, batting in the number six spot, bunted Berra to second base. Scheffing ordered a walk for Skowron, who had been killing the Tigers. Kline retired Boyer on a fly ball for the second out.
That brought up Elston Howard, who had moved into the number nine spot when he batted for Stafford in the seventh. Howard had also been killing the Tigers, and he did so again. His three-run home run gave the Yankees a three-game sweep.
The Tigers, who now trailed by four-and-a-half games, would lose their next five contests. By the time they faced the Yankees again in mid September, they trailed by ten-and-half-games.
For the rest of the season, any remaining in the American League would have to be supplied by the home run derby — Mantle’s pursuit of Maris (he trailed him 50 to 53) and Maris’ pursuit of Babe Ruth.