When last we looked in on the 1964 World Series, the St. Louis Cardinals and the New York Yankees were knotted at two games apiece. Ken Boyer’s grand slam had kept St. Louis in the thick of it.
The clubs split the next two games. Game 5 was another dramatic affair, the third in a row. Both teams went with their ace — Bob Gibson for the Cardinals and (with Whitey Ford injured) Mel Stottlemyre for the Yankees.
They produced quite a pitchers’ duel. The Cardinals broke through with two runs in the fifth inning, and once again an error by perennial Gold Glove winner Bobby Richardson paved the way.
Gibson led off with a one-out single. Curt Flood followed with a tailor-made double-play grounder that Richardson misplayed. Lou Brock singled Gibson home, with Flood moving to third. Flood scored on a ground ball by Bill White which, with Brock bearing down on him at second base, Phil Linz could not covert into a double play.
Gibson made the 2-0 lead stand up until the ninth inning, when his defense let him down. Mickey Mantle led off with a grounder that shortstop Dick Groat failed to handle. Gibson retired the next two batters — Elston Howard and Joe Pepitone. However, Tom Tresh tied the game with a two-out home run.
Tresh’s homer would have been a game-winner had Gibson not made an incredibly athletic play to retire Pepitone. On that play, Pepitone smashed to ball up the middle off of Gibson. When the ball caromed towards third base, Gibson was on it like a cat. Scooping it up like Brooks Robinson might have fielded a bunt, he fired to first just ahead of Pepitone.
After nine innings the score was tied 2-2, with only one of the four runs earned.
Stottlemyre had departed for a pinch hitter after seven innings. Rookie Pete Mikkelsen was the Yankees pitcher in the top of the tenth. He was sharing the role of prime reliever (the “closer” role hadn’t really been invented) with Hal Reniff because Pete Ramos, who had been so brilliant in September, was ineligible for the World Series due to joining the Yankees so late.
Mikkelsen walked lead-off hitter Bill White. Ken Boyer singled on a bunt. Groat forced Boyer, bringing up Tim McCarver with one out and runners on first and third.
McCarver, in the midst of a Series where he would bat .478, hit a three-run homer. It wasn’t a walk-off job, but it might as well have been. Gibson made the Yanks go quietly in the bottom of the tenth. His line: ten innings, six hits, two walks, no earned runs, and 13 strike outs. In short, a masterpiece.
The Cardinals led three games to two, with the Series moving back to St. Louis.
In Game 6, Yankees starter Jim Bouton won his second game of the Series, 8-3. New York broke the game open with five runs in the top of the eighth. A Joe Pepitone grand slam was the key blow.
Game 7, played 50 years ago today, featured the rubber match between Gibson and Stottlemyre. Both were pitching on just two days rest.
Normally, Ray Sadecki and Al Downing — both good pitchers — would have started. But St. Louis manager Johhny Keane had lost faith in Sadecki after two weak Series outings, and Berra had total faith in Stottlemyre who had gone 9-3 with a 2.06 ERA since being called up in August and who had pitched quite well in his two Series starts.
Sadecki and Downing would both be in the bullpen, ready to go if Gibson or Stottlemyre faltered on short rest.
Both pitchers got through three innings unscathed. But the Cardinals reached Stottlemyre for three runs in the bottom of the fourth, as again New York let itself down in the field.
Boyer singled and Groat walked. McCarver forced Groat on a ground ball to first, but Linz’s throw to Stottlemyre, who was covering first, was errant, enabling Boyer to score. Mike Shannon singled McCarver to third. There was still just one out.
McCarver and Shannon then executed a double steal. McCarver was a new breed of catcher (or maybe a throwback) who posed a threat on the bases. He scored from third when Elston Howard threw down to second in an unsuccessful attempt to nail Shannon. That made the score 2-0 and put Shannon in scoring position. Light-hitting Dal Maxvil singled Shannon home.
In the top of the fifth, with one on and one out, Berra sent up rookie Mike Hegan, who had only five at-bats during the regular season, to hit for Stottlemyre, who had hurt his shoulder trying to handle Linz’s bad throw the previous inning. Hegan walked, but Linz hit into a double-play to end the threat.
Downing took over for Stottlemyre. He failed to retire a single batter.
Brock greeted him with a home run. White singled. Boyer doubled, sending White to third base.
Berra had seen enough of Downing. He brought on Rollie Sheldon, coming off of a so-so year. If Sheldon could pitch out of this jam, you felt like the Yankees still had a chance. Otherwise, probably not.
Sheldon retired the next three batters, but the Cardinals still managed to plate two runs. White scored on a ground ball by Groat; Boyer scored on a sacrifice fly by the excellent McCarver.
Gibson came to the mound in the top of the sixth determined to throw baseballs for strikes (or so said the TV color commentator for the game, Joe Garagiola I believe) Though tiring, Gibson surely could hold a six run lead as long as he didn’t start walking people.
The strategy (if, indeed, this was what Gibson was thinking) was sound in theory, but Richardson and Maris led off with solid singles, bringing Mantle to the plate.
The Mick crushed a Gibson heater to cut the St. Louis lead to 6-3. It was the last of Mantle’s record-setting 18 World Series home runs.
After that, the straining Gibson managed to restore normal service, shutting down New York in the remainder of the sixth, and in the next two innings.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals added another run in the bottom of the seventh on a Ken Boyer home run. Entering the bottom of the ninth, then, St. Louis led 7-3.
Gibson was just out of gas. Johnny Keane told him just to throw strikes. The Yankees, he said, weren’t going to hit four home runs.
Gibson struck out Tresh, but Clete Boyer homered (meaning that brothers had hit home runs in the same World Series game for the first time). He struck out pinch hitter Johnny Blanchard, but Linz homered.
Now it was 7-5 with Richardson at the plate. The Yankee second baseman had endured a miserable Series in the field. However, he had been excellent at the plate, with 13 hits.
Johnny Keane was prepared to stay with Gibson for one more batter. If Richardson reached, Keane would bring in Sadecki, a southpaw, to pitch to the left-handed hitting Roger Maris. (Keane would later say that he “had a commitment to Gibson’s heart,” but that commitment was not limitless).
Richardson popped out.
One of the most thrilling World Series ever was over. St. Louis was victorious. The mighty Yankees had lost back-to-back World Series. It would be twelve years before they would return to one.
The season over, but the 1964 drama between the Yankees and the Cardinals contained one more scene. It would take place at a post-Series press conference that was held tomorrow in baseball history.