For the Yankees, it could have been a lost weekend—and maybe a lost pennant. While the second-place Orioles were playing four games in three days and the third-place White Sox three, an average load for an August weekend, the Yanks were faced with six games—three successive double-headers. "It's a tough spot to be in," said Chicago Manager Al Lopez. "I hope they lose 'em all."
But instead of losing, the Yankees found a weekend—and if they didn't quite find a pennant, too, they didn't hurt themselves any. Of the six games, they lost only one—after winning the first four—and they increased their league lead to two games over the White Sox, three games over the Orioles and moved four games ahead of both teams in the loss column. The curtain had begun to come down on the American League pennant race and the Yankees were standing center stage.
On Friday there was little talk of pennants. Among Yankee-lovers, optimists hoped for four victories, pessimists for three. But double-headers disrupt pitching rotations, and three in a row threatened to make a shambles of Manager Stengel's. Starting strong with Bob Turley and Whitey Ford, he was reduced to erratic Ralph Terry and untested Bill Stafford the second day, and mediocre Eli Grba the third. Art Ditmar, the club's top winner, would be ready for the final game. In the dugout Friday afternoon Casey shrugged his shoulders. "I gotta rely on the club to hit," he said, "and try to get by with a little less pitching."
The Stengel Theory found no approval from Cleveland's Rocky Bridges, an elder statesman among journeyman infielders. "Pitching's the answer," said Rocky. "The big thing is to get a couple of your starters to go all the way. Then you avoid bringing in a lot of guys and tiring out your bullpen." The Yankees proceeded to win two games by ignoring the Bridges Theory: the two starters, Turley and Ford, were yanked near the halfway mark, and three more pitchers were used in each game. The weekend had just begun and more than half the staff had seen action already.
But Stengel was partly following the Bridges dictum. By removing Turley and Ford early he had made them available for spot duty later on. More important, he had won with scant use of his best bullpen pitchers. Little lefty Bobby Shantz had not been used; little lefty Luis Arroyo and big righty Ryne Duren had pitched just one inning each. The work had been done by two of Stengel's least effective performers: Duke Maas and Jim Coates. Maas pitched two scoreless innings in each game, retiring 12 men in a row. Coates, who hadn't won in almost two months, pitched creditably in both games. He lasted just long enough in the second to pick up the decision.
Pitching subtleties, however, were lost in the roar of two exciting ball games. The Yanks won both after trailing in late innings, the first 7-6 in the 11th, the second 7-5. In the opener they needed five home runs and a painful pinch-hitting appearance by Roger Maris to turn the trick. Maris, sidelined by bruised ribs since August 14, singled in the three-run eighth. He took the first pitch, swung and missed at the second ("That really hurt because I tried to check my swing"), then lined a single to right center. Maris made only one more appearance, as a pinch hitter on Sunday, and struck out with the bases loaded. Cleveland handed over the second game. With a 5-4 lead and Yankees on second and third, Ken Aspromonte fielded a routine grounder and threw to the plate. The ball skipped past the catcher, rolled to the backstop, and both runners scored.
Aspromonte's error was just one indication of Cleveland futility. The Indians were lackluster at the plate, listless in the field and seemingly resigned to defeat. Manager Jimmie Dykes set the tone. Before the game he called his players "a bunch of individuals who you can't tell anything," discounted any chance of sweeping the four-game series. Ever a realist, Dykes saw the end close at hand. How did it feel to be the first manager ever traded? "Listen," grumbled Jimmie, "I may be the first to go twice in one year."
Next day the Stengel and Bridges theories played in perfect harmony. The Yanks got that little extra from the hitters, those good games from the starters, and two more victories, 7-4 and 3-0. But there were strong overtones from another theorist, Yankee Coach Ralph Houk. "When you sit here every day," Houk told young Bill Stafford before the first game, "you learn one thing—the guys that get behind the count are the guys that get hurt. Get ahead of those damned hitters and stay there." Stafford, a gawky right-hander, started out by falling behind on the hitters and on the score, too. He settled down quickly, though, and plowed through 90° heat for eight innings. Leading 7-2 with one out in the ninth, he ran into trouble. Tony Kubek kicked an easy ground ball and Bob Cerv dropped an even easier fly. When Bubba Phillips doubled to score both runners, Stengel hunched out of the dugout. To the crowd's displeasure he took out Stafford and brought in Arroyo. "Hell, it wasn't the kid's fault," Casey said later over a glass of ginger ale. "He still had good stuff and he wasn't too tired. But I was afraid those errors would rattle him and first thing you know we'd really be in trouble."
Found: a complete game
After two failures and a near miss, the pitching staff got what it needed most—a complete game. Mixing a live fast ball and a halfspeed curve, Ralph Terry breezed to a two-hit victory. He retired the first 13 men he faced and didn't give up a hit until the seventh inning.
Between games on Saturday, Moose Skowron was honored by the Loyal Order of Moose. Between games the night before he had been honored by the Polish-American Falcons. This combination, ventured the New York Post's Leonard Koppett, made Skowron "without doubt the outstanding athletic Polish Moose of all time." Moose bore the palm with solemn dignity, and that night dragged Gil McDougald and Yogi Berra off to an Order of Moose dinner in Boonton, New Jersey.
Most of the Yankees left the Stadium quickly, bound for late dinners and early bedtimes. Twenty minutes after the game the clubhouse was half empty. Yogi, carefully drying his toes, announced that a nice Martini—on the rocks—would come in handy about now. In a small lounge off the locker room a half dozen nudes and seminudes sprawled in easy chairs, lost in an early '30s gangster movie. A knot of pitchers sat around Coach Ed Lopat's locker and talked quietly. The biggest worry anyone had was the brand of beer he was drinking. "This stuff is the worst we ever had," moaned one player as he drained a can. "It ain't my fault," said a clubhouse man. "I can only put in a few Budweisers. Weiss's orders. Argue with him, not me."
On Sunday there were two games with Detroit. Stengel had called off batting practice for the second straight day and told his men they could come to the park whenever they wished. Most came at their regular times; they sat around reading the papers, fiddling with their equipment or just puffing on the cigars handed out by new fathers Bob Cerv and Maris, whose children were born a day apart in Kansas City (No. 8 for Cerv, No. 3 for Maris). Hector Lopez came in happy after a night at home. Unwilling to face an hour-and-15-minute subway ride back to Brooklyn, he spent Friday night at the nearby Concourse Plaza Hotel. It was comfortable, he said, but not like home.
Dizzy Dean, now a telecaster, wandered into the locker room, and pretty soon Stengel arrived. Casey filled the next half hour with a generous selection of animated stories. After each story he appealed to Dean for corroboration, and Dean said, "That's the honest truth" or "That's right, boys." Everyone, except the easy-chair loungers, watched and listened to Stengel, from Lopat and Berra down through young Stafford. For Casey, and by extension for his players, it was just another day in the world of baseball. There was little talk of the day's work.
Most of the players were tired but few showed it. Terry and Stafford, the pitchers in the previous day's stifling heat, raced flat out from third base to the Yankee dugout. Stengel sat in the shade and spoke of bygone days.
The Yanks could win but one of the Detroit games. Five unearned runs off Grba in the first inning of the opener proved too much to overcome, though Coates and Maas again pitched well in relief. The Yankees lost 6-2. In the second game, home runs by Berra, Dale Long, Mickey Mantle and John Blanchard flattened an early Detroit lead. And when Ditmar gave way to a pinch hitter in the sixth, Stengel was ready to play his hole card—Reliefer Bobby Shantz, who hadn't thrown a pitch all weekend. Shantz slipped only once—a homer to Steve Bilko in the ninth—and the Yankees won 8-5.
Fifty-four hours and 56 innings after he'd left home Friday afternoon, Cletis Boyer sat in front of his locker. Yes, he'd have to admit he was tired. His legs were O.K. but the zip was gone from his arm. "But I'll tell you one thing," he said, propounding the Boyer Theory. "I'd be a lot more tired if we'd lost five of those games. When you win, it's fun."
In the manager's office, Casey Stengel was resolutely unimpressed. He had seen too many pennant races over the years to start making claims about this one. Besides, his boys should have had that first game today. They just couldn't hit with men on the bases. Was he happy winning five out of six? "No. You can't win a pennant that way. You have to expect to win every day and start worrying if you don't."
Casey's worries, for all his grumping, were at low tide. For his Yankees had not only survived their lost-and-found weekend, they had managed to enjoy it.